Well once again, Ken Ring predicted it and we got it – a dry spring and a hot summer. This together with a number of other factors, has left us with very low feed stocks for the coming months. In the comfort of the past 4 – 5 good seasons, many farmers have increased stock numbers to utilize the plethora of farm-grown forages. Many have not replenished the exhausted ‘buffer feed’ from the last drought and with the machinery Johnnies telling us all to trash our stubble, pressed straw has been very hard to come by this year.
Other factors are that protein prices are as high as they have been for years and grain prices seem to be following suit. Consider all this together with Ken Ring’s forecast for a dry autumn and things look pretty grim for the next few months for both cattle and sheep. An option would be to sell a stock, but as the writer found out to his cost, sale yard prices have just hit a new low in recent times! So what can we do?
- Maintain cows in acceptable condition so as not to affect performance in future parties.
- Don’t fire sale young stock
- Continue to grow young stock to meet the traditional market rise in the winter months – not forgetting that you can reap the rewards of those who have sold already – stock may be short later.
Judge your weaning time by the amount of suitable feed available, its cost, and its effectiveness in supporting milk production and calf growth. Assessment of these three factors will undoubtedly lead to early or, at least earlier than normal weaning. 100kg weight loss from the cow’s ‘normal’ body weight is about the limit. Hopefully, by this time cows are in calf. If not this is another issue – declining nutritional status is not conducive to fertility.
- Sell old fat cows and join heifers to replace the herd (cow price is still ok) and heifers are less costly to maintain.
- Wean as necessary and arrange a feeding program to suit the forecast conditions of low forage supply at least until July.
- Feed cows on dry pasture and or straw supplemented with a liquid feed supplement. AusFarm has StockGro – HiPro and StockGro – EconoPro cost around $2.00 and $1.50 per week for cows, respectively.
- Similarly, standing stubbles can be utilized but there is a limit to their feed value, and must be accompanied by a liquid supplement.
- Source some cheap bye-products if feed volume is a problem. Almond hulls and grape marc are options worthy of consideration. ANP is using is able to arrange supplies of both. Straw is an obvious option but, as mentioned above, there’s not much around.
- ‘Buffer’ silage can be part of the dry cow feed program but this may be better used for growing stock.
The plan should consider the low forage supply for the next few months and that cows should not be fed excessively to compensate for lost weight immediately prior to calving. Given that most of us will try to prolong weaning, cow condition may need to be recovered well before the next calving.
To do this, there needs to be a dietary balance of protein and energy and bearing in mind most animals will have been without green feed for several months, micronutrients need consideration.
Limited pasture, pressed stubble, and ANP supplement will give live weight gain of up to 350gms per day. Other liquid supplements do not support such gain!
The season will inevitably mean early weaning for many producers. This strategy takes the pressure off the cow and, if managed correctly, can result in similar if not better growth rates than calves on cows. The plan should be to wean calves with as little stress and weight loss as possible and adapt them to a grain-based diet with the right specifications.
A grain-based diet will do 2 things:
- Allow calves to grow at a rate that will at least match the corresponding weight gain on a normal milk-based diet. Growth rates of around 1kg/day are quite achievable at around 90cents/kg gain.
- Starches speed up the rate of development of the rumen thereby predisposing the animal to digest forages more efficiently later.
Calf diets, depending on age, should be high in protein and formulated together with a supplement. ANP can help with ration formulation to get the most out of your available raw materials. Since proteins are expensive, urea can be considered but it must be treated carefully remembering that little and often is the way to optimize utilization.