Rayner Reckons

Sep 05

Have you really considered what you are feeding?

Posted on Wednesday, September 05, 2018

NSW is now categorized as 100% drought affected.  As the state emerges from winter and looks towards a hotter drier spring and summer, there are many producers considering what options they have available.  

For many the decisions include choosing to continue destocking, with the goal of retaining a core group to focus on.  Other producers have spoken to me about their plans to keep feeding and maintain numbers.  For a large portion of people the decision is a mix of selling and feeding.

None of these decisions are easy.  Having spent close on the last 12 months advising producers on strategies, I know how hard choices can be.  However, regardless of the difficulty, you must make decisions, and build a plan to help manage the direction you want to take.

Perhaps the hardest part of this process has been for producers who are choosing to feed, and have started to draw on uncommon feeds to support their herds. 

By uncommon feeds, I mean choosing options outside of the usual products that include grains, hay, silage, plant based meals and prepared products like pellets. 

As these feeds become more difficult to source, or more expensive to source, producers have looked to alternatives.  In the past few weeks I’ve spoken to producers feeding products that have included;

Scrub cut on farm

Pumpkins

Potatoes

Grape Marc

Bread

Orange Pulp

I’m sure there are plenty of other things being fed to cattle and sheep.  These are just the ones I’ve come across lately.

While these options can be useful feeds, its essential you use them after considering the risks associated with these feeds.  Not all of these feeds are as useful or as good as they might be made out to be.

The important things you must consider are:

Residues:  Chemical residues are one of the great risks in feeding unusual feeds.  Many products from the horticultural sector may have been treated with chemicals for pest control or grown in soil that has a chemical risk.  These products might be fine for use on horticultural products, but in meat these same chemicals may be prohibited.

You need to consider if there is a risk with products that may have been treated or grown in soil.  Products like potatoes, pumpkins, and sugar cane tops can contain soil which may lead to a residue issue.  So its important to ask a few questions about the background of the product before you feed it to stock.

Dry Matter:  All products contain some water.  However the amount of water will vary considerably.  If a product is 50% Dry Matter (DM) that means half its actual weight is made up of water. 

The implications are that in transporting that feed, half the weight in the load is water, so you wont get as much as you were expecting to be delivered!

Secondly it means that the amount you actually feed out will be twice the amount of product.  In simple terms, if your co requires 10kg/ DM/ day you would need to feed 20kg of feed to meet those requirements. 

Often variations in Dry Matter mean ration amounts are not meeting livestock requirements and causing nutritional issues for stock.

Variable Feed Quality:  In a drought we are really aiming to provide the energy (Mega Joules – MJ) that animals require for their daily intake.  This needs to be balanced with an appropriate level of Crude Protein (CP%) for their production needs.  In addition the amount of fibre in the feed will impact both on energy levels and the amount an animal can physically eat each day.

Some unusual feeds can be reasonable in their energy levels, but very low in protein.  Others may have reasonable levels of protein but it is unavailable to the animal as the protein is tied up in tannins within the feed.

Protecting Yourself

For many people these unusual feeds help keep their program in place.  There’s noting wrong in using these feeds. 

However you need to use them in the full knowledge of the risks they may have. 

If you are going to use them, there are some things you must absolutely do.  These are:

Request a Commodity Vendor Declaration. The Commodity Vendor Declaration or (CVD) outlines the product source, the chemicals it may have been treated with and its suitability for feeding to livestock in regards to exposure to restricted animal materials (RAM).

If you cannot obtain a CVD you must record the feed stuff, where it came from, the amount, the date your received it, when you started feeding it and to what stock you fed it to.  This is all part of the standard records required for your LPA accreditation anyway.  I also tell my clients to keep copies of the invoice and supplier details.

Get a Feed Test DoneA feed test will tell you the quality of the feed you are intending to use.  If it has sufficient energy, protein and fibre.  The results of a test will help you decide if it is product that can be fed on its own, or if it requires something else blended to balance the ration for your stock. 

Either way, once you know, you can then decide how best to use it.

There are other practical considerations.  For example, feeding scrub is a commonly used source of roughage.  However you need to consider how you will feed it.  Don’t forget your own safety in cutting scrub!  We are not all NINJA warriors able to leap around trees lopping limbs!  So you need to be realistic as well.

Other products sue to their bulky nature, water content or size may pose limitations to how much your animals can physically eat, and therefore reduce the usefulness of the feed source.

If you are thinking of going down the path of using unusual feeds, then do some research.  Consider the risks and evaluate the true value of the feed and its usefulness to your program.  Remember one size doesn’t fit all! If you do want to talk through your options, please feel free to get in touch 

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