Droughts and dry times are part of Australian farming enterprises. They result in increased costs, decreased production and income, and increased mental and physical strain on those affected.
Periods of drought require producers to make important decisions that will have short-term and long-term impacts on a farming enterprise. Droughts can be very difficult, but planning and management based on sound information will help producers through the experience.
For producers facing a feed shortage, a range of options are available including selling stock or buying in feed. The earlier the decisions are made the better (and usually the economic cost is minimised). Each farm situation is different and needs to be considered on its own merits.
Producers should know what livestock they can afford to feed through to the expected break and gain an appreciation of what the value of their livestock is in the current market. This will allow for a realistic assessment of the relative merit of management strategies such as selling, agistment and feeding.
Animal welfare is critical when feed and water resources are under pressure and producers must always act in a way that delivers a good animal welfare outcome, even if that means destocking.
Livestock require a combination of protein, energy, roughage and minerals to maintain good rumen function and maintain body function. The condition score of livestock should be monitored throughout the drought and feeding regulated to ensure the condition score reflects reasonable animal health and welfare and suits the production requirements of the enterprise. If reasonable condition cannot be maintained, livestock should be sold or agisted.
In a period of drought or a dry time by-products not usually fed to livestock and failed crops that were intended to be harvested can end up being used as feed. In this situation, it is critical that producers understand the history of the feed and whether it may have been exposed to chemicals.
Confinement feeding is a drought feeding practice typically applied to sheep that aims to promote animal health and welfare while preserving ground cover and land condition across the majority of the property.
This is achieved by confining livestock to a small area where they are fed a total ration. Successful confinement feeding relies on good site selection, an appropriate mob size and stocking density and the provision of appropriate nutrition.
Monitoring livestock condition
The condition score of livestock should be monitored throughout the drought and feeding regulated to ensure the condition score suits the production requirements of the enterprise and maintains the health of the animal.
Animal health and welfare
The affects of drought on animal health will depend on the class of livestock eg dry versus pregnant stock, the body condition of the livestock as they enter a period of drought, the feeding regime adopted by the producer and the length of the drought. The effects of parasites and disease may also be more pronounced with the added burden of drought.
Producers should at all times be aware of and effectively manage the health and welfare of their livestock.
On farm biosecurity
Stock owners need to be aware of the additional risks associated with introducing fodder and agisting stock during drought times. To ensure any possible introductions of undesirable plant species, feeding should be restricted to specially identified areas of the property that can be easily accessed and treated if necessary. If stock are moved into another region, producers need to be aware of the endemic diseases and toxic plants that may exist in those areas .