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Phosphorus turns pastures into profit

13 December 2023

Phosphorus (P) is an essential nutrient for cattle. Cattle which don’t receive adequate P to meet nutritional requirements will have low productivity.

P deficiency in cattle is a major issue in northern Australia due to widespread soil and pasture P deficiencies.

MLA recently released an updated P manual – Phosphorus management of beef cattle in northern Australia (Second edition) – which offers evidence-based solutions and recommendations on how to assess and address the risk of P deficiency in cattle.

Effective P supplementation will deliver significant productivity and profitability benefits for producers.

A dietary P deficiency reduces feed and energy intake resulting in lower growth and reproduction rates even when the energy and protein content of the diet is adequate.

This is particularly relevant for weaners and cows during late-pregnancy or lactation.

P pays

In P-deficient areas, supplementing breeding and growing herds with P provides a return on investment within one to four years, depending on stock class and the severity of the deficiency.

Supplementing on acutely P-deficient soils is profitable in conjunction with best practice herd and land management.

Feeding P in the wet (growing) season gives the greatest economic benefit on P-deficient country.

Give P when the grass is green

An abundance of green grass doesn’t equal adequate dietary P consumption. The reduced feed intake of P-deficient cattle means they won’t make the most of the available energy and protein in the pasture during the growing season.

If P is fed over the wet season on deficient country:

  • young growing stock can increase their growth by up to 90kg above base growth
  • breeders can increase weaning rates by 10–30%
  • mature breeders can maintain an additional 100kg weight advantage over un-supplemented cows.

Effective P supplementation improves beef enterprise profitability through:

  • reduced mortality rates
  • cattle sold earlier and/or at heavier weights
  • increased body condition score of breeders
  • increased milk production, weaner weights and pregnancy rates
  • a higher proportion of heifers reaching critical mating weights and at a younger age
  • cow weights up to 100kg/head heavier.