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.
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!
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.
Grape Marc is the focus of many phone calls I've received in the last few days. People want to know what this product is, if it can be used to feed cattle and if there is any usefulness to this as a feed.
Basically Grape Marc is the remains of wine making. It consists of the stems, seeds and pulps after the grapes have been processed for wine.
Grape Marc can be very variable in its feed value. The moisture content of this product can vary significantly depending on its processing method.
The energy and protein content of Grape Marc is also variable. Tests by state Departments of Agriculture highlights the variation in feed values of Grape Marc.
NSW DPI figures indicate Grape Marc has an average value of 50.7% DM; just over 13% CP and around 6MJ of metabolisable energy (ME).
At best Grape Marc can have a dry matter of 90%; and up to 8 MJ/ ME.
Effectively this means Grape Marc is a basic feed which can be used as a filler in a ration.
I reckon a lot of producers need to consider how cost effective this type of feed can be to their circumstances. If feed is low in Dry Matter, e.g. 50% then you needs to work out how much it is costing to actually get that feed home.
For example; if a truck load of feed is 55% Dry Matter; 45% is moisture. So for every 1000kgs on the truck, 450kgs of that load is moisture!
When you feed your stock, your are feeding a ration based on Dry Matter & MJ/ME So in the case of that 55% DM feed it might have 7MJ/ME, it works like this:
- if your animal needs 80MJ/ME day (based on its weight) then it needs to eat 11kg/DM a day
- based on the DM of that feed, you would need to feed out 20kgs of feed a day.
I reckon when you start looking at those quantities, and the costs associated with such a feed, you will quickly work out if it actually is the best option for you to purchase.
Grape Marc is also a feed which can pose a residue risk to your stock. You must ask for a Commodity Vendor Declaration form and make sure you keep a record of the vendor, the stock you feed and how much you feed.
The skins and seeds contained in Grape Marc can be risk for chemical residue. The Victorian DPI notes some studies indicate oil soluble chemicals can be ingested easily from grape seeds to accumulate in fat tissue.
Dairy Australia has developed some suggestions for producers using Grape Marc, which is a handy reference.
As with any unusual feed, I reckon you need to way up the costs and the risks pretty carefully before you start using it.
If you can't get a Commodity Vendor Declaration for the products you want to use, then I reckon you should avoid using that feed.
If you do your homework and work out the options, then Grape Marc may be a good choice for you. But don't rush in until you've made a few enquiries and worked out if it is the best option for you.
If you are unsure about a feed, its usefulness or its suitability for your stock, make sure you get some sound advice before spending money or taking risks with it. I reckon the drought is tough enough without the risk of feeding the wrong products.
Making decisions and sticking to them is essential in drought management. This summer looks like it will continue to test the resilience of producers across eastern Australia. No rain and record heat have pushed most areas into another challenging drought.
In recent Rayner Reckons, I've written a lot about the importance of making plans with trigger points for action and the importance of sticking to that plan. In the last few days plenty of people have spoken to me about the plans and options ahead.
Unfortunately drought management is not easy, and hard decisions have to be made.
The worst thing is to do nothing.
Last week I was incredibly distressed to hear some producers talking about the drought, saying they had no options left but to let their animals die, as well as asking to be exempt from prosecution under animal cruelty charges if they let their stock perish.
I can never accept this argument. This drought has been developing over several months, and the producers I know and work with have been working and following their plans.
Part of the plan is to de-stock. Yes they have had to accept low prices, and often they have lost money. But that was an option which had to be taken. Some other producers have kept some stock, choosing to feed them to a certain point and then deciding on selling as the drought continues. Again they have had to take a loss. Unfortunately that was what happened, and while not wanting to accept a loss for their livestock, it was planned and was the best option for those individuals.
For the producers who haven't been been decisive and made timely decisions, time has run out. I appreciate they may have no money to feed stock. I appreciate they may have stock which cannot be transported for sale or slaughter.
For these people it is not a case of having no options. There is only one option left. Their animals cannot be left to die. The producers must humanely destroy their animals.
I reckon we have a moral obligation (as well as a legal one) to ensure the welfare of our animals. There are plenty of people wanting to question our treatment of animals exported overseas. We can't ever afford to neglect welfare and ensure our standards never fall.
Droughts are never easy. They require hard decisions and sometimes those decisions are distressing. But as managers of livestock, we can never do nothing.
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.
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.
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.
I really enjoy being out on farms at this time of the year. In northern NSW and parts of southern Queensland there are plenty of little calves in paddocks. I love seeing calves grouped up in nurseries, watched over by an older cow.
When you see this, you know that the cows are off grazing, or possibly watering, and they will be back to let their calves get some milk shortly.
Grazing time is vital for lactating cows. When a calf is born, a cows daily energy intake doubles.
Its vital that a cow gets adequate energy from her diet in order to produce enough milk for her new calf.
Spring calving can be a challenging time for cows, as the supply of feed can be quite limited.
In many cases the extra energy cows need will come from a combination of daily feed intake and metabolising body fat.
I reckon its really hard to stop cows losing weight after calving. Most pastures, particularly semi improved or native pastures won't contain the energy or the protein lactating cows need. Using body fat will help address the deficit and ensure milk supply to the calf.
The trouble with using body reserves is the flow on effect on the cows returning to oestrus for joining in late spring or early summer. A big loss in body reserves will delay the cow returning to oestrus, and this can impact on your herd fertility levels.
So just how much feed do your lactating cows need? This will depend on the live weight of your cows. Bigger cows need more energy for their own maintenance as well as for their milk production requirements.
To give you a basic idea, a 440 kg lactating cow requires a daily intake of 100 MJ ME and 700g of Crude Protein.
Heavier cows will need more than this!
Knowing what your cows need is just part of the challenge. You need to know what your pastures can provide.
For example a pasture comprised of Phalaris & Clover should have around 10 MJ/Kg & about 140g CP/Kg.
If that 440kg cow ate 10kg of this pasture daily, her requirements should be met, and you wouldn't see too much wight loss, or issues with fertility later on.
This is all very good in theory. In practice the quality of feed at winter, the amount of feed and the intake of your cows will vary. I reckon the best thing you can do is recognise your cows need a lot of energy and be prepared to closely monitor your cows & their feed intake and be prepared to intervene with some supplements if you think the pastures are not providing all your cows require. Intervention with supplements or moving to better pastures may prevent more costly losses later on with lower herd fertility.
Don't forget, if you have any questions after reading this, or about how to manage your cows during this time, you can always contact me for some advice.
In Northern NSW, calving is just starting in a lot of beef herds. I really love seeing new calves appearing in paddocks as I drive about visiting clients.
In terms of major events on the cattle calendar, I reckon calving is probably the biggest event. Its important to manage this event well, as a good calving season will impact on your short and longer term productivity and profitability.
You should aim to put your cows into paddocks where you can supervise them during calving.
Ideally you should be able to access yards easily if you do need to provide assistance.
Your calving paddocks need to have good shelter, access to water and most importantly sufficient pasture.
Many people don't realise how much extra energy their cows require once a calf is born. Once that calf arrives, the energy requirements of the cow will effectively double. If the amount of available pasture, or the quality of the pasture is insufficient, your cow will lose weight and she may also produce less milk which will impact on the growth of your calf.
In the longer term, weight loss post calving will impact on the fertility levels of your herd. Cows which are in low fat scores at calving, eg Fat Score 2, will take much longer to return to oestrus. In practical terms, this will see less cows going into calf at joining time, or a longer and more spread out joining which then impacts on next years calving.
Calving is a challenge particularly for first calf heifers, especially if they are calving as 2 year olds. This group of females requires a lot more attention, both during the calving period, and immediately post calving.
I reckon managing feed for your newly calved cows is the most important task. Using an appropriate supplement can help your cows use paddock feed more efficiently and meet some of the energy requirements placed on them as lactating cows.
Ensuring your cow nutrition is correct will help ensure your longer term goals for a fertile productive herd can be met more easily.
The critical time of calving is the during calving and immediately and the months leading up to joining. Well supervised, well fed cows will be much better suited to joining, while their calves will be better grown and more robust which is important for your future enterprise goals.
I've been spending a bit of time talking with producers about the best ways to manage their calving season. So if you'd like to get in touch, I can help you develop a plan to manage your newly calved cows.
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