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Bloat prevention pays at Coonamble

A preventative approach to bloat treatment is paying dividends for cattle producer Ty Parsons.

Ty, along with wife Narelle and parents Lloyd and Marge, manage a mix of cattle, sheep and cropping enterprises at Eulalia, a 2500ha property located west of Coonamble.

“Last spring I estimate we lost about $35,000 due to bloat deaths in our cattle enterprise. In total we lost 27 steers and 5 breeders. This took a toll, both from a farm business and emotional perspective. You are not only losing income and breeding potential, but the burden of carting dead animals out of the paddock each day is devastating”, he said.

Bloat is caused by grazing lush pastures that are low in fibre and high in protein, particularly those with a high legume content (clover, medics or lucerne) and rapid plant growth. Forage maturity is a significant contributing factor in pasture bloat. The highest risk of bloat occurs in the early vegetative stage of growth due to an increase in the stem to leaf ratio. As the plant matures, the risk of bloat declines.

Bloat is triggered by an increase in gas pressure inside the rumen. Lush pastures cause a gassy froth which cannot be burped up. The swollen rumen puts pressure on the lungs, heart and blood vessels, resulting in a rapid death. Treatment is usually impossible.

Prevention is the key

There are a number of commonly used bloat prevention options which use chemicals to break up the foam, such as bloat oils, liquids, pellets, blocks and dry licks. Although effective, some of these options reply on frequent handling of stock and many not always be suitable for extensive beef herds.

One other option is to increase the fibre intake by either offering dry grass hay or grazing pastures that are grass or grass-legume based when the bloat risk is at its peak.

“We were using hay and had put preventative licks out in drums, so we were doing as much as we could to prevent bloat.

"It is really hard when you try to do everything you can and you still end up with losses. I was very keen to look at what other bloat management options were available to us,” Ty said.

“We decided to oversow about 180 ha of barley, at a rate of about 20 kg/ ha, into the grazing paddocks we knew had a high legume percentage. The barley was sown in late May, which in hindsight was probably a month too late. It would have been nice to get in a bit earlier to allow the plants to establish themselves a bit more and to time it a bit better with the emergence of the clover."

Ty used a crocodile seeder over a tyne to avoid disturbing his existing pasture.

“We have a pasture mix that contains a lot of Mitchell and Buffel grass. It is country that has been farmed previously. There are small amounts of barley grass and wild oats present as well, with the legume coming up underneath. It’s not a bad mix.”

This method of managing bloat can be very cost effective.

“Planting the barley cost me about $800 in seed plus the fuel. As well as adding to the fibre content of the pasture, it offers a much more balanced diet for fattening.

“I am not the first person in the district that has done this. A few of my neighbours have done it but they mainly saw it as a means of breaking up their pasture country rather than as a bloat management tool,” Ty said.

Pasture management should not be solely relied upon to control bloat as cattle will tend to selectively graze legume in a pasture. But by offering succulent grasses such as barley, which are often equally as attractive to grazing cattle, can help form a more bloat friendly pasture base.

“You can’t lose at the end of the day. As long as the moisture is there to establish the barley, you are going to fatten cattle. It’s a win/ win situation."