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When pasture finishing livestock to meet specific market specifications, it is critical that the appropriate level of nutrition is provided to meet the production requirement.

Feed budgeting based on feed supply and demand throughout the finishing period can be used to make sure that feed of sufficient quality will be available to efficiently complete the finishing process. Good animal health and an appropriate genetic base are also important to allow livestock to fully utilise feed on offer.

Livestock requirements

Pasture quality for finishing depends on attributes such as protein, energy and digestibility. Roughage is also important to stimulate good rumen function. These vary depending on soil fertility, pasture type and the stage within the pasture growth cycle at which the pasture is grazed.

Pasture species

Different pasture species have different nutritional attributes and are at their nutritional peak at different times of the year.

Both improved and native pastures can be used in pasture finishing depending on the region and the target market. Improved pastures tend to be more nutritious and productive if grazed effectively to maintain a vegetative growth phase for as long as possible. Improved pastures are considered to be better suited to pasture finishing systems under most circumstances. However certain regions such as the channel country in some seasons offer the best natural fattening areas in Australia.

When selecting improved pasture species to suit a particular enterprise, consideration should be given to the annual cycle of feed demand and supply as well as ensuring there is an appropriate mix of grasses and clover. It is desirable to maintain at least 30% of the pasture composition as clover, or other legume species, and 70% grasses.

Pasture growth

The nutritive value of a pasture changes as the pasture matures. Protein and energy levels, as well as digestibility, tend to peak just before the plant reaches its reproductive phase.

Grazing the pasture when most nutritive and at the vegetative stage will maximise digestibility, utilisation and production. This is the ideal time to finish livestock as they will be on a high plane of nutrition, important to eating quality, and grazing feed that can support required daily growth rates.

Determining the correct utilisation rates and long term carrying capacity is the key to maximising productivity of both the pastures and the animals.

Forage crops

Forage crops can be used to ensure ample feed of good quality is available when required to support a pasture finishing system. Forage crops should be strategically grazed to maximise utilisation and production.

Animal health

Pasture finishing systems can present a range of animal health issues, generally nutritional disorders associated with dietary imbalances.

Some rapidly growing pastures lack certain dietary inputs important to good rumen function and maximum production such as roughage, dry matter and various minerals. This can lead to animal health issues associated with mineral deficiencies, as well as scouring and bloat, which limit weight gain and in extreme cases can lead to death.

In other fattening areas such as the Georgina basin, poison Gidgee can cause heavy stock losses if producers aren’t familiar with grazing management of the region.  As a general principle, ensure hungry stock are fed hay or slowly introduced to highly nutritious pastures.

Producers managing pasture-based finishing systems should consider animal health requirements as well as pasture quality.