Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting a lot of clients. We’ve been looking at new pastures, and discussing how to manage livestock on lush green pasture. As well as discussing the importance of vaccinations for clostridial disease, there are other things to consider.
One of the topics we have had to consider is the role of fibre in the diet. Fibre is something we often don’t think too much about. I reckon we overlook fibre, as in most cases we probably take it for granted! After all, plants contain fibre in their physical make up, so I suppose we assume livestock are getting sufficient quantities in their daily diet.
You might ask, why is fibre important anyway?
Fibre plays a very important role in keeping a rumen healthy and functioning. And in livestock production, a healthy functioning rumen is directly related to production and performance.
The intake of fibre fulfills a few roles in the diet. The first is to encourage the development of saliva. Saliva is developed through the chewing and rumination of feed. Saliva does more than just making your cows slobber!
More importantly saliva helps keep the rumen from becoming too acidic. Rumen microbes prefer a pH level of around 6.2 – 6.6 for most effective activity. Saliva has a pH of around 8.0, so its slightly alkaline, and it also contains some naturally occurring buffers.
In healthy cattle, rumen pH does fluctuate quite a lot in a 24-hour period. It’s not unusual for pH to drop as low as 5.5 for a few hours before recovering. This drop can be caused particularly be eating lush feeds, silages or grains that are all low in fibre. The high digestibility and low fibre content of feeds may mean that a cow doesn’t need to chew and ruminate as much. This reduces the saliva production and allows the rumen pH to drop.
As the rumen pH drops, bacteria such as Step Bovis rapidly increase. This bacteria is an acid producing bacteria and this also adds to the acidification of the rumen. If the rumen can’t buffer the impact of the acid build up, the rumen will shut down. If the pH level is below 5.2 you will notice the animal. It will appear physically ill, have scours and if not treated could die.
In grazing situations, particularly on lush pasture, animals can suffer from acidosis without being easily recognised. This occurs when pH fluctuates between 5.2 and 5.6. Your cattle many not appear sick, but they will eat and produce less.
So what does this mean in practical terms? For livestock managers your target should be for your animals to have around 30% of their daily intake of dry matter as fibre. In most pasture situations, this will occur without you needing to do much at all.
However in seasons where you have young, lush pastures that are low in fibre, you should consider adding some fibre to the diet. You can do this by providing access to hay in feeders, or by allowing cattle access to more mature grass pastures. This will allow stock to consume adequate fibre to manage their diet. Cattle that have access to the right amount of fibre will produce more than 180 litres of saliva a day, which really helps manage the acid levels in the rumen.
The other role fibre plays in the rumen is called the roughage effect. It’s basically the natural reaction of the rumen walls to the scratching of the material the animal has eaten. As the feed presses on the walls, it seems to trigger the rumen to contract and expand, which basically helps the rumen churn the feed around, and allow the bacteria a better chance to break the feed down and release the energy and protein within the feed to be absorbed by the digestive system.
I reckon the rumen is an amazing organ. However, knowing a little bit more about its needs will help you manage your pastures and your livestock more efficiently and effectively. So if you are looking out over some lush green feed, think about the need to include some fibre. If you’re not sure about how much fibre there is in the feed, why don’t you take a feed sample and send it off?
A feed test will tell you the Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) of your sample. NDF is the measurement of the amounts of hemicellulose, cellulose, lignin and ash in plant material. Basically it is the digestible and indigestible fibre in a feed. As a guide you would want to make sure the NDF value is higher than 25% and for dairy cattle it should be up to 40%. If it is less than this in your feed sample I would think you should be actively supplying hay or allowing access to another form of fibre.
It won’t take long to bring your rumen back on line, particularly if your cows can ruminate and produce enough saliva each day. So when you manage fibre you will find a happy rumen and more importantly productive livestock.
I have to say I really do like fodder conservation. To me being able to conserve pasture or crops and use it to top up a feed shortfall later on makes a lot of sense. Storing fodder can also be a pretty cost effective way to undertake supplementary feeding when you compare it to purchasing other supplements and transporting them to the farm. In my mind I like options that offer a chance to be more efficient and utilize on farm resources first, so making hay or conserving silage is always something I get a bit excited about.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last 20 years talking to farmers about getting the most from their hay or from their silage. Even though both silage and hay are commonly fed on farms throughout Australia, I’ve found that farmers don’t always consider the best ways to use these options in their programs. So I thought it’s definitely worth spending some time to touch up a few basics on fodder, how to use it and things to keep in mind when you do use it to support your livestock.
I reckon it’s worth starting by asking you why you might choose conserve fodder? There are I guess two approaches to fodder conservation. The first is to specifically prepare a crop or pasture to harvest and store as either silage or hay. The other approach tends to be more of an opportunity to use excess pastures or a failed crop as a fodder source. At least that way the resource isn’t totally wasted and you can get some use from it.
The difference in these two approaches is important. Like anything, good quality hay or silage is the result of hard work. If you have prepared your fodder source for harvesting – say growing a lucerne crop to make hay or silage, it will be of higher quality and have greater feed value than you might expect from pasture hay or silage.
So my first tip is if you are going to make hay or silage, the better the quality of the feed, the better the quality of fodder you will have. It’s important to remember that the higher the quality of a fodder animal performance will also be better. If you want to look at the economics, its actually much cheaper in the long run to make better quality fodder because the return you get in animal performance pays for its production.
My second tip in regards to making fodder is to check the economics first. I know I said a minute ago that conserving fodder on farm is often a cost effective strategy. Well it is if you do it right. That means again thinking about the quality of the fodder you are making. If you are going to use a low quality feed source, so something that is low in digestibility, has a lot of dead leaf or stem and seed head as its main bulk then fodder you are making might not be worth much as a feed source, and so could really be a waste of time feeding it. Or if you do use it, it might need another supplement to accompany it.
All this means you need to plan your fodder making. Consider what you will use and how much it will cost you to make it. And what will you do with it when you have made it. If you can answer these questions with a positive response then go with it.
I think its really important not to overstate the capacity of fodder you are making. Cutting a pasture or crop for hay or silage doesn’t automatically make it a magic feed! If it is poor quality before you cut it, then it will be a poor quality fodder and so you have to recognize that before you get disappointed and complain about the process!
I have a few other tips to consider if you are making hay or silage. Make sure you cut your intended feed source at the right stage of growth. The more mature plants become, the less digestible they will be. This means there will be lower energy values per kilogram of feed and as a result will be less valuable as a feed.
Now I can spend a long time talking specifics about making hay or silage. Instead what I will say is that for either form of fodder conservation you need to make sure you follow best practice by allowing the cut feed to wilt or cure before you bale it or collect it for storage as pit silage. Its really important you work t the best practice as the longer you leave a cut feed source on the ground drying out, the more chance you have of having the feed you have grown loss its quality through decay. You really need to get it baled, wrapped or stored properly as soon as you can.
I guess the big thing is to not expect your conservation methods to improve the feed you’ve decided to make into hay or silage. Remember its only ever going to be as good as it was when you cut it. And if you are a bit casual about the process of making it into hay or silage, well you’ll probably make it worse!
You should also think about what else could potentially be going into the bales you are making. One of the big causes of livestock deaths is due to botulism. Botulism is a disease caused by Clostridial bacteria and produces a toxin that can kill livestock very quickly. The bacteria spores that cause the disease germinate in moist, low-oxygen environments such as rotting carcasses or decaying organic material.
Most cattle deaths from Botulism are a result of ingesting preformed bacteria and toxins. This can happen when cattle chew bones they may find in paddocks. But it is often common in intensive situations like dairies and feedlots. It’s a result of a decaying animal carcass being included in a role of hay or silage.
So have a think about what might be in the paddock. If you have any dead animals that might be in the paddock then it’s probably an idea to dispose of it rather than let it decay and potentially end up in a fodder bale. You might want to drag it to another part of the farm to be buried or if its safe for burning. Either way just leaving it to decay could put your fodder and more importantly your livestock at risk.
Botulism can also be caused by poorly made silage. It’s really important if you are making silage to minimize air pockets in wrapped bales and to seal pits well. Rotting organic matter, which happens when air can access the material can create the right environment for the Botulism bacteria to produce. In silage it’s often an issue if silage hasn’t reached adequate acid levels of pH 4.5 or less. This occurs when the level of soluble sugar in grass is insufficient to produce the acid necessary to preserve the silage.
This means your harvesting is important, but also you want to make sure you plants are at the right stage of growth and you don’t leave it to wilt to long because the sugars will burn off. At worst you can make it possible for botulism to occur, and at best you’ve just made an expense mulch or compost, and that really isn’t what you wanted to make!
The other thing to consider about hay and particularly silage is that if you bale up unwanted weeds, the preservation process wont destroy the viability of the weed seeds. So don’t think you can use silage or hay to destroy weeds. If it’s hot enough to destroy weed seeds your fodder is at risk of catching alight! At the other end, if you are feeding a fodder that may have weeds in it, then Id suggest you be prepared for weed seeds to be capable of establishing a new foothold on you pastures.
That really brings me to one my last points about feeding out hay or silage. Just remember the time, effort and money it took you to grow the feed, to cut it, bale it and store it. Every kilogram of feed you make has a dollar value. So don’t waste it when you feed it to your livestock.
There is nothing that frustrates me more than seeing a round bale dumped on the ground with half the feed being trampled into the mud, dunged on and ruined before it can be eaten. Some really good research is available that shows how much hay you waste by feeding it on the ground.
In general wastage is anywhere from 11% to 34% of the amount you are feeding. The research say that the more hay you put out, the more you waste! So if you dump a 200kg bale of hay or silage in front of your cows you can expect that around 60kgs will just be wasted.
If you add the wasted hay or silage up over a 3-month period, you’ll work out just how much money you have thrown away.
My feeding suggestions are to put your hay or silage into racks so that cattle or sheep can access it easily without wasting it by trampling, laying or crapping all over it! If you are worried about weeds, especially if it’s a bought in fodder source, in that case I reckon you should try and confine feeding to a few selected paddocks.
The last thing, I guess its more just to reinforce my point about feed quality, is to make sure you know what you are feeding and adjust your livestock feeding program accordingly! If you have made it form the best feed source you could grow, you preserved it and stored it well then you can expect your livestock to get excellent value from it. But if you made it from a more ordinary pasture or crop, then you need to adjust your expectations accordingly.
If you do buy in hay or silage, ask questions about the feed. I think its worth sending a sample away for testing for feed quality and then you will know for certain exactly what the energy and protein levels are. I think it wont hurt to do that with your own fodder as well. A test will help you set some benchmarks for your standard of production as it is.
If you are buying in fodder, especially silage, I’d also think about vaccinating your cattle against Botulism. If you don’t know what’s in a bale, then it’s a good idea to protect your cattle before they start eating the feed.
How do you cope with cold weather? Some people seem to cope better with cold weather. After working in the New England region of NSW for many years, I don't mind the cold too much. I find that I can always put on some extra clothes, find a pair of gloves and even resort to a fleece lined hat for those cold bleak days! And on the days when it is too cold, wet or miserable to be outside, there are always things to do inside to stay out of the cold.
However, for your livestock, the cold is an entirely different matter. Livestock are impacted by cold weather, and if cold conditions are accompanied by some rain and wind, the impacts can be fatal.
Many people think sheep are the animals that are the most susceptible to the impact of cold. However cattle can be just as susceptible.
Several years ago I was told by a producer about an experience where some cattle were imported from a station in north Queensland to the New England. These cattle were brahmans just older than weaner age. The day after they arrived a snow event occurred and sadly some animals couldn't cope and died.
So cold conditions, wet weather, wind can all combine to have devastating impacts on your animals. And unlike the northern hemisphere, bringing animals inside is not really possible in Australia.
Can livestock cope with cold weather? The answer is they certainly can. The process of rumination does help them cope, as the rumination process releases plenty of heat that helps the animal stay a bit warmer. The other things that help animals cope are the condition that the animals are in. Livestock in average or better fat scores will cope more easily than lean or low fat scored animals.
Animals that are at risk are those that are in low condition. Young animals and older wake animals are also at risk, as are lactating animals or sheep fresh off shears.
So how can you help your animals cope with the cold? There are a few things you can do. These include:
- Provide hay for your livestock. Hay is slower to digest, which means the rumen will produce more heat as digestion occurs. This is especially important when the paddock feed is limited.
- Put animals in sheltered paddocks. If you have ever been in a paddock sheltered by some trees you will know the difference in temperature, particularly getting out of the wind. Grazing your stock in sheltered paddocks, with timber or protections that can reduce the wind chill will make a big difference to your animals.
- Avoid importing livestock from environments that not as cold! Livestock need some time to adjust to a new environment. They may not eat the new pastures, may be unhappy after transport and may have had time to explore their new home in time to find the sheltered paddocks or places in the paddock. Being hungry, cold and stressed places these animals at risk, and if they are young, weak or light in condition, the cold is a real threat.
- Draft your herd into fat scores. Its always good management to draft your herd so that you have them in similar weights and fat scores. The low conditioned animals, and the lighter ones need to be given particular care at the best of times, but during cold, this care is particularly important. These are the animals that should have first option for shelter and definitely need your attention.
Fortunately the cold weather in Australia doesn't last for too long. Snow is an occasion and doesn't bury pastures for months on end. The big risks are the cold windy days as cold fronts sweep up from the Antarctic. I reckon we are also fortunate in knowing when these events are on the way, so there is time to plan ahead. I reckon if cold is an issue for your stock, you need to think if you can help them cope more easily with hay and shelter. And if you are thinking of purchasing or moving a few animals onto your place, I reckon if you can consider the traditional impact on cold and determine if it is the best time for your region and for your animals to do that movement.
If you're happy with all that, and you've helped your animals cope as well as they can, I reckon you've earned some time inside by the fire!
If I had to describe the feeling around the cattle industry at the start of 2015, I think I would have to say it was optimistic, tinged with relief. I think these feelings are a direct result of the combination of rainfall & pasture growth over a wide area. Combine this with some of the highest prices many people can recall being offered for cattle of all descriptions and its hard not to be relieved and optimistic about the future.
The rain certainly hasn't reached everyone, and there are still large parts of Northern NSW in drought conditions. Sadly I've had to help clients make the difficult decision to completely de-stock. The only positive is the market strength ensured this decision was rewarded with a good financial return.
Seasonal conditions on the western side of the North West Slopes of NSW and on parts of the plains, still look much like this picture. The frustration of seeing the rain skirting around is immense.
My advice has been to continue to follow the drought plan developed for the property, and to look to reduce numbers through selling. At this stage feeding cattle is fair too expensive and with the market as strong as it is, its financially the only sensible option to consider.
While I have been working with producers on drought plans and market decisions, I've also been spending time with producers struggling to utilise the rapid growth of feed they now have as a result of the rain.
In some case pasture mass is still average or patchy, but the rapid daily growth of pastures is now starting to see herbage mass build up. Keeping pastures grazed is a challenge, and there are various options we have been discussing.
For most people the rapid growth is good news. However there are a few tips worth considering as you start to use this pasture growth for livestock production.
The most commonly referred to issue is bloat. Bloat is caused when grazing young lush pasture, and is more prevalent in pastures with high legume content. That is pastures with plenty of clover, medics or lucerne. One of the by products of ruminant digestion is a large amount of gas. Normally cattle can belch this gas out.
Unfortunately the nature of legumes results in a foam developing in the rumen which traps the gas. Cattle cant really belch the gas or foam, and the pressure build up causes the rumen to press against the lungs. If the pressure cant be relieved the animal will die, generally from the pressure on the lungs and obstruction to breathing and blood flow.
I reckon bloat is one of the hardest things to manage, and there are no absolute methods to prevent it occurring. Very early or mild cases can be treated with an oral anti bloat preparation, which helps break the foam up. Animals more affected will need veterinary attention.
Managing to minimise bloat often involves a combination of strategies. These include:
* Restrict pasture intake by limiting grazing time or strip grazing
*Don't place hungry cattle onto lush green pastures, particularly if it is high in legume content
*It can be useful to allow cattle access to older grass pastures or hay when grazing potential bloat risk pastures
Some producers have had good success with bloat capsules, bloat blocks and medicating water supplies with a bloat oil. Its important to remember these options have limitations. Bloat capsules are not always available when you need them. They also take a few days to take effect and this means animals are still at risk just after they receive the capsule.
Bloat blocks or water treatments rely on animals consuming them. Not all animals will use blocks, and on lush pastures or if cattle can access water in other ways, they may not use medicated water in troughs. Every situation will be slightly different and if you are concerned about a pasture and its risk, get some advice and develop a strategy that works for you. NSW DPI has a useful guide on bloat which lists some treatment options if bloat becomes and issue.
Most people blame bloat for cattle losses when grazing lush pasture. While bloat can be a cause of death, many more animals are killed by the Clostridial Bacteria that causes Pulpy Kidney, or to give it its technical name, Enterotoxaemia.
The bacteria that cause this disease normally live in the intestine in low numbers. Sudden changes of feed allow these bacteria to multiply rapidly. As they do they produce toxin faster than the body can deal with and death of the animal occurs very quickly. Unfortunately there isn't really any treatment for this disease. The first sign is often finding dead cattle.
Its important to prevent the disease by making sure your animals have been vaccinated with 5 in 1 and if they are grazing lush feeds or changing diets, that you give them a booster shot before you make the change. There may be times when you have to give a booster every 90 days.
I reckon that the growth we are getting in most areas will be the biggest help for producers. So to make the best use of it, just remember that some simple strategies, combined with an appropriate vaccination program will stand you and your cattle in better stead for the rest of the growing season.
Have you ever heard someone state categorically that "animals know what they need to eat"? I hear claims like this quite often. In general I hear statements like this when we are discussing supplementary feeding programs, in particular the need for adding minerals and trace elements.
There's no doubt animals need minerals and some trace elements for their well being. In general animals obtain the minerals and elements they require as part of their daily feed intake.
In most circumstances the feed cattle eat each day has enough of minerals and trace elements to satisfy the animals needs.
There is another way cattle obtain them in their diet. Thats through the soil. I remember being told in a lecture from a vet that cattle eat roughly about 1kg of soil a day!
It makes sense when you think about it. If plants are pulled out from the soil during grazing, some soil will make its way inside!! Fortunately it comes out in the dung!
In that process cattle can access some of the minerals that may not be available form the feed itself.
Having said all that, there are times when the plants or the soil can't supply the minerals and elements cattle need.
So, do cattle know they need to have these minerals and elements, and will they actively search for them? Many people say that cattle will do this. They use plenty of examples to demonstrate this position.
In my experience and from many years working with researchers, I'm not so sure. I reckon my position is best summed up in this picture.
More recent research suggests that animals will look for particular minerals, but only when they have been deliberately depleted of that mineral and when the deficiency is major. It seems that when the deficiency is minor, the animals don't know they are missing it and don't go looking for it!
So what does this mean for producers designing feeding programs? I reckon it means that in the short term, deficiencies are not recognised by animals, and you can't expect them to go and eat a supplement to correct the problem. If you do want them to eat something, its more likely they will go to something they are used to eating, suck as a block. This is why sulphur blocks work quite well on some forage crops.
In the long term, deficiencies like calcium and phosphorus seem to be felt more by the animal. In these longer term deficiencies, animals do seem to look for options to address the absence of these minerals. This is when cattle will lick the soil, and in many cases chew bones.
While its easy to think they know that chewing bones is a result of nutritional wisdom, most researchers think its more likely that they do it because it makes them feel better.
There is one big exception to this! And its the need for sodium, in other words, the need for some salt.
We know there are some specific metabolic needs that will trigger the animals brain to crave salt. When this happens you will see cattle licking the ground or looking for salt deposits.
It was actually this behaviour that first made people think cattle possessed nutritional wisdom.
So what does this mean at a practical level? I reckon the first thing is to realise your animals are not smart enough to choose their specific mineral needs in the short term. Its up to you to monitor your animals and ensure they are not deficient.
You also need to think of how you supply your animals needs. Don't rely on the animals to pick and choose. If there is a deficiency in your animals intake, then design a program that will actually correct it quickly and effectively. In the long run it will be much more cost effective.
I reckon the final thing is don't have a guess! If you're not sure about your cattle and their nutritional needs, get some advice. If you don't have nutritional wisdom, just remember your cows can't tell you what they need either!
As autumn arrives, the weather patterns seem to be slowly changing. Its great to have more moisture in the atmosphere and to hear of showers, rain and storms. I know it hasn't been equally spread across the areas most in need, but its a start.
The next few weeks can be a little bit of a challenge for graziers, particularly if you have been feeding livestock for a while. Any green feed that starts to come away is going to prove a real temptation for your cattle. They will chase the green pick and this can create some problems.
The first thing to remember is your cattle won't be able to eat enough green pick to meet their daily energy needs. Secondly they will use up a lot of energy chasing the new growth.
If you have been feeding cattle in sacrifice paddocks, you need to keep doing this for a little longer. This will do a few things for you.
Firstly it stops the cattle chasing all over the paddocks looking for feed and burning up energy. Secondly you will need to keep feeding cattle until the paddock feed has grown sufficiently to meet livestock needs, and its easier to do that in the systems you've already set up.
Lastly it gives your pastures a real chance to re-establish and grow to a point where they can support grazing.
When your pastures get to a point where they will support grazing, I reckon its important to give all your animals a booster shot of 5 in 1 vaccine.
The clostridial bacteria which cause the disease Enterotoxemia (Pulpy Kidney) responds to the change in the flow of feed through an animals digestive system. Pulpy Kidney is a fatal condition for livestock so don't forget the booster shot before you go onto the new feed.
The next few weeks may be a good chance to check your paddocks to see if there are any unusual plants and weeds growing. They seem to be the quickest to respond to rain, and if you can get onto checking for them now, you can most likely control them before grazing or pastures hide them from your view. If any of those weeds are new or potentially toxic to livestock, its better to get them death with now, especially before you put your cattle back onto the pastures.
Hopefully the change in season will see a return to more favourable rainfall and growing conditions, but until that happens, stick with your drought management program until your paddock feed can support your stock. I know this can be frustrating, but a few days or a weeks patience can give you the chance to check your pastures, and prepare your cattle while avoiding the energy loss chasing green pick causes.
One of the most common questions I'm being asked is "how much should I be feeding my cows?" The strengthening drought conditions have seen an increase in people commencing feeding programs for their cattle. Part of a feeding program is working out how much feed you need to meet your livestock requirements.
The other key part of a program is working out your budget and the length of time you are prepared to feed stock. Ideally you should be thinking about windows to sell stock off, either to processors or to restockers in areas unaffected by drought. In most cases these destinations can't take stock immediately, and by booking them in for sale now, at least you have a timeline for feeding.
So when should you start feeding your cattle? And most importantly how much should you be feeding them?
Once your pasture has fallen below 1200kg / Dry Matter (DM) / Ha your cattle need to be fed. As I've written in these posts before, once pasture is at or below this amount, feeding with protein supplements is both ineffective and wasteful.
At this stage of pasture, you should be concentrating on feeding your cattle to meet their daily energy requirements. This means choosing and providing a feed which is suitable and capable of providing the energy your animals need.
So how do you work out the energy levels of the feeds you might choose? There are a couple of ways. The most accurate is to take a sample and send it for analysis. The results will provide you with the energy levels in Mega Joules (MJ) of Metabolisable Energy (ME) as well as Crude Protein (CP%). You can ask for other test results, but these two are the most important.
The other option is to refer to standard ranges for feeds which have already been tested. These will give you a guide and can help identify suitable feeds for a program. You can find these ranges on the NSW DPI website under Nutritive values of feeds (database).
Establishing the energy levels of the feed is the first step. The second is to determine the amount you need to feed per head, per day. The easiest option is to use this chart, which can be downloaded from the NSW DPI website.
To use this chart all you will need is a ruler, and to know both the average weight of your cows and the energy levels of the feed you intend to use.
When you know the weight of your cattle and the energy of the feed, draw a line from the weight through the feed and to the feed amount on the right hand side of the chart.
This will give you the amount of feed your cattle will require per head per day. You will need to allow for the moisture in the feed. You do this by multiplying the amount you have worked out off the chart by 100. You then divide that figure by the Dry Matter to give yourself the daily as fed amount for your stock.
Depending on the class of stock you are feeding, you may need to adjust the as fed levels. For instance a cow which is 6 months pregnant will need her daily ration increased by 20%; at 8 months pregnant its an increase of 40% and a lactating cow its an increase of 60%.
Taking the time to work out the amount of feed you need per head per day to meet your cattle's energy requirements is essential if you are to feed cattle properly. Depending on the feed you select, you may need to consider options such as how to feed it out, how to store it and if it is the most cost effective feed option available to you.
Doing some homework first will pay off in the longer term particularly if you can use it to calculate a program based on time and budget.
The increased drought conditions across QLD & NSW are challenging more producers each week. Droughts are some of the most testing of circumstances for any producer. The indefinite nature of the drought, combined with the pressure to maintain the business & care for stock places a lot of pressure on everyone. One of the hardest things to do in a drought is to maintain your own health and attitude.
I reckon its very easy to get caught up in "drought mode". When that happens, producers stop socialising, or being part of their normal networks. If I've learnt anything in dealing with droughts, is it is just as important to get off the farm, go and see your other friends and give yourself a chance to refresh your outlook and your perspective on things. More than anything, trust your drought plan and take the time to look after your self and your family.
Drought feeding stock is physically demanding. It can also be mentally very draining, particularly when you need to start thinking about what feeds you can use and where can you get them from. As droughts worsen, people often take short cuts, which can result in significant issues. The most immediate issue is physical injury. Sadly its pretty common to hear of injuries which happen when farmers are tired and get in the way of bales of fodder, or machinery used to prepare feeds. The simple message is to think about what you are doing and look after yourself as you do your work. Don't take your mind off your feeding tasks, even if you've done it plenty of times in the past!
The other big risk with feeding occurs when people start using unusual feeds. The difficulty in finding conventional feeds such as grain, hay or silage can lead people to use other feedstuffs. Before you go down that path, you need to consider a few things.
Firstly, what are these unusual feeds you are considering? Are they actually suitable for livestock?
Do these feeds actually pose a risk? Many alternative feeds have been treated with chemicals, which may be ok for their intended purpose, but if eaten by livestock may cause a residue risk and threaten our markets.
I reckon when you're tired and stressed, thinking about residues in feeds, does get a bit forgotten. And this is when issues occur.
Setting a drought plan up early can help avoid this potential risk. Adding a check list for unusual feeds can remind you to check the suitability and value of feeds before you decide to use them. If you can do this before you get tired and stressed it might help avoid a residue disaster.
Just remember if you do purchase this feed, you should ask the vendor for a By-Product Commodity Vendor Declaration. This will help you complete your own NVD is you have to sell livestock.
If you are choosing unusual feeds, think about the practicality and availability of that feed. Can it be stored easily; how will it be fed; is it actually providing value for money.
If you are choosing unusual feeds, or you want to have information to make decisions about these feeds, the NSW DPI have a data base on feed values as well as a useful Prime Fact on unusual feeds.
If feeding stock is part of your drought management strategies, I reckon time taken to consider your options will help prepare you to manage the physical and mental demands feeding involves. I'd like to see you manage these demands without unnecessary risks to yourself and your livestock.
In the past three weeks I've actually been working in Malaysia. The work was a great opportunity to see tropical agriculture. After three weeks working in tropical conditions, in and around palm and rubber plantations, coming home to the dry of northern NSW was a big visual shock.
This shock got me thinking. Drought conditions can quickly become a feature of what we see, particularly this current season. We become so used to see the brown colours and the dry feed, we don't always move as quickly on drought planning as we should.
There is no doubt, Northern NSW is now under drought conditions. However I reckon many people have become so used to seeing the dry conditions over the last few months, they haven't adjusted their plans from a dry season to drought management.
Successful drought management is based on good planning. Plans need to be based on a realistic assessment of:
How much feed do you now have in your paddocks?
How many head of livestock do you have?
What is the production status of those livestock?
How much water is in your dams, or reserves?
What is the quality of that water?
The next questions need to be asked and answered honestly.
What will change if there is no rain in 4 weeks? What about in 6 weeks? What about in 12 weeks?
Finally, if it rains within the next 3 - 4 weeks will you actually get useful feed or water supplies?
These questions are the basis of all successful drought management plans. They provide the information that can help make effective and realistic short, medium and long term plans for your enterprise.
I reckon when you ask these questions, you can start to then identify some options. If you don't have enough paddock feed, what animals should you be selling first? Which are the high value animals and which are the ones which you shouldn't keep in the enterprise.
How good is your water? Water is a huge limitation to grazing programs. Cattle need up to 150lts of water a day, depending on their size, their production status and the temperature around them. Its almost impossible to truck enough water every day. Its better to realise this early and plan accordingly, rather than leave it too late.
Are your cattle wading into dames, fouling the water and wasting this resource? Can you put a temporary fence and trough system in place? These are all questions which you need to answer earlier rather than later.
Some other useful tips for droughts:
De-stock early to manage feed and to prevent long term destruction of your paddocks. When it does rain you want the pasture to come back quickly
Identify which cows to sell first. Older and non pregnant animals should be the first to go
Consider options to value add steers or cows to get them to weight and fatness to sell quickly. Weigh up this option as it sometimes works well for producers early in a drought
Review your finances and talk to your bank and accountant
Consider early weaning
Temporary electric fencing to divide paddocks helps manage grazing pressure and allow plants some recovery which is important
I reckon the two most important things producers need to remember is:
1) Make a plan and stick to it! Don't wait of become victim of the "what if" scenario. When you work on the "what if" it becomes an excuse not to be proactive. People who work to the "what if it rains next week" keep putting off decisions and never recover from a drought.
2) Seek advice and second opinions. When you look at your paddocks and cattle every day you get so used to what you see. Get someone you trust to look at your plan and help you stick to the plan.
By doing this, I reckon you can manage a drought with more confidence than by waiting on a "what if.."
Late winter can be the coldest time of the year in Australia. The weather has been really variable in the last few weeks. Last Thursday I was in Armidale and it was sleeting, while this week we've had temperatures in the low 20's! The BOM has some great tools to use for farmers looking at the season ahead. Its definitely worth looking at the BOM website http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/ahead/temps_ahead.shtml so you can plan ahead for the next few weeks.
Cold, windy weather often occurs over the next few months. In these conditions, hay becomes an important option for farmers seeking to look after their stock more effectively. Hay offers several advantages at this time of the year.
Firstly good quality hay should have reasonable levels of energy (ME / DM). This is handy when pastures are short and green, as it can help meet the energy requirements of lactating cows. Secondly hay is rumen friendly, so it can be fed without requiring an introductory feeding period (which you have to do with grain). Most importantly for cold, wet and windy weather, as cows digest hay, the rumen is working a little bit harder and so generates more body heat.
While hay is a great option for these reasons, it also has another advantage. Hay is fairly easy to handle and to feed out. Cattle don't take long to learn to eat hay, and so it's a pretty simple feeding option.
Just because hay is simple and effective, doesn't mean you can be casual about how you feed it to your cows!
Good hay isn't cheap. Yet some people seem to feed hay in such a way that up to 35% of hay gets wasted. I reckon if you did your sums correctly, you wouldn't be happy about wasting this much money!
So how do you avoid wasting hay? There are a few things you can do. Firstly hay should be fed in ring feeders or racks. Using a feeder can reduce waste from 35% down to around 5%. Secondly you should have more than one feeder. This gives all of your cows a chance to access the hay.
Putting too much hay out will also result in increased losses. Research from the University of Missouri (http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G4570) looked at how much hay is wasted by putting out lose on the ground vs using hay racks. The study also looked at what happened when hay was fed every day vs every 7 days.
When large round or square bales where fed in racks or rings, the waste was around 4.9%. This compared to a rate of 12.3% when fed across the ground. These losses were just on 1 days worth of hay.
For 7 days supply, the waste level in rings went up to 5.4%. But for 7 days worth of hay spread across the ground, the waste was 43%.
Sadly its not unusual to see a round bale dropped in a paddock, or rolled out across the ground. This method of feeding results in waste from trampling and by contamination from dung and urine.
I reckon its a huge waste of good feed, and a really unnecessary economic waste for any enterprise.
Investing in some hay racks, or ring feeders will pay off very quickly once you work out just how much hay you can save.
The other handy thing about investing in hay racks or rings is they will come in handy when weaning comes around or to use with some hay to settle your new bulls into the yards on their first night in their new home.
Don't forget if you want some advice on feeding your cows, or anything to help your beef business become more efficient to give me a call. I'd be very keen to share a few ideas and see how we can achieve your goals more easily.
- Are you feeding enough?
- Have you really considered what you are feeding?
- Dont rush to judge during this drought
- Critical decisions for your cows
- Some drought feeding tips
- Using fat scores on farm
- What’s the point of recording that?
- How do you prioritise risk?
- Water has no nutritional value!
- Profit - is it a numbers game?
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