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Feeding strategies and considerations

Feeding during dry times – strategies and considerations

With current dry conditions across much of the central west, many landholders are feeding stock and looking at supplements.

There are a few areas people need to consider when planning out a feeding strategy in the dry.

Keep or destock

Firstly you need to ask whether your livestock genetics are special. This leads to the question 'should I keep my stock and supplement feed or sell now and restock when conditions improve'.

Often it pays to destock early. Fat cattle sold early will make money and save flogged paddocks if conditions do not improve. Groundcover will be an asset when there is a break in the season and mean a more responsive business. Balanced against this is the high cost of buying animals in a seller's market when consistent rain comes.

It is a very personal choice and landholders need to consider a range of production, economic and family goals and variables when making a decision to destock.

Learn how to read your animals

If not already competent, landholders need to learn how to assess their animal's condition and see signs of deterioration. Assessing an animal's fat or condition score regularly is a good way to quantify condition and monitor for condition loss.  If you are unsure how to fat or condition score livestock, your Local Land Services Livestock Officer or District Veterinarian can help with this.

When and what to supplement feed

If you decide to supplementary feed, it is wise to start early. This will mean animals keep condition and your pastures can be maintained, ready for a quick recovery.  Sheep and cattle are different, and need to be fed differently, so it is best to ask advice from an experienced, independent source before purchasing feed.

If producers have dry standing feed still available, dry licks, molasses based supplements or blocks may be used to improve dry feed utilisation.  Producers are urged to consult their Livestock Officer or District Veterinarian to discuss what might suit their individual situation.

If there is no dry pasture available, animals will need supplementation with hay and other sources of energy and protein such as grain.

Risks of chemical residue

Supplement feeds vary and during hard times people sometimes look at interesting sources. A risk during any feeding program is the potential for chemical residues in fodder, which can subsequently end up in the food chain. If chemicals are found in animals at abattoirs that above the Maximun Residue Limits (MRLs), carcases will be condemned, animals may be returned from abattoirs, markets can be damaged,  and quarantines will be imposed on the property of origin.

Always ask for a Commodity, Fodder or By-Product Vendor Declaration which will outline the chemical treatments applied to the fodder product.

Full feeding

If conditions mean you are fully feeding your animals for their nutrition, they should be moved to a small area or paddock to:

  • limit the impact on pastures and soil
  • give you opportunity to regularly and easily inspect their health
  • ensure that stock don't burn energy walking over large paddocks for food and water.

These conditions however will need special management considerations:

  • animals need plenty of access to clean water, feeding troughs and shade/ shelter
  • close proximity and poorer nutrition will impact ruminant immune systems and increase the risk of developing a parasite burden, pink eye or respiratory problems, which will need to be managed
  • a portion of animals (roughly 5% in any mob) will be 'shy feeders' and not do well.  These need to be identified and either sold or drafted off and fed separately.
  • vaccination for clostridial diseases is essential if feeding grain or any other source of high carbohydrate.

Find out more

A range of information is available on the Department of Primary Industries DroughtHub.