Managing the autumn feed gap for livestock

Crop-walk

March to early June is generally the window for sowing winter crops and pasture such as oats, wheat, rye grass or brassicas, while soil temperatures are still warm enough for seeds to germinate.

Each year across our region, there is a period of time when pasture quality does not meet livestock energy requirements.

The length of this period depends predominantly on seasonal conditions and stocking rates. Did you know that this period of time is known as your feed gap and it can happen multiple times throughout the year?

For most, late winter to early spring is when the feed gap is most likely as the days are cooler and sunlight day length shorter resulting in slower pasture growth.

Unfortunately, it is during the coldest part of winter that livestock energy requirements increase as they adjust to conditions. Livestock quickly lose condition when energy requirements are not met, particularly in young or lactating stock.

“Understanding your feed gap can help to predict when one may occur and therefore assist you to maintain maximum productivity,” said Hunter Local Land Services Livestock Officer Teresa Hogan.

“If the drought has taught us anything, it has taught us the value of decision making.”

The ability to predict when a feed gap may occur gives you the opportunity to forward plan and make on farm management decisions early, be that reducing stock numbers or purchasing & storing supplementary feed.

To effectively fill a feed gap there are some things to consider:

* Due to the drought, supplementary feeding costs are high and demand for feed has eased but supply is still low. Feed budgeting is an essential tool to assist you in making timely livestock feed management decisions. Calculate your feed requirement for a reasonable period and be certain that you have enough access to feed to get you through this period. Be vigilant on the changing energy requirements of the livestock that you are feeding. Set yourself critical dates to reassess how things are tracking so that you don’t find yourself caught short for feed.

* March to early June is generally the window for sowing winter crops and pasture such as oats, wheat, rye grass or brassicas, while soil temperatures are still warm enough for seeds to germinate.

* Livestock markets remain strong, with rainfall increasing demand of all classes of stock. Taking advantage of these markets in the form of reducing stock numbers, early weaning and short term trading and fattening of livestock may be an option.

“Historically supplementary feeding has been the most effective means of filling feed gaps,” said Teresa.

“Many will supplement with silage or hay and grain or pellets (depending on what is available) to provide energy and protein to meet the energy requirements of livestock they have on their property.

“Recent rainfall has given some the opportunity to make silage and hay to store, whilst grain remains expensive and access is limited. The quality of grain is stable but worth noting that some grain varieties are registering lower protein levels.”

Hunter Local Land Services continues to provide free basic feed testing and encourages you to take this opportunity to find out exactly what you are working with. A simple feed test early can save you from a lot more work down the track.

Dry feed in steeper or forested paddocks where animals don’t generally venture can be another resource to utilise over winter for grown animals. Spending money on adding a water point and loose licks, molasses mixes etc. to these areas can add to you saving money over a winter period over purchased feeds.

When buying in supplementary feed or preparing feed on farm for storage, consider the quality of feed you require to meet the energy requirements of the class of stock you will need to feed over the feed gap.

Proactive assessment of seasonal conditions and on farm productivity is imperative as we continue to recover and rebuild.

The ongoing drought and Covid-19 have potentially changed some farmers thinking around how best to approach it this year.

Livestock markets remain strong, with the improved seasonal outlook increasing demand of all classes of livestock, in particular weaner heifer/steers & grown heifers and re-stocker ewes.

“In the cattle market at present, high weaner and re-stocker prices of 400- 500c/kg are being seen right across the board. This price is giving farmers another alternative to managing their feed gap,” said Teresa.

“Many are taking advantage of high prices and reducing weaner stock numbers early to ease supplementary feeding costs with less livestock to feed.

“Remember, you and your family are your farms number one asset, make your decisions early, look after yourself and seek help if required.”

You can read more about managing your winter feed gap in the Winter edition of the Agricultural Extension Newsletter https://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/1224776/ag-ext-newsletterMay-2020web.pdf

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