Rayner Reckons

Jan 13

Doing nothing is never an option!

Posted on Monday, January 13, 2014

Making decisions and sticking to them is essential in drought management.  This summer looks like it will continue to test the resilience of producers across eastern Australia.  No rain and record heat have pushed most areas into another challenging drought.  

In recent Rayner Reckons, I've written a lot about the importance of making plans with trigger points for action and the importance of sticking to that plan.  In the last few days plenty of people have spoken to me about the plans and options ahead.

Unfortunately drought management is not easy, and hard decisions have to be made.  

The worst thing is to do nothing.  

Last week I was incredibly distressed to hear some producers talking about the drought, saying they had no options left but to let their animals die, as well as asking to be exempt from prosecution under animal cruelty charges if they let their stock perish. 

I can never accept this argument.  This drought has been developing over several months, and the producers I know and work with have been working and following their plans.  

Part of the plan is to de-stock.  Yes they have had to accept low prices, and often they have lost money.  But that was an option which had to be taken.  Some other producers have kept some stock, choosing to feed them to a certain point and then deciding on selling as the drought continues.  Again they have had to take a loss.  Unfortunately that was what happened, and while not wanting to accept a loss for their livestock, it was planned and was the best option for those individuals.

For the producers who haven't been been decisive and made timely decisions, time has run out.  I appreciate they may have no money to feed stock.  I appreciate they may have stock which cannot be transported for sale or slaughter.  

For these people it is not a case of having no options.  There is only one option left.  Their animals cannot be left to die.  The producers must humanely destroy their animals.

I reckon we have a moral obligation (as well as a legal one) to ensure the welfare of our animals.  There are plenty of people wanting to question our treatment of animals exported overseas.  We can't ever afford to neglect welfare and ensure our standards never fall.

Droughts are never easy.  They require hard decisions and sometimes those decisions are distressing.  But as managers of livestock, we can never do nothing.  


Oct 29

How are your cows holding up?

Posted on Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The last two weeks have seen extraordinary weather experienced across NSW.  Some of the worst bush fires in recent NSW history have burnt across the Hunter and Blue Mountains.  Yet down south in Southern NSW, frosts have damaged grain crops and slowed pasture growth. Throughout the last two weeks, significant rain hasn't fallen, and combined with hot dry winds and high day time temperatures have pushed drought conditions further across the state.

In my last post I encouraged producers to be implementing drought planning.  The keys to the plan include a realistic assessment of your situation and some defined trigger pints and dates where you will take action.  Following that post I was able to help several producers in making the first steps of a drought plan, and to set some clear dates for action. The result was not only a good plan, but relieved producers who could focus on their way ahead.

With all the driving around I've done in the last two weeks, I've noticed many cows and calves.  Most of these cows are doing it pretty tough.  Their body condition is generally in the range of Fat Score 2. This has serious implications for the calf, the cow and for next years production.

Cows in a Fat Score 2 condition will be using their body reserves to produce milk for their calf.  In the long term this isn't sustainable and milk production and subsequent calf growth will suffer.

For the cow, falling body weight will impact on her ability to return to oestrus and this will impact on the fertility levels of the herd next year.

In most situations I've seen, the big limitation is the lack of pasture feed.  Some producers are attempting to provide supplements, but the choices they are making are actually not working!

Lactating cows have a huge demand for energy. If the pasture feed is lacking in quantity, as it is in most places during a drought, adding a protein supplement, such as a block or dry lick will not achieve any lift in cow performance.  Right now most cows need a boost in energy.  This means any choice for feeding is going to be based on energy dense feeds such as grain.  

Some people try to keep their cows going using options such as hay.  Hay is a good feed, but often won't have the same energy levels as grain, and therefore you have to feed more hay to achieve the same result, which can become very expensive.

Lactating cows have huge demands for energy and feed.  Feeding lactating cows can be expensive and time consuming.  In drought situations it can often be much more efficient and effective to consider early weaning the calves from the cows.  

This does two things.  First it reduces the amount of feed you need to provide to the cows, as they are now dry cows with lower energy demands.  Secondly, you can manage the calves and keep them growing as a group, which means they will be similar weights and ages which is important for future marketing.

If you are considering early warning, take some time to plan how you will go about doing it.  The calves will need to kept in a secure yard, which is well watered and drained.  They will need to be feed a good quality feed and managed properly. The NSW DP has really useful fact sheet to help in the planning and practice of early weaning. (Feeding Calves in Drought)

I reckon many producers need to be including early weaning into their drought management planning.  

Once the calves are taken care of, attention can be given to ensuring cows will go through joining successfully.  

Dry cows are a much easier group to manage.  They can be pregnancy tested earlier, and its also easier to reduce numbers from the dry cow mobs if that is part of your drought plan.

If you are unsure how to go about drought management of your cows, putting a drought plan together or early weaning, don't hesitate to get in touch with me for some advice.


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