Plan ahead for pasture management - Southern

23 October 2015

A dry spring across southern Australia means tough decisions need to be made about livestock and pasture management.

NSW More Beef from Pastures co-ordinator John Francis said southern livestock systems are geared for 40-50% of total pasture production in spring, but minimal rainfall in September-October has put the brakes on feed growth.

“Many southern producers lamb or calve coming into spring and finish sale stock by the end of spring,” he said.

“This increase in nutritional requirements and feed consumption means that when the season cuts out as it has this year, there is a greater impact than at other times of the year.”

When feed demand is higher than feed supply, producers face cash flow, profitability, productivity and animal welfare concerns and face tough decisions around selling or feeding stock.

John said a feed budget and different scenarios can guide decisions when spring pasture growth is lower than expected.

“The first step is to really understand your position – how much feed is available and what level of quality does it contain? How much is required from now until the anticipated autumn break?”

Use feed budgeting tools, such as MLA’s Feed Demand Calculator, to inventory available feed (quantity and quality) and calculate likely intakes of different classes of livestock.

John said it is important to factor in pasture wastage (the more pasture available, the greater wastage from trampling and defecation) and cover required to reduce environmental impacts such as erosion.

If your feed budget calculates that feed availability is insufficient to support feed demand, the next step is to look at your livestock management options and calculate the cost of each.

John suggests running different scenarios through feed budgeting tools to guide decisions such as:

  • Should I sell finishing livestock prematurely, and if so what is the cost of this (in terms of lost income)?
  • Should I sell breeding stock, and what is the cost (future production)?
  • Should I feed livestock through – are there options to produce more feed or acquire supplementary feed, and what is the cost of feed until the seasonal break?

Other resources to guide tactical decisions around selling stock and adjusting stocking rates to match seasonal conditions and pasture availability include:

Pastures From Space: Compares district pasture growth rates against previous good, bad and average seasons.

Rainfall to Pasture Growth Outlook Tool: Presents rainfall, soil moisture and pasture growth for the past nine months and an outlook for the next three months for more than 3,300 locations across southern Australia.

Stocking Rate Calculator: Determine the number of cattle or sheep you should put into a paddock based on its carrying capacity.

More Beef From Pastures: A program aimed at achieving a sustainable increase in kilograms of beef produced per hectare through optimal management of the feed base.

Australian Water Availability Project: Ranks upper and lower soil moisture and is a useful tool to compare current seasonal conditions with previous years.

Information:

John Francis is a consultant with Holmes Sackett, based at Wagga Wagga, NSW.  john@holmessackett.com.au

Holmes Sackett is running free More Beef From Pastures webinars in October and November: http://www.holmessackett.com.au/workshops/more-beef-from-pastures-webinars.aspx

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