Updated: May 21
Welcome to the Autumn/Winter 2019 Edition of the TRAC Beef & Sheep Newsletter...
Autumn lambing ewes have been scanned, grouped into their respective mobs and well into the lambing process now. The focus now is to make sure we get the most live lambs on the ground and can trouble shoot any problems before they become they damage profitability.
As ewes get closer to lambing their energy requirement significantly increases far beyond what stubble and dryland can provide in both energy and protein, then during lambing the transition onto grass can throw a huge curveball as it introduces a major change to the diet during a critical period where consistency is preferred.
A common concern producers have about feeding to lambing ewes are risks of mis-mothering or acidosis, however when done correctly it can result in more kgs of lamb and less lambing problems by meeting energy requirements. Grain feeding can be safe, effective and improve the survival rate and even post-weaning growth rates due to starting off better.
Greater lamb produced boils down to...
The ewe has enough energy to lamb and be confident she will be fed, resulting in less chance of her leaving the lamb.
A full rumen and energy needs met, green pick and grain will provide energy, but we still need gut fill
Better quality colostrum - by feeding grain the quality and quantity of colostrum is increased, meaning greater intake and passive immunity transfer.
Greater milk production to support lamb growth
Energy needs of both the lamb and ewe are met, meaning conserved body condition for the ewe.
Imprint feeding - lambs that have been shown how to find and eat grain will be faster to take to feeding at a later date if required.
Once all protein, energy and fibre needs are met of the animal, the second focus is minerals. Growing a lamb and then going through birth puts immense stress on the animal that utilises large stores of minerals. It is vital to set the ewe up to lamb and then replace lost minerals for longevity of the flock.
HITTING GOALS ON GRASS
It is always a celebratory day when the skies open up for the Autumn break and the paddocks begin change from blowing dust to healthy shades of green.
The new grass starts to spring up and within a few weeks we can start running animals across permanent pastures for a beneficial pick, and then not too long after start to see our newly sown paddocks come into the mix. After many months paying the a high price for protein, particularly this summer where feed prices went beyond the profitability line for most, it can be easy to let the animals do their own thing. However, unfortunately grass does not come without its own challenges, and in the early days we need to keep the feed trips going to supplement the animals through their transition from lower quality feed on to rocket fuel grass.
A rumen takes minimum three weeks as a rough rule of thumb to adjust to a change in feed, and going from high fibre-low protein feed to low fibre-high protein grass is a major adjustment. Not only do we need to look at feed efficiency, but to take care of our new pasture growth as this is a key time point that can dictate home grown fodder production for the rest of the season. Therefore we want to take it easy and allow for proper plant establishment and tillering for continued growth through winter.
Although protein is up, there can be too much of a good thing. For example, if changing from a cereal based diet to all green grass, the crude protein percentage triples. Additionally, the new, short grass will not have enough fibre for the rumen to run effectively, therefore passage rate will be high - costing the animal energy. A full rumen is optimal for all classes of stock, particularly those about to lamb or calve.
Once the animals are sufficiently transitioned, it is ideal to keep some starch grains (wheat, barley, oats etc.) in the mix, but understandably this is not always a possibility, particularly when feed prices are so high. Proving key minerals such as sodium (in salt) and magnesium can make a large difference for significantly lower cost.
Often on a full grass diet, due to the high protein and low fibre, there is a large loss of minerals out of the system (or inability to absorb out of the feed due to passage rate) and an energy cost to the animal to process the protein.
New grass can have lower magnesium, high potassium (soil type of fertilisers) and lower salt, which all contributes to decreased amounts of magnesium absorbed, a key nutrient for the central nervous system. Providing balanced levels of sodium and magnesium, with the addition of calcium and phosphorus are valuable requirements when on lush feed.
FOOD VS FILL
Many areas are still hand-feeding while the pastures establish, but hay is becoming even more expensive as quality declines.
While still on grain and hay diets to provide animals with energy or to keep them going through lambing, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Most hays, while less energy than grains, play a critical role in animal health and feed conversion. When on high grain diets the animals need a buffer to keep the rumen pH low and prevent acidosis or sub-acute ruminal acidosis, which can eat heavily into the profit line from low performing animals.
The cheapest and most effective buffer comes from the animal, when sheep and cattle ruminate they are further breaking down the food for better digestion and creating endogenous bicarb to maintain rumen pH. With low fibre rations there is less buffering occurring, therefore less of the feed is being converted into energy. Commercial buffers are a great tool when used in conjunction with enough fibre.
High quality hays are an excellent source of energy and fibre, however as we sit on the shoulder of the season the idea of bringing in another truck isn't exciting, so supplementing with even a bit of straw or buying a lower quality hay to top up the better fodder can mean better feed conversion efficiency.
The way a rumen works is that it always needs to be full to work efficiently, this is even more important when ewes and cows are close to lambing and calving to get the rumen distention and to reduce metabolic illnesses.
Short or new grass, while full of energy and protein, has little filling capacity, this is where a simple tool such as straw or cereal hay can fill up the rumen, slow down passage rate and get more return on investment from both your grass and purchased feed.
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