Make feeding matter

26 July 2018

As grain and fodder supplies run critically low - and pastures come under increased grazing pressure - producers are urged to be proactive and plan ahead to meet turn off targets.

Victorian-based animal nutritionist Ian Sawyer of Feedworks outlined the importance of well managed feeding regimens for beef herds at the Reiland Angus seminar in Wagga earlier this month.

“The big message is to remain focused on providing enough of the right type of dry matter intake to allow weaners to hit the critical 400kg mark on time,’’ he said.

“At that point we can look forward to an ongoing strong price for those stock heading into finishing. Whereas lightweight animals face big discounts of almost $1/kg liveweight."

Ian's top tips for meeting the nutritional needs of cattle during this dry period are:

1. Match feed to animal class. Supplementary feed or pasture of the highest quality goes to those who need to gain weight the fastest (ie. weaners). The poorest quality goes to animals who only need condition maintenance (ie. dry cows).

2. Know the quality of all feeds. Before purchasing hay, grain or alternative feeds have them quality tested and understand that while a bargain might save you money in the short term, it might lose you money in animals failing to gain weight.

3. Avoid overgrazing. You will just end up with a late and short spring. Pasture needs to be standing at a height between a golf and tennis ball now to achieve optimum spring growth.

How to do a feed budget

To illustrate best practice management to producers attending the meeting, Ian created an 'on paper' ration formulation for steer weaners, weighing 300kg liveweight, with a focus on fast growth, best feed conversion, lowest cost per kilogram of gain and nutrition value.

The aim was to finish the weaners to 400kg on early spring pasture for an October turn-off using a ration of 11MJ/kg and 19% crude protein.

According to the feed budget calculator, a daily ration comprising grazing 5kg DM/ha of pasture supplemented with 1kg of cereal hay ($350/t) and 2kg of pellets ($480/t) would give an average daily gain of 1.14kg, at a daily cost of $2/head, and a cost per kilogram of gain of $1.77.

Ian said weaners required crude protein levels of 16-18% in their total diet plus 11 MJ/kg to grow frame. He said producers needed to be mindful of the pasture protein levels when designing rations.

What are the alternatives?

 “During intensive feeding situations, we look to meet goals in a safe manner, and what we call effective fibre is important in this,’’ Ian said.

“Whole cottonseed is 23% crude protein, 14MJ/kg and 50% neutral detergent fibre.

“It is safe with not too much starch and sugar to upset the digestive system.

“It pretty much counts as effective fibre and with that nutrient profile can play a role in both weaner and cow diets.

“Cottonseed has been getting into the Riverina for about $330/t - supplies are tightening though.

Straw remains our friend if we are able to source it, when feeding weaners heavily on grain or pellets. Straw is less important if feeding whole cotton seed and almond hulls plus grazing.’’

Ian said grape marc was available in a dry pelleted form for cattle rations and had been delivered in the Riverina for about $260/t.

“It may be especially useful in feeding cows where the goal is simply to hold a pre-existing (acceptable) body weight,’’ he said.

“It is full of tannins binding up protein so treat it as if it is 9-10% crude protein.

Almond hulls are difficult to source but are 5% crude protein and 9.5 MJ/kg.

“In a ground form, they also count as effective fibre, and may be useful in cow diets.’’

More information

Email Ian Sawyer

Want to know more? Check out these resources:

MLA feed budget and stocking rate calculators

MLA and NSW Department of Primary Industries BeefSpecs calculator

Read modules on pasture growth, pasture utilisation and weaner throughput in MLA's Making More from Beef program

Feed quality testing services:

NSW Department of Primary Industries Feed Quality Testing Service

Forage Lab Australia

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