Low rainfall and high stock feed prices put significant strain on livestock managers. This workshop presented by Darren Price from Price Rural Consultants and Helen Smith, Agricultural Advisor from South East Local Land Services (LLS), looked at how to feed livestock safely and economically when pasture is in short supply.
Key points and resources
- It is time to make tough decisions about your capacity (cost, feed availability and time) to feed livestock in the coming months. Reduce your numbers or destock now if you need to while the animals are in good condition.
- Visual guide to condition scoring sheep and cattle
- Condition score for sheep explanation
- Condition score video for sheep
- Condition scoring cattle information
- Animals in poor body condition cannot be transported (see Is It Fit to Load)
- Choose which animals stay and go with the goal of improving your herd/flock in the long term. Check the condition of your stock and cull animals that are under performing. Cull any animals that are getting old, with cracked teeth or missing teeth – as a general rule cows over the age of eight years have reached the end of their productive life, although there might be the occasional pet that gets to stay longer. Pregnancy test and cull any stock that are not pregnant (if they should be pregnant). You have to decide if the value of the animal is worth the money and time you invest in feeding them: whether this is the dollars you earn from selling weaners or the satisfaction you have in producing your own food.
- Think about the water requirements for your livestock. Get your livestock water storage full and keep as full as possible. Some supplements have salt in them that increases the animal’s requirement for water. Pregnant and lactating animals have a higher demand for water than other classes of stock. Water quality testing kits for livestock drinking water can be sourced from your Local Land Services office.
- Livestock water quality Prime Fact 326.
- Also look at the NSW DPI Fact sheet Stocktaking water (August 2018)
- The average water requirements of stock can be found in the Managing and Planning for Drought 2018 handbook on page 47.
- Remember to undertake routine animal management procedures including managing parasites, giving vaccinations and monitoring animal health during dry conditions. Weaning early to reduce the demand on breeding stock could be a strategy to consider. The Sheep Connect website has webinars about early weaning, feeding and selling sheep during drought.
- Early weaned animals need high quality feed and careful health management. You can seek advice from Local Land Services, private vets or other agricultural consultants. Talk to your livestock agent about the best time to sell weaners. It might be easier to sell them younger/lighter and let someone else manage them.
- Parasite burdens can be higher when animals are under stress and pastures are low so monitor with worm egg count testing and treat as needed.
- Where possible, avoid shearing during winter as this will put extra stress on sheep that already have a high energy demand because of the cold.
- Develop your skills for assessing pasture quantity and quality. This is essential for working out the amount of feed that you have in your paddocks. Dry standing feed can be useful for providing gut fill when feeding stock with other supplements.
- You can make your own pasture measuring stick very easily with a piece of plastic pipe with the distance from the end marked in centimetres. You can use this with a pasture recording sheet to estimate the quantity and quality of the feed that you have on your property.
- The Meat and Livestock Australia Website describes pasture assessment techniques and has a pasture height recording sheet.
- Making More from Pasture also has useful information.
- Pasture assessment takes some practice. The PROGRAZE course can help with learning this skill (contact your local Local Land Services office).
- Sheep and cattle can be fed grain or grain based pellets as supplementary feed (must not contain restricted animal material). They will also need a source of fibre (pasture or hay).
- To work out how much supplementary feed is needed, find out the nutritional requirement of your class of stock and then work out what is the shortfall in the pastures that needs to be replaced. Animals that are in late pregnancy, lactating or growing (weaners) need more feed than other classes of stock. The energy requirements of stock increase in cold conditions. When assessing feed look at the components in the following order: water, energy, protein, minerals and vitamins.
- An example for feed budgeting for sheep can be found at the Lifetime Wool Website.
- See NSW DPI Managing Drought Hub for more information
- Some local guides with suggestions for supplementing pasture:
- See DPI Drought Feed Calculator app if there is no pasture left.
- DPI fact sheet full hand feeding of cattle
- NSW Primefact Full Hand Feeding of Sheep
- All new feeds should be introduced gradually over a period of weeks so livestock do not gorge themselves and get bloat or grain poisoning. It takes time for the rumen microbes to adjust to a new feed (including green pastures after long dry periods). When changing feeds, shandy the new feed with the existing ration.
- To work out the best value feeds for supplementing pasture, look at the energy value of the feed. Feeds that are cheaper (dollars per kilogram) may not necessarily end up being the best value if the energy content is lower or quality is poor which often results in more wastage.
- See the best feeds to buy in section in the booklet Managing and Preparing for Drought 2018
- DPI Feed Cost Calculator
- DPI Drought Feed Calculator App
- Molasses can be used to top up energy but is not adequate for survival on its own. Molasses can be given as a liquid or a lick block. The stock must also have access to pasture and/or hay.
- Urea can be fed to top up protein but needs to be used very carefully and can be toxic (especially to non-ruminants). Seek advice before using.
- Cattle need additional calcium, sodium and magnesium (e.g. in a loose lick) when fed low quality hay or grain-based feeds. For more information visit the Future Beef Website
- Sheep need additional calcium and salt when fed grain-based feeds. For more information see Autumn Feeding Guide for Sheep
- After 4-6 months without green feed, young animals may need additional Vitamin A (ADE injection) and Vitamin B12 (injection). Seek veterinary advice.
Further information and advice
The NSW DPI booklet Preparing and Managing Drought 2018 provides comprehensive information on managing livestock during drought conditions including planning, feeding, calculating rations, water requirements for livestock and farm management.
Resources to help farmers in drought conditions can be found at:
This workshop was made possible with funding and in-kind support from South East Local Land Services and the voluntary efforts of the Small Farms Network Capital Region committee.