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Livestock, vegetation and dry times: Decisions to be made

Authors: Central West Local Land Services District Veterinarian Dr Jillian Kelly and Agronomist Dr Belinda Hackney

Pasture conditions throughout much of the region are now sub-optimal for the maintenance of livestock. This is due to lack of bulk of feed on offer, lack of quality of remaining feed, or a combination of both.

Similarly, feed availability and quality in stubble paddocks is also at critically low levels. As a result, livestock are unable to maintain condition. Their condition will deteriorate more rapidly as temperatures decline though autumn and into winter, if worthwhile rainfall is not received.

It is absolutely critical (if you have not already done so) to develop a plan to sell or feed livestock. Agistment may be an option. However, with large areas of the state in moisture deficit, such opportunities will be limited.

Doing nothing is not an option.

The market for livestock in good condition remains reasonable.

Pregnancy scanning is a very economical and useful tool in both sheep and cattle to identify empty animals which should be prioritised for sale. In the case of ewes, scanning should also be used to identify single and multiple bearing ewes and, where possible, separate these groups to facilitate feeding to match requirements.

If you decide to feed, then it is critical to determine the ongoing costs and nutritional requirements for different classes of livestock.

Energy and protein are the two critical considerations in determining what and how much to feed. It is important that the potential feed sources are compared on the cost per unit of energy or protein supplied.

How you feed is also very important, not just for your livestock, but also for the condition of pasture paddocks and how quickly they can respond following rain.

As feed supply declines, livestock will waste significant amounts of energy (that could otherwise help them maintain weight) walking in an attempt to find feed. Continual close grazing results in paddocks being bared-out which will weaken perennial pasture species, resulting in increased plant death and slower recovery following rain. Bare paddocks also create greater opportunity for weed invasion.

Wherever possible, if you have made the decision to feed livestock, use either a dedicated drought-lot or a sacrifice paddock.

Confining animals for feeding reduces energy wastage due to excessive walking, minimises travel time to feed livestock, allows you to monitor livestock condition scores and make necessary adjustments in ration allocation, and to monitor animal health.

Confinement also concentrates any potential weed incursions that may enter your property in bought-in feed, allowing easier control following rain. Importantly, confinement feeding prevents paddocks being overgrazed and facilitates more rapid pasture recovery following rain.

It is also important not to lose sight of the importance of water availability and quality under dry conditions.

Many farm dams are at very low levels and may create a bogging hazard for animals, particularly if they are in a weakened state.

Blue-green algae has been reported in some farm dams which can also present a toxic hazard to livestock.

Confinement feeding can also ensure supply of better quality water to livestock.

NSW Department of Primary Industries DroughtHub also contains information on a vast range of services and support available to primary producers, their families and communities to prepare for and manage drought conditions.

Local Land Services District Veterinarians and Livestock Officers are available to assist you in developing a selling or feeding plan for your livestock, determining condition scores and developing feeding and feed-out strategies.

For further information, call 1300 795 299 and speak to your District Veterinarian or Livestock Officer.