Planning prevents poor performance

Ag Advice - April 2022

Phil Cranney, Senior Land Services Officer, Pastures

Climate risk in livestock businesses can be managed by conserving quality fodder in good seasons.

While the past two years have been wet and therefore producing an oversupply of pasture and crop available for livestock, the conditions for forage conservation have been less than ideal.

Prices for livestock have skyrocketed since the break of the drought in 2020. For example, trade steers have gone from 520cents/kg cwt in 2019, to 685cents/kg cwt at the end of 2021 (MLA statistics database).

Land prices have also surged, therefore the pressure to maintain a healthy return on investment of 4-8% is becoming a challenge, especially while many businesses are still in a herd rebuilding phase.

One way of returning pasture paddocks into a more manageable vegetative phase, thus increasing feed quality, is to cut fodder. However, selecting the best paddocks for fodder conservation can take a few months of prior planning and preparation.

So how can we improve the quality of the fodder we conserve this spring?

Planning is crucial and the first step is paddock selection.

  • Prioritise “machinery friendly” clean paddocks, free of rocks, stumps, wire, holes, steep undulations, minimal paddock trees.
  • Proximity to silage pit, storage area or hay shed. Fodder transport costs to store and feed out should not be underestimated.
  • Single species crop/pasture selection if often easier to manage weeds and optimise quality at maturity. E.g. the thick stems, while still exceptionally good feed quality, of a forage brassica will take much longer to dry than clover.
  • Well drained soils, aspect (influencing wilting times) and topography.
  • Soil fertility, current test and fertilise for optimal vegetative growth.

Often a level arable paddock close to storage and feedout areas that has either poor livestock water facilities or is never used for a lambing or calving paddock due to inadequate shelter can make the best fodder conservation paddocks.

If you are using a contractor, ensure you implement the following simple steps for maintaining a good business relationship.

  1. Book in your job before the end of June, with details of the type of crop/pasture to be cut, approximate timing, area to be cut, location, machinery needed, cut height.
  2. In early spring, give the contractor an update on the approximate date the paddock will be ready and expected approx. yield.
  3. Discuss your expectations for fodder quality, target moisture content, optimal growth stage of pasture/crop.
  4. Ask for a copy of the contractor’s biosecurity controls to reduce the risk of weed or plant disease spread onto and out of your property.
  5. Outline your expectations of biosecurity control on your farm and what facilities you have to offer to reduce this risk.

For a more comprehensive guide to selecting a hay/silage contractor, please refer to the AFIA (Australian Fodder Industry Association) guide.

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