Managing cattle on deteriorating pastures

Desiree Jackson, Scientist, Queensland Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 24/05/2013

Desiree JacksonAs feed has dried up in many beef regions of Australia, producers have been looking at their options. There are some basic nutritional guidelines that can help manage your way through the situation.

I advocate a step-by-step approach starting with understanding what feed is available.

First, get a handle on diet quality. This prevents shooting from the hip.

Diet quality analysis is useful for:

  • determining where protein and energy levels are and how these match up with the animal’s nutrient requirements; 
  • monitoring how quickly diet quality is declining and when animals are likely to begin losing weight so action can be taken before animals spiral into rapid weight loss; 
  • determining the most appropriate nutrients to supplement stock; 
  • making decisions on when to wean, whether to sell or retain and supplement.

Cattle requirements change with their stage of production, so this needs to be considered.

Segregate first-calf cows from mature cows and wet cows from dry, pregnant breeders. This allows for preferential supplementation to those breeders with the highest requirements.

Get advice from your local beef adviser or a nutritionist on the most appropriate supplement to feed.

Managing livestock on poor quality pasture

Where there has been significant pasture damage by spoiling rain or frost, or diet quality is otherwise poor, wean calves down to 60kg. This reduces protein and energy requirements in wet cows by more than 30% and 50%, respectively.

Lighter calves need particularly good nutrition, so seek advice from a beef adviser or nutritionist if required.

If animals are retained with the intention of feeding them energy supplements until there is a break in the season:

  • calculate the cost of feeding and subtract this cost from the reasonable price you might expect at the saleyards; 
  • do a forage budget and factor in the increasing grazing pressure from supplementation and whether there is sufficient pasture available; 
  • consider the labour component of feeding.

Although prices are low, selling down:

  • prevents animals from further deteriorating in condition and potentially becoming unsaleable and unable to be transported to agistment; 
  • frees at least one person from the property to work off-property to maintain cash flow; 
  • prevents pasture damage caused by overgrazing, enabling it to re-generate quickly once there is a break in the season or even small storms.

Where there is little pasture available for grazing, stock are vulnerable to poisoning, even from safe feeds such as protein meals. Always ensure that there is plenty of roughage available to stock when supplementing.

Source: MLA


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