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
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.
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 Done: A 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
As food producers do you connect with the broader community? I know many farmers, and for that matter, people in country Australia feel there is a disconnection between the farm and the plate.
In some ways there is a huge disconnection. Society as a whole has changed so rapidly that we are all grappling with the challenges in our daily lives. People have moved closer to large centers for work. Increased mechanization and efficiencies on farms mean less people have direct jobs in agriculture. So somewhere along the way a gap has opened between the farm and the people.
While we often talk about this disconnect, I reckon we often overlook there is a deep interest and support from the broader community for farming. In my work I’m often asked to speak about farming to the broader community. I always come away feeling there is a deep desire to understand more about farming, its challenges, its rewards, and more importantly I sense a real value for farming among the people I talk to.
One of the more important roles of the Sydney Royal Easter Show is to showcase agriculture to the broader urban communities. The livestock pavilions and the district exhibits are consistently rated as the most important attractions to the public.
So, as a farming community or as an individual producer, how can we connect to our consumers and meet their interest in our business? I guess there are plenty of ways that we do this. I did mention our traditional activities such as the Easter Show. But its just as important to see the local show as part of this connection.
Increasingly I see farmers sharing their stories through social media. There are Facebook pages, twitter accounts, and Instagram posts showing the variety of a day in Australian agriculture. I personally enjoy the blogs from the contributors from Central Station.
These are great ways of sharing stories. However I think the next step will be to show our skills as producers and business operators. I think this may happen through the connection of our farm data with other data sources.
If you think of the demand for traceability and food safety, there is a great story for us to share. The challenge is to link our on farm QA records with our industry systems like the NVD system and with processor information and present it to the consumer as a whole of life story.
This week a company called Aglive (www.aglive.com) showed me their progress in linking our on farm data with industry QA systems and processor information. I have to say I think systems like these will be part of how we connect with our consumers. True I think they will still want to see our stock at the show, read our stories and see our pictures on line. However I reckon these connections will become stronger as they start to see the things we do on farm with the data we capture being used to sow how clean and safe our food systems are.
I think the next few years will be pretty exciting, and hopefully see a narrowing of the gap between farms and consumers as we share what we do in new and engaging ways.
Over the last year or so, I’ve been watching the rapid growth of livestock selling on line. Now, on line selling is not actually a new concept. In Australia we have had AuctionsPlus that is the largest online seller of livestock in the country. AuctionsPlus was preceded by CALM – Computer Aided Livestock Marketing.
One of the great developments with the online livestock marketing has been the creation of objective terms to describe cattle and sheep. The language we use to describe fatness and muscle score was a direct outcome from the move to sell livestock objectively, and more importantly digitally.
So to me, on line marketing of livestock is a standout for the agricultural industry.
I guess I’m not the only one to be excited by the opportunities that on line selling offers. After all it’s a very inexpensive way to advertise. You can advertise with pictures as well as written descriptions. And now with the creation of Internet sites like Gum Tree, you can pretty much buy and sell anything!
At the same time, you only need to browse through Facebook to see any number of pages that range from “Buy, Sell or Swap” to specific pages selling livestock. Now, I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day, it’s a way for people to sell livestock in a manner that works best for them. It also means you might find an opportunity to purchase something you’ve been looking for.
But just because you are selling or buying through Facebook or Gum Tree, you still have to ensure you comply with the legislation that exists around livestock sales and movements.
This means you need to ensure that you comply with the NLIS requirements. So if you are buying animals, you will need to ensure that the animals are transferred on the NLIS database to your PIC. If you are selling you have to make sure the animals are tagged with an approved NLIS tag and that you also must complete a current National Vendor Declaration (NVD). Remember the NVD can be used as your Transported Stock Statement.
These points are important to remember, particularly if you are a small or new producer. However your animals are part of the industry, and so traceability is just as important regardless of buying on line from a Facebook page or through the sale yard system. And in regards to transported stock statements, the legislation means police or stock inspectors have a duty to ask for yours. So don’t get caught!
The other part of buying on line from various sites is for you to ensure you consider the risks to your business. In the first instance you need to consider the usual issues of biosecurity. So think about quarantining new livestock to minimize the spread of weeds or parasites.
I’d also think its pretty important you do your homework on just what it is that you are buying. In the Auctions Plus system, you have the assurance that an accredited assessor describes all animals. You can check their status, and if the animals don’t meet the description you can speak to Auctions Plus about the issue.
In generic sales pages, you won’t have that fall back. You really are making a choice to accept another person’s description. So if the animal isn’t what you expect, is lighter, heavier, more stirry than you expected, you have no comeback. That’s part of buyer beware and I guess it applies to any purchases we make. But it’s important that you do the risk assessment first, cover all the options and then you can at least feel you’ve done as much as you can.
I reckon on line selling in all their forms, are going to be part of how we do business into the future. So why not make the most of the opportunities. Just don’t let the convenience of looking on line become complacency or laziness! If you do your homework and make sure you meet your obligations for identification, traceability and movement restrictions, then I reckon the online world can be another tool in your business toolbox.
Earlier this week I was talking to a beef producer from the New England region about our markets. With current prices it seems everyone wants to discuss the value and opportunities of beef production! And lets face it, its exciting to see the demand and value flowing through for cattle. One of the things we talked about was the point that domestically, Australia can only consume so much red meat in any one year. The simple reality, which we both reckoned, is that sometimes, its easy to forget just how dependant we are on our overseas exports!
The Australian beef industry sends about 70% of all beef produced overseas, to over 100 countries. For other red meat producers, such as shipmate its around 97% while lamb producers have about 54% exported. For goat producers that figure is an extraordinary 95%! So maintaining the confidence of those overseas consumers and purchasers of red meat is essential for all of us!
A key component in maintaining this confidence starts wit a vendor declaration. The National Vendor Declaration (NVD) is the opportunity for you as a producer to stay some facts around your animals, and the way in which you have produced them. It also covers the important things like veterinary treatments. feeds that may have been offered and if there are any issues associated with chemical residues.
The NVD is also required for any movements of stock between properties that have different Property Identification Codes (PIC) or through saleyards or to processors.
NVDs help provide a clearer understanding of livestock and support the traceability of animals.
Completing NVDs isn't really a new concept for most producers. National Vendor Declarations have been around for a number of years. The have been updated and revised as markets and consumer expectations change.
What is changing is a requirement for all producers to now ensure that they are using the current version of the LPA NVD. All older versions of the LPA NVD are being phased out over the next two months.
And from the 16th of November 2015 all older versions will no longer be accepted by the industry. Which means no processors, feedlot, saleyards or other producers will accept them! Which is going to make marketing or moving cattle, sheep or goats pretty difficult for you if you don't get organised now!
So how can you tell if you have a current LPA NVD?
If your LPA NVD has the number 0413, it is the current version and you will be fine to continue to use the form when moving or marketing livestock. In the picture above, you will notice a C, which stands for Cattle. The Sheep & Lamb NVD has an S before the 0413 code.
So what do you do if you don't have the current LPA NVD? Well I reckon the first thing you need to do is check that you don't have it! If you are definitely using older NVD forms, then you need to get in touch with Meat & Livestock Australia and order the current forms.
If you want hard copies, which are the books you will fill out (they come in triplicate) you can order them online. They cost $40. The other option is to use an E-declaration (an electronic form). Known as E-Decs, they can be a more cost effective way of ordering forms, particularly if you prefer doing work on line.
Which ever way you choose to go is up to you. I reckon its a matter personal preference on this one. However, I also reckon you don't have time to do nothing. If you are planning on selling or moving stock after the 16th of November you need to have the LPA NVD up to date. So don't leave it until the last minute before you sort yourself out!
According to industry figures, around 70% of producers already using the current LPA NVD forms. This is largely helped by processors such as JB Swift and Teys Australia only accepting current forms. But it still leaves 30% or 3 in 10 producers who haven't updated. And that might be due to marketing only once a year or not moving stock between PICs and you haven't had to update until now.
If that is the case, or you're a small producer or hobby farmer, and you haven't worried until now, you need to make a coupe of calls and decide if hard copies or E-Decs work best for you. As soon as you decide that, get onto MLA and order the current LPA NVD.
I reckon the sooner you can do that, the less stress you'll have and most importantly you are doing your part to protect the confidence consumers have in your product.
Don't forget, if you have any questions or you's like to discuss your options to get in touch with me!
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