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Supplements and supplementary feeding can play an important role in helping livestock meet production requirements as defined by market specifications when pasture finishing livestock.

Supplementary feeding during pasture finishing is more targeted than it may be in a normal production environment or during drought feeding. This ensures that market specifications are met and the economic benefit delivered through supplementary feeding outways the cost.

Using supplements

Supplements can either be:

  • Fed as part of a ration (eg lime added to grain).
  • Administered directly through a drench, rumen bolus or injection (eg selenium).
  • Ad libitum access allowing the animal to eat as much as it wants to, whenever it wants to (eg hay or roughage).
  • Provided as a lick (eg molasses, urea and minerals).

Supplements are usually provided in a finishing system to:

  • Overcome nutritional deficiencies.
  • Improve pasture utilisation.
  • Increase production.


When pasture finishing livestock, the objective is to maximise weight gain and turn-off livestock according to market specifications in the minimum amount of time. Under this system, there is the risk of some form of dietary deficiency developing.

Understanding the potential risks associated with particular pastures and planning grazing strategies, and preventative supplementary feeding regimes, is the best way to avoid potentially costly losses. When a dietary deficiency is suspected, professional advice and diagnosis should also be sought prior to implementing a corrective feeding regime.

Improving pasture utilisation and production

Supplements can also be fed to improve pasture utilisation in a range of pasture finishing systems. This is done by increasing the amount of protein, energy or roughage in the diet - whichever is limiting production. Typical supplements might include molasses or grain for energy, bentonite or urea for increased digestible protein and hay for increased roughage.


For ruminants to utilise dietary protein, sufficient energy must also be available. This is often fed as grain or as a liquid supplement based on molasses. Liquid energy supplements can also be used as carriers to deliver other supplements such as protein and minerals. When grain is fed, care must be taken to avoid acidosis by limiting the amount being fed and ensuring that roughage is available.


There are numerous minerals that can be fed to livestock in particular areas of Australia. The actual mineral requirement will vary from region to region depending on defiency that exists. Phosphorus is probably the most wide spread mineral deficiency in Australia. The  responses in growth rates and fertility can be very significant and the responses are most evident when the supplementation occurs during the wet or growing season. Other minerals such as sulphur needed to be considered in the basalt country and in the mulga country while Copper, Selenium and Cobolt are other minerals that can cause production losses.


Where there is an abundance of dry feed of low protein, urea can be fed to stimulate microbial activity in the rumen. This allows stock to utilise and digest more of the dry feed. Care must be taken when feeding urea as excessive amounts can kill livestock.


In situations where livestock are grazing highly vegetative, fast growing pastures or forage crops, a lack of roughage can lead to scouring and reduced intake. Roughage can be added to the diet to slow the passage of the forage through the rumen, increasing nutrient uptake and pasture utilisation. This also has the added advantage of generating heat through increased rumen activity, or rumination, which can be beneficial during cold weather.

Roughage can also be fed to reduce the incidence of bloat in livestock, particularly cattle, grazing lucerne or clover based pastures. Teric oil may also be provided with water or licks to reduce the incidence of bloat which can limit feed intake and, in extreme cases, cause livestock losses.

Prior to any supplementation, professional advice as well as an economic analysis is required to ensure that a particular strategy is the most beneficial to meeting the production goals of the business.