What a turn around to the season in northern NSW! I’ve been out on a number of places from Tamworth to Lightning Ridge in the last few weeks. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve been struck by how much growth is occurring in pastures and crops.
Of course many of my clients in southern NSW and even on the New England are still in the cold grip of winter, but the days are getting longer and warmer, and I think their turn for the season to kick away isn’t far off.
As we move into spring or if you are already grazing some of this new growth, don’t forget the season will bring a few challenges with it.
The two greatest challenges will come from bloat and from the clostridial disease Enterotoxaemia or Pulpy Kidney. Now I know I’ve written about both of these in previous blogs, but it’s worth spending some time to refresh your knowledge on both of these issues.
Bloat is caused by the release of gas caused by the digestion of lush pasture material. Normally cattle do a pretty good job in belching out this gas. However legumes and some lush pastures produces foam that builds up in the rumen during digestion. This foam traps the gas and prevents the animal from belching the gas out.
Meanwhile the rumination process continues to occur, producing more gas and more foam, and the pressure inside the rumen continues to build. If the foam doesn’t break down the gas remains trapped, and the pressure increases until the internal organs are crushed and the animal dies.
A real issue with boat is there is no silver bullet to prevent it occurring. I know many producers hope that one single strategy will solve their concerns. Unfortunately there isn’t a single 100% prevention.
Strategies that can work will 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
I know many producers do use bloat capsules, bloat blocks and even licks as well as medicating water supplies with a bloat oil. Its important to remember these options have limitations. Animal consumption of these products is pretty variable. So you cant be certain that ever animal is using the product or that they have consumed enough or even if they are regularly using the products.
Don’t forget 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. If you are trying to apply bloat oil in water troughs remember if cattle can access water in other ways they may not use medicated water in troughs.
Bloat is such a challenge, and the only effective strategy is to use a number of treatments and prevention strategies in combination to reduce your risk as much as possible.
Pulpy Kidney can be a significant contributor to losses on lush pastures. It can be a really big issue for many lamb producers, but cattle losses can also be fairly high in some circumstances.
Clostridial bacteria that live in the intestines of the animals cause the disease. Under the right conditions, generally when there is a rapid change to flow of feed through the digestive system the bacteria multiply. This rapid increase produces enough toxins to overwhelm the animal’s immune system and death happens pretty swiftly.
Fortunately the disease can be prevented through the use of the 5 in 1 vaccine. However it’s important to remember that the component of the vaccine that controls Pulpy Kidney will decline reasonably swiftly.
So if you are looking at a good season and planning to graze lush pastures for 2 or 3 months, I‘d recommend you consider regular 5 in 1 boosters while you are grazing that feed. To work out when to give the boosters make sure you read the label.
Don’t forget if you are unsure or you need some input to make the most of the conditions ahead, you can always get in contact with me.
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.
Clostridial diseases are unfortunately pretty common across Australia and without good management will have a big impact on herd health and production. Clostridial diseases are caused by bacteria which live in the environment, generally in soil. However some bacteria can also live in populations in the intestines and tissues of healthy animals.
The five most common Clostridial diseases are Tetanus, Malignant Oedema, Black Disease, Black Leg and Enterotoxaemia or Pulpy Kidney as its more commonly known.
These five disease often cause most of the production losses experienced by producers. The bacteria enters the animal through cuts, wounds, abrasions or in the case of Pulpy Kidney when the feed the animal consumes allows the bacteria to multiply rapidly and overwhelm the animals immune system.
Fortunately producers can manage for these diseases with a readily available vaccination. The 5 in 1 products are designed to vaccinate and boost an animals immunity to the Clostridial diseases.
Now while the vaccinations are readily available, I reckon a lot of producers don't always use them correctly and so miss out on the full benefit of the vaccinations. Ideally these vaccinations should be given as a first shot, followed by a booster 4 to 6 weeks later. The animal then receives an annual booster shot.
Understanding how vaccinations work is important if you are to get the full benefit from the program. Following the first vaccination, the immune system takes a few days to build up a level of immunity where the animal is protected from the disease. This initial immunity does decline over a four to six week period which is why giving the second vaccination within this time is so important. After the second shot is given the immunity levels are then usually sufficient to carry the animal through for 12 months.
In the those first few days, the animal is still not fully protected from the effects of the disease.
I reckon one of the biggest problems with vaccinations is producers often have too long a gap between the first and second shots. If your practice is to give your first shot at marking and the second shot at weaning a few months later, then the vaccination program isn't really effective!
Marking is a time when animals will be really exposed to cuts, abrasions and the conditions which suit Clostridial bacteria that cause disease such as Tetanus. If your first vaccination is at marking, and it takes a few days for the immunity response to occur, there is a great potential your animals could be impacted on by these diseases.
If you don't provide your second shot within the optimum 4 to 6 week period and wait a few months until weaning, you again expose your animals to a potential risk where they are not protected.
I reckon the ideal program sees calves given their first vaccination 4 weeks prior to marking, and the second is given at marking. I reckon that provides the best level of immunity for calves.
I've had quite a few producers tell me at length why doing it this way doesn't work or that it costs too much. But I reckon if you can reduce your pre weaning losses from something preventable, just by changing your management program slightly, it is worth it.
MLA have developed a really handy calculator which you can use to work out the potential costs or vaccinating or not vaccinating.
Getting a good vaccination program in place can help you prevent common diseases and can contribute significantly to lifting your herd health and your enterprise production and profits. I reckon it is a must do in every enterprise.
In northern NSW its been a pretty mild winter. I've noticed plenty of growth in paddocks as I've been out and about. I've also seen plenty of new calves. I haven't talked to many people about the calving rates just yet, but every year there are always a few disappointments following calving.
Calving losses can be caused by a number of things. These range from physical difficulties in calving such as breech birth. Large, heavy calves often cause losses. Big calves can be the result of the nutrition offered to cows before calving, or from the choice of the bull. Often these two factors are the biggest causes of calving difficulty.
Losses at calving are an issue. However there can be other reasons for low numbers of calves born each year. One of the big causes isn't always easy to observe.
Leptospirosis is a bacteria which infects cattle causing abortions, and in some cases will also reduce the level of milk production in females.
The abortions caused by Leptospirosis often occur after 5 months of pregnancy. If you have pregnancy tested your females earlier than this, losses from Lepto won't be picked up until calving time.
Leptospirosis can effect all livestock as well as feral animals including pigs and native mammals. The real risk with Lepto is it can also effect humans, and cause real health problems (http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/110084/leptospirosis-in-cattle-herds.pdf).
The disease is spread through animals shedding bacteria in their urine, or in fluids at birth or abortion. The bacteria can survive in the environment, particularly in mud, damp soil and water. Cattle can ingest the bacteria from any of these sources.
So how widespread is Leptospirosis? Its a very common disease, but getting some numbers on the levels of infection has been a challenge. Last week I saw some figures from a study conducted by Jillian Kelly, the District Vet with the Central West LHPA. This study was done with unvaccinated cattle herds in the Central West.
The study found 16% of feral pigs on farms were likely to be shedding the bacteria. The study also found 22% of mobs of pigs (more than 5 pigs) had an active shedder.
In cattle, the study found 25% of the herds were infected with the Pomona strain of Lepto, and 38% with the Hardjo strain.
I've no doubt there is plenty more to learn from this study.
I reckon what we have learnt is that Lepto is an issue which is bigger than many people recognise. The Hardjo strain is responsible for "abortion storms" and if this occurs after pregnancy testing, then the losses won't be picked up until calving, and can cause huge impacts on the profitability of the enterprise.
I'm also very conscious of the need to protect yourself, your family and your staff from the risks of this disease. I've spoken to people who have had Leptospirosis and the stories of their illnesses are really distressing. I reckon when you know you can prevent something from occurring for human health reasons, let alone for productivity reasons, you'd be mad not to have a prevention plan in place.
Leptospirosis can be prevented through good vaccination programs. I reckon vaccination is essential. When you get this in place, then you can start to address other issues, like your feral pig population! If you want some advice in putting a vaccination program together, don't hesitate to give me a call and we can work out the best program for your situation.
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