Livestock require a combination of protein, energy, roughage and minerals to maintain good rumen function and body function. Surplus nutrients contribute to animal production eg weight gain.
When drought feeding, it is often not feasible to feed more than is required for maintenance and this is referred to as a 'maintenance ration'. 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.
Choosing a feed
When drought feeding, the nutritional requirements of the livestock as ruminants must be considered. To maintain good rumen function and, therefore good animal health, drought feeding should satisfy the animal's need for protein, energy, roughage and minerals. Dry matter content and digestibility, should also be considered.
In choosing the right feed for a particular situation, the objective is to select the lowest cost option feed or a combination of feeds that meet the livestock's requirement for energy, protein, roughage and minerals while meeting the enterprise production requirements.
Common feed stuffs used to meet nutritional requirements include:
- Energy - grain, molasses, silage
- Protein - cotton seed, lupins, silage, hay, urea (non-protein nitrogen)
- Roughage - hay, silage
- Minerals - calcium carbonate, phosphorus
Care must be taken when feeding minerals and urea not exceed recommended intakes as this can result in illness and even death. Blocks and licks fed according to instruction are the recommended ways to feed these supplements.
Grain is often more readily available and better value in terms of meeting the animal's nutritional requirements. Hay tends to become scarce and overpriced upon the onset of drought.
Although there are some risks when feeding grain, such as acidosis, these can generally be minimised through careful management, such as through the feeding of hay or the use of a rumen buffer such as sodium bicarbonate.
Livestock are often contained to small areas of a property at high densities during drought. They also tend to graze lower to the ground than might otherwise be the case.
These factors predispose livestock to internal parasites which will compete with the animal for nutrients. During a drought, it is critical that parasites, particularly internal parasites, be controlled to ensure that as much of the feed being provided as possible is going toward maintaining the animal and not being utilised by parasites.
Faecal worm egg counts and strategic drenching as required is recommended to control internal parasites.
Water during a drought
One of the main limitations of feeding animals through a drought is the availability of good quality water. If water is a limiting factor, calculating the total water available and the total water required by livestock over the drought period will determine how many livestock can be carried.
Feed management at the end of a drought
Some of the worst stock losses can occur immediately after the drought has broken due to sudden changes in nutrition or livestock depleting already low energy reserves chasing green pick. It is important that the feeding of livestock be carefully planned and supervised over the weeks following a break in the drought.
Weeds can be a particular problem following a drought and may affect livestock if poisonous weeds are allowed to become established.
Feeding areas should be located away from water courses and streams to avoid rapid dissemination of seeds should a weed mature and flower. The sites should be monitored closely for several years following a drought to ensure weeds have not been inadvertently introduced with outside fodder. Suspicious weeds should be identified and removed/sprayed immediately. Stock should be prevented from accessing the site should weeds become established in the old feeding area.
Chemical residues and drought feeding
Supplementary feeds, especially by-products not usually used as stock feeds, may contain chemical residues. Producers should only source feedstuffs from reputable suppliers and always request a Commodity Vendor Declaration, By-product Declaration or Fodder Vendor Declaration.
- The MLA Tips & Tools: Looking after drought pastures and Managing weeds after drought
- Rainfall To Pasture Growth Outlook Tool
- Drought Feeding and Management of Sheep - A guide for farmers and land managers, Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
- Feeding and managing sheep in dry times, Australian Wool Innovation and he Department of Primary Industries and Resources of South Australia.
- Drought Feeding and Management of Beef Cattle - A guide for farmers and land managers, Victorian Department of Primary Industries.
- The Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation have a series of resources relating to the welfare of drought-affected livestock during transport as well as information relating to animal welfare in natural disasters.