Rayner Reckons

Jun 13

Some drought feeding tips

Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When I was commencing my agricultural degree, one of the subjects we were required to study was agricultural paradox.  The best description I have seen of a paradox involves contradictory yet interrelated elements that exist simultaneously and persist over time.  I guess we see that a lot in agriculture.  Situations that are incredibly important for one sector of the industry are detrimental to another. 

I think drought feeding is a paradox that many producers are grappling with right now.  In the first instance the greatest challenge for most producers who have chosen to feed stock is affording and sourcing feed in sufficient quantities for their stock.  There’s no doubt this is a huge challenge and an increasingly difficult one.

On the other hand, I think full hand feeding is much less complicated than supplementary feeding to address quality gaps.

Why do I think it is less complicated?  Supplementary feeding involves addressing a specific deficiency in pasture.  Generally it’s about “topping up” protein to stimulate rumen activity. This leads to increased intake and may require a ration readjustment to add in energy as feed is consumed.  To carry out a supplementary feeding program effectively requires constant monitoring and adjustment to meet changes in pasture and livestock needs and matching those to feed suitability. 

Drought feeding, or full hand feeding is less complicated in many ways as the focus is on providing a complete ration.  So the choice is really down to providing energy for daily animal needs, balanced with protein to ensure adequate rumen function.  When there is no pasture left, full hand feeding can focus entirely on these issues and it is much more straightforward to manage.

Most of my work in the last month has been to provide advice to producers who are now implementing full drought feeding.  There are a few common themes emerging that are important to share.

  • Full feeding is about energy first.  Energy has to be balanced with protein.  Feeds should be chosen on the basis of energy.  The more energy described as Metabolisable Energy (ME) per kilogram of feed the more efficient it will be to feed livestock.
  • Protein supplements such as dry licks; blocks and roller drums are not designed for drought feeding.  These products are designed to provide protein in situations of abundant dry feed.  Quite simply these products can’t provide the energy your stock need each day.  If there is little or no paddock feed then you are wasting money
  • Feed should be compared on ME / kg / Dry Matter.  Not all feeds are the same.  If you are feeding products with low ME values, or low Dry Matter  (DM) values, you will have to provide higher total daily amounts to achieve the same outcome compared to higher ME valued feeds or feeds with different DM levels.
  • Test all feeds before you use them!  Feed values vary enormously. A feed test is a very quick way to check the energy levels, protein levels and fibre of a product.  All of these will determine how much you need to provide to each animal.  Never assume that something is the same as the last load!  And don’t rely on your nose or fingers!  I don’t think its possible to smell energy or protein!
  • Don’t guess how much to feed!  There are easy ways to determine how much your animals need to eat every day.  If you want help please ask me, or your own advisor.  Make your calculations on those amounts.   Then weigh out that amount so you know.  A shovel full varies from place to place!!  And don’t get me started on a bucket size!  If you are going to feed at least be accurate.
  • Check your feed choice is actually suitable for your stock!  I’ve seen recommendations lately from some sources that are incorrect and could lead to animal deaths.  There are well-published guides on feeding animals products that range from grain, to hay, silage and white cottonseed.  If you haven’t used a product before, do some homework.
  • Get advice from qualified experts.  Not everyone really knows how to feed stock.  What was acceptable in the drought of the 1960s may no longer be relevant, safe or even available now! 
  • Lastly don’t waste your feed!  I’ve seen paddocks where stock have been fed hay and cattle and sheep are trampling on it, sleeping on it and covering it with dung.  We know this level of waste can be about 30 – 35% of your daily feeding amount.  So can you really afford to waste that much feed?

Droughts test your resilience and it’s important that you make sure to stop and reassess your position.  Good plans need reevaluation.  While drought feeding is straight forward, you need to check your feeds and amounts are correct for your stock.  This is vital as animals go through production changes such as calving or when the season changes.  Wet cold winter weather can have a huge impact and you need to be prepared.

Finally, if you think you need some advice, don’t hesitate to ask for it.  I’ve been working with producers across NSW and into QLD over recent months. So while I am out and about its very easy to for me to come and spend some time looking at what you are doing and then talk through ideas and offer some reassurance and the chance to make sure you are doing ok.  


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