With an autumn break failing to be realised across much of southern Australia, producers could be facing a long winter of supplementary feeding.
After assessing your production targets to determine if supplementary feeding is the economically viable choice compared to other options, such as destocking, it’s important to fully understand the nutritional requirements of your livestock before developing a supplementation program.
South Australian livestock consultant Hamish Dickson said it’s important to focus on the basic principles of ruminant nutrition first, before making decisions about supplementation.
“The first priority is to understand the nutritional requirements of each class of livestock, to guide decisions about how much protein or energy will need to be supplemented,” he said.
This is a two-step approach:
The evaluation provided by these two assessments will guide the necessary supplementation.
Dry season supplementation will primarily be for energy (cereal grains, molasses, silage, good quality cereal hay) and/or protein (cottonseed meal, lupins, silage, urea, hay with legume content).
While there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to formulating a supplementation program, Hamish said factors to consider include:
When it comes to the economics of supplementation, Hamish says it is more cost effective to maintain condition rather than let stock go backwards and try to regain condition down the track.
Costs can be managed by assessing products based on their cost per unit of protein/energy rather than a cost/tonne. Include costs for transport, storage, handling and feeding out, and consider available/necessary infrastructure such as on-farm storage facilities and feeders/troughs.
In a mixed-farming enterprises, grain and hay can be redirected to feed livestock, but Hamish said it is still prudent to use a feed test to ensure that the ration is correctly formulated and money is not wasted through excess or under feeding.
Incorrect or excessive supplementation can have a negative effect on animal wellbeing, so some issues to be aware of include:
“Formulating the right supplement ration is not a simple science, so draw on the advice of your consultant to ensure you are not over or under feeding stock,” he said.
When it rains
A seasonal break does not mean putting the brakes on supplementation as livestock need to transition to a new diet and pastures need time to recover.
Grazing new growth in pastures can cause livestock condition to go backwards, as early green pick is often up to 90% water. The right time to start grazing varies on the type of pasture and animal class, but Hamish said a rule of thumb is to allow at least 1,000kg of dry matter/ha.
To safely transition livestock to a new diet, Hamish suggests moving sheep or cattle to new pastures late in the day when they are already full of hay or dry matter, to aid rumen adaptation. Ensure there is roughage available to help prevent pulpy kidney or bloat in lush pastures.