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.
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.
Pasture management is critical skill for graziers. I reckon pastures are the cheapest form of feed for livestock, and good management is essential in meeting livestock production targets.
There's actually a lot more to good pasture management than many people realise. Its not just growing a pasture and letting animals graze it. Good management addresses pasture species, as well as the amount of pasture available to animals, and just as importantly the quality of the pasture.
The amount of pasture needed for livestock is one of the things I often find producers underestimate. Cattle have difficulty meeting their daily requirements when pasture mass falls below 1500kg / DM /Ha.
As pasture mass declines, cattle need to graze longer and work harder to achieve intake, which means production suffers.
At the same time pasture quality is also influencing how much cattle can consume and how well they will perform.
Quality describes the energy and protein of the pasture. The easiest way for producers to understand the quality of their pasture is to consider its digestibility. Digestibility is directly related to the energy levels of the pasture. High digestibility (68 - 72%) can have energy levels of 9 - 10ME
This type of pasture is generally a green leafy pasture. Not only does it have good energy levels, the high digestibility means it will be quickly digested and the animal can graze more frequently and increase its intake. The increase in intake results in improved performance.
When digestibility falls the energy level of the pasture also falls. It results in longer digestion times, which reduces the grazing and intake of stock.
Recognising this is a challenge for all producers. Just as not having enough pasture mass impacts on animal intake, having too much pasture mass also causes problems. I reckon many people don't realise that having pasture over 2600kg /DM / Ha won't actually increase the amount that stock can eat.
Firstly, cattle will only eat until the achieve gut fill. Over 2600kg / DM /Ha the digestibility of pasture is often falling, so it takes longer for the feed to pass through and what feed is consumed is lower in energy, limiting performance.
At the same time there are the challenges of managing pastures to ensure they can establish roots successfully, as well as to allow seed set to happen.
Balancing the demands of stock against pasture quantity and quality is a constant task.
To get the balancing act right, I reckon you need to learn three key things.
First is develop and constantly practice assessing pasture mass in kilograms of Dry Matter / Ha (kg/ DM /Ha).
Secondly learn how to assess pasture quality by assessing pasture digestibility. The window for animal performance is limited pretty much to a range of 60 - 70%. Slight changes in digestibility, for example between 68 and 65% can see significant differences in intake and in animal performance.
To assess digestibility I usually look at both the stage of plant growth, and at cow pats!
Thirdly you need to actually appreciate the daily requirements for the stock you are grazing and start to match those with the pastures you have.
Working on these three skills opens up the opportunity to undertake pasture budgeting. It will also help you make better decisions for your livestock, and if you use supplements to choose the most appropriate options for your situation.
Don't forget, if you want to become a better pasture manager to get in touch with me and we can work through these skills and how best to use them on your pastures.
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