Flood recovery: don’t assume green feed means high diet quality

James Nason, 13/02/2012

Cattle producers in flood affected areas of Queensland and New South Wales are being urged to keep a close eye on pasture and stock condition in coming weeks as heavy rainfall and floodwaters trigger new growth across the region.

The floods have affected hundreds of cattle properties in both states and could hinder cattle condition where pasture quality has been diluted by heavy rain and floodwater, and through possible outbreaks of diseases such as three-day-sickness.

One of Queensland’s most experienced beef nutritionists, Désirée Jackson, based in Longreach with the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, said producers in affected areas should not assume diet quality was good just because they had green feed.

Flood and major rain events tended to result in a higher proportion of stem to leaf in tropical grasses. Leaves were much more nutritious than stem, so while the grass can retain the same amount of protein, the protein gets diluted across a much larger area in the plant, resulting in a lower protein level in what the stock graze.

In these instances stock often did not do as well as they would normally do after a break in the season.

One strategy was to try to increase grazing pressure over the short term to prevent feed from becoming rank. However the strong price of cattle meant many producers could not afford to rush out and buy the cattle required for that purpose. 

In addition, in the short term, because pasture growth was so rapid, it was difficult to maintain enough grazing pressure on the pasture.

Ms Jackson’s main advice to producers is to study the composition of their pastures after the floods, and to conduct diet quality analyses.

This critical information will help them to make proactive decisions about turning off or supplementing cattle before they start going backwards in condition.

“If you normally get herbage in your pasture, look at how much there is available in the paddock,” she said.

“Because if there is very little available, that will mean that once the pasture begins to dry out, if it is a grass-dominant pasture, the nutritive value of the pasture would decline rapidly.

“Secondly, I would be looking at a diet quality analysis, particularly as the plants go to seed and begin to mature, because that is when diet quality tends to decline quickly, so that they can make decisions before weight loss in animals becomes visually obvious.”

Diet quality analyses involve collecting dung samples from 10 to 20 cattle and sending them away for testing.

Feed quality in areas that have experienced successive years of flooding was also likely to have progressively diminished from year to year, as organic matter had been used for plant growth and not returned to the soil.

Producers have also been warned to be on the lookout for biting midges which can promote the spread of three-day sickness.

This was particularly relevant in areas where three-day has not occurred in recent years, where cattle were likely to have lost some immunity to the disease.  In addition, buffalo fly can worry cattle during the recovery period following floods, which can temporarily reduce their productivity, Ms Jackson said.

AgForce cattle policy director Andrew Simpson said small outbreaks of tick fever were also possible where flooding had occurred in marginal risk-prone areas near the tick line, such as Alpha and Emerald in central Queensland.

Producers in those areas were urged to remain vigilant and alert their vet to any signs of sickness.

A week after floodwaters spread across major catchments of Southern Queensland, Mr Simpson said extensive fencing damage had been revealed, with losses of tens of thousands of dollars worth of lost fencing reported on individual properties. Stock loss estimates were still being assessed.

The floods forced the closure of the Roma store and prime cattle sales for the second successive week last week, and cut off the supply of cattle from western Queensland to eastern selling centres and processors.

However, despite that impact, total saleyard throughput in Queensland almost doubled last week, with agents selling 11,249 cattle, compared to 5681 the week before.  Yardings were still well below year-ago levels, when totalled 19,444 cattle for the same week of 2011.

Roma selling agents have confirmed that a fifth consecutive Roma cattle sale has been cancelled due to the ongoing effects of road and infrastructure damage due to the wet weather, with this Thursday’s Roma Prime sale expected to be the first sale at the centre in almost three weeks.


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