Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Spring is a wrap and with summer programs are ramping up, there is a mixed bag for many with challenging fodder conservation programs and stop start harvest conditions. Livestock prices continue to hold at record levels providing very attractive gross margins for both trading and breeding enterprises. Feed costs are significantly down on recent years for those purchasing feed grain and forages, so opportunities are there; but be sure to do your numbers and consider the variables within your control to maximize profitability. Home grown feed is by far the most economical, just be aware there can be inefficiencies when driving animal performance, setting achievable goals, and focusing on the result is the key.
This TRAC Beef & Sheep Summer 2020/21 newsletter explores utilization of dry feed, getting the best out of summer fodder crops, and tips around confinement feeding. And as always, our team of experts are available for anyone seeking further advice.
UTILISING DRY FEED THIS SUMMER
With plenty of late season rain, paddock feed is looking strong this season. For those that have benefited from greater pasture growth and plenty of standing feed on the horizon, this year we may see a greater gap between grazing until supplementary feeding programs kick in reducing pressure on confinement feeding. Although there may be significant standing feed, remember that the basic parameters remain the same and we still need to meet animal requirements and understand the difference of feed vs. fill.
Protein is our best friend and worst enemy at the same time. Protein will give us optimal feed conversion and provide the critical foundations for muscle and skeletal growth. However, the reason for the love-hate relationship is that protein is very expensive. Last year we saw lupins top $700/tonne and protein hays north of $450/tonne.
With plenty of pasture feed, if left standing, it will have very high fibre content and very low protein. Therefore, it is more fill than nutritional feed. Depending on the goals and targets for specific livestock groups, we can take different methods to turn this feed into valuable gains.
To Grow Young Animals
Aim for absolute minimum of 16% crude protein (CP) over whole diet. Barley grain is 12-14% CP, and cereal hay is 8-11% CP whereas standing feed is 4-16% CP depending on the level of green available. These are all very low! Prioritise summer crops for this group for ease of management or balance a high lupin intake for low protein forage.
To Maintain Animals
Keep moving the mob through paddocks to make use of any green pick from late season or summer rains. At this stage, this strategy is looking very promising to support maintenance and achieve slight gains. Smaller paddock sizes are beneficial for rotational grazing. And if supplementary feeding is required, pair with a protein mix grain or protein hay for weight gain benefits.
For animals in good condition and when feed dries up, provide Bovine or Flock Boost Dry Feed that contains a slow release protein, as well as essential minerals and vitamins. Dry feed and cereals have poor mineral balance and little to no vitamins for uptake. However, the key element of this mix is the slow release protein. Consider the nitrogen to carbon ratio that is required in soil for optimal microbe activity; it is the same theory in the rumen. We need nitrogen to fuel the bugs to breakdown the carbohydrates in their diet, so by providing a consistent release of protein to the rumen microbes, we see better feed utilisation.
Something To Consider
With an extended period of mature standing feed that has flowered or gone to head, there is a risk of mycotoxin challenges from summer rains. This might result in animals acting strange, mis-adventurous, appearing to overheat in mild conditions or standing in dams/troughs.
If you suspect toxin or endophyte challenges, provide your cattle or sheep a toxin binding Bovine or Flock Boost blend with product that contains Elitox®.
FORAGE BRASSICAS - A SUMMER FEED RESOURCE
Growing forage brassicas can help give your stock a quick growing highly nutritional feed stuff over the Summer/ early Autumn period when most of the permanent pasture species have gone reproductive and lost quality. Brassicas and leafy turnips are a high protein, high energy, low NDF feed source that is available about the same time as spring lambs are starting to be weaned. It can also be used to increase growth rate of store cattle that are waiting to be finished or to keep dairy heifers on their growth curve. But after I have sown my crop, how do I make the best use of the money that I have invested in the crop?
When you have a look through all the research of live weight growth rates on summer crops, we see a wide range, 60- 320 g of LWG per day in lambs and 0.7 kg to 1.2 kg LWG in cattle. Why such as range? Stocking rate, crop type and stage of maturity, year? They all have an impact on the performance of the animals, but the nature of the plant itself has a big effect on the animals that are grazing it.
When we are putting weight on young animals like lambs and weaner cattle, we have a protein requirement of 16 % CP total diet. At this level, the animal’s requirements to build muscle is being met without any adverse effects from excessive protein. Many summer crops especially brassica have a total plant crude protein level way above the animal’s requirements. “So what” I may hear you ask or even “the more the better”, well not in the case of protein. When the animal starts to digest the crude protein from the plant, nitrogen in its different forms are released into the rumen, where the rumen bugs consume it as food. If there is too much or there is not enough bugs in the rumen, the nitrogen levels will increase to the point where it is unsafe for the animal. The animal’s safety mechanism in enacted and the nitrogen is sucked through the rumen wall into the blood stream where it is sent to the liver to be converted into urea. Some is then recycled through the animal’s saliva and the rest is excreted through the urine back out onto the pasture or crop. Changing the form of nitrogen into urea in the animal’s liver comes at a huge energy cost. This energy could have been used for live weight gain.
If we looked at a 36 kg lamb it has the potential to eat 1.8 kg DM of crop and put on 370 g of LW, so why don’t all lambs grow at this high rate. Well we use an industry calculation of what the energy cost is to recycle the extra protein to end up with a more realistic growth rate. Protein levels in the leaves of brassicas have been tested at 32 % CP + 0.18 MJ per % of CP over 16x intake
0.18 MJ x 16 x 1.8 = 5.1 MJ per head per day.
So now there is only enough energy for our lamb to put on 200 g LW per day and this is a figure more farmers see on their farms. So, what can be done on a farm level to minimise the lost production?
Grazing management can play a big part in getting the animal to eat the leaf and the stem together. Forage tests have seen that the stem of the plant has a vastly reduced protein content than the leaf. If we can get the animals to eat both together the total protein content is much closer to the animals requirement and we minimise the over allocation of nitrogen on the animal and thus reduce the amount of protein recycling the animal has to do.
Strip grazing or block grazing paddocks with temporary electric fencing will put pressure on the animals to eat more of the whole plant in the one sitting
If we don’t have the ability to increase the grazing pressure, we need to supplement the animals with hay/ straw that is highly palatable and they will freely eat it, over the crop. This can be very hard to find as animals will prefer to eat green leafy material over dry stemmy straw most days.
If this is the case and any of your animals refuse to eat the fibre source, then providing them with a salt regulated lick that has added bentonite that will slow the rate of passage down allowing the animals more time to digest the crop before it passes through them. TPM Boost Go is such a product, with its high salt content the animals will actively consume it and added bentonite will help slow the rate of digestion down, added minerals will also help to balance the diet for maximum growth potential for your animals
Feeding the animals an energy source like cereal grains whilst grazing the brassica crop can also help balance up the high protein from the brassica
To get the best out of your summer brassica crops call one of our TRAC Experts to tailor an individual plan.
MAXIMISING CONFINEMENT SUCCESSFULLY
This year we had headed into harvest with strong yields and excellent rain to finish forage and grain, however for those regions that cut earlier, the rain did not stop. So far in 2020 there has been a mixture of some forage harvests that timed perfectly, but for a large majority there has been significant rain damage. This has resulted in leached nutrients, higher fibre content and a high risk of mould. The opportunities are still there, with lower feed costs and good livestock sale prices, targets are still very achievable with attention to detail.
There are two key areas of focus when looking at maximising efficiency of feed conversion in confinement. Quality of feed and stress.
As previously mentioned, there are going to be some challenging feeds floating around this season. Through lab analysis, we have seen incredibly low energy and commonly high fibre percentage. This is because even if the forage was cut early, the rain can wash out the high energy soluble nutrients and therefore as a percentage, the fibre is now greater meaning less forage we can fit in their gut.
When setting out a summer feed budget, you will be required to identify the feed available, animals on hand, amount of supplementary feeding required and calculate how much purchased feed will need to be bought in. It will be important to get animals off the farm in the specified time for your goals. And it is also essential to check the quality of the forage. The difference of 10% NDF in a grain/hay diet over 500 ewes in 90 days is approximately 9.5t as fed of feed.
The hay may look good and smell good in the bale, but after rain the quality can be the complete opposite. Without a feed analysis and by setting up the same grain to forage mix as previous years, animals may end up with disappointing results and achieve low daily weight gains.
The second component to maximise efficiency is managing stress. Stress can be defined as both eustress and distress. Eustress is positive or neutrally stressful situation, such as moving a mob of sheep to a new paddock next door with great feed. Distress is all our negative stressors, and can include a large array of different events and factors such as temperature, feed access, mycotoxin pressure or disease, animal hierarchy etc. After a long period of stress, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis will be activated. This will induce high amounts of cortisol to be circulating through the blood system and will result in decreased daily gains and suppressed immune system.
Simple ways to prevent the H