Beef breeders can’t chill out this winter!

10 June 2016

Following a tough 2015 spring and long summer, producers who now have green grass in the paddock may be tempted to relax.

As attractive as that may be, don’t do it, warns Hamilton-based consultant Dr Graham Lean, of Agrivet Business Consulting.

“For many producers it’s been a tough road to now but even if you are looking at lush pasture in your paddock, you can’t afford to drop the ball, there will be repercussions from the tough seasons we’ve had," he said.

Graham, who will present a More Beef from Pastures phone seminar/webinar on Strategies for managing a beef herd through winter later this month, has flagged five issues producers should be thinking about and planning for now: internal parasites; metabolic diseases; nitrate poisoning; mineral deficiencies; and compensatory growth.

Internal parasites

“We’ve had a long, hot summer but cattle worms will still be affecting animals, particularly young stock, causing loss of production and even death,” he said.

“Undertake strategic drenching with effective drenches while considering drench resistance issues pertinent to the property and drench at the recommended rate for animal weight.

“Worm testing may also have a role assisting decision making.”

Metabolic diseases

Being old and fat can be a risky proposition, particularly for pregnant or recently calved cows.

Metabolic diseases such as grass tetany, hypocalcemia and pregnancy toxaemia should be on every spring-calving herd owner's watch list.

“To assess your risk, testing pastures’ feed value, and the levels of major elements such as calcium, magnesium and phosphate, now will give an indication of whether you need to start preparing to prevent mortalities in late winter/early spring,”

Graham said most metabolic diseases kill very quickly so prevention is better than the cure.

“If you want to minimise grass tetany and hypocalcemia feed supplementary hay, magnesium and calcium licks,” he said.

“There are a number of alternative ways to supply these elements.”

“To prevent Pregnancy toxaemia, which is more of a risk for fat cows when pasture feed on offer falls to low levels during late pregnancy, implement rotational grazing.

“It can result in higher winter growth in low feed on offer pastures.

“Applying nitrogen and gibberellic acid to pasture can also help.”

Nitrate poisoning

Graham has recently seen cases of nitrate poisoning in Victoria and warned producers that after a long, dry period, nitrate uptake by plants can be high, particularly after the first rain, with disastrous results for livestock.

“Nitrate overload can also occur in paddocks treated with phenoxy (spray/graze-type) herbicides and in the seven to 14-day period following urea applications,” he said.

“It’s best to introduce cattle to lush pastures slowly, particularly in overcast conditions and feed some hay or other roughages.”

Mineral deficiencies

As more farm businesses pursue high production, mineral deficiencies in livestock, particularly in copper and selenium, are becoming more common.

“It is worth taking blood or liver tests every two to three years to assess your livestock’s status as deficiencies can cause significant production losses,” he said.

“Copper deficiency affects growth rates and can cause bone brittleness in calves and lambs while selenium deficiency can significantly impact weight gain.”

Supplements can be delivered by injection or applied with fertilisers on pasture.

Seminar details

These topics as well as compensatory growth in young stock will be discussed during the free phone seminar/webinar on Thursday 23 June at 8pm (Victorian EST). Time will be made available for questions.

To participate register online at or call 02 6030 4605.

For information on herd health and welfare go to

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