Act this autumn to beat the winter feed gap

The Northern Tablelands experiences distinct seasonal patterns, with winter and early spring often posing the greatest challenge in meeting the feed demand of livestock. During this period, lower temperatures and reduced sunlight hours can lead to slower pasture growth rates.

Livestock producers should begin implementing strategies now to alleviate the winter feed gap, including rotating livestock through pastures and resting pastures during the winter and early spring, adjusting stocking rates based on available feed, growing winter forage crops and supplementary feeding.

Max Newsome, Senior Land Services Officer said that the producers who are the most successful during feed gaps are those who put solid plans in place outlining trigger points for when stocking rates will be adjusted based on available feed and water.

“Given the sporadic nature of 2023-2024 summer rainfall and low surface water levels, proactive water management is essential this winter. Installing efficient watering systems and capturing rainfall can help, but producers need to make sure they monitor water levels closely and consider selling or agisting livestock if it becomes necessary”, he said. “Remember that a lactating cow requires 40-100 litres of water a day”.

Implementing a pasture rotation system can help optimise available forage, in both green and dry pastures. Resting pastures during the winter and early spring months can encourage quick spring regrowth when moisture, temperature and sunlight allows.

The popularity of mixed winter fodder crops is on the rise in the Northern Tablelands. Planting of crops such as brassicas, rye, oats and clovers, which offer a diverse range of nutrients for livestock should allow for sufficient growth before the onset of winter. Soil testing to determine nutrient levels and pH, appropriate fertiliser and adequate weed control measures will all contribute to the success of the forage crops.

Supplementary feeding plays a crucial role in addressing the nutritional deficiencies that often accompany the winter feed gap. Producers should closely monitor body condition scores and collaborate with veterinarians and nutritionists to fine-tune feeding programs to support optimal reproductive performance and calf growth. In addition to traditional options such as hay and silage, livestock producers can explore the benefits of incorporating protein meals and non-protein nitrogen (NPN) into their feeding strategies.

Protein meals derived from sources like soybean meal, canola meal, or cottonseed can be added to the feed to enhance its protein content, supporting muscle development, reproduction, and overall herd health. NPN supplements, such as urea, can also be a cost-effective way to boost the protein content of low-quality forages.

“It is essential to carefully manage NPN levels to avoid toxicity, and supplementation should be paired with high-energy feeds, said Mr Newsome. “LLS Livestock Officers and nutritionists can help producers develop feeding plans that balance feed requirements for optimal health and productivity.”

By implementing planned strategies, livestock producers can minimize the impact of the seasonal challenges, ensuring the health and productivity of their herds throughout the winter and into early spring. Regular monitoring of livestock condition, pasture growth, nutritional requirements of both, and weather patterns will empower producers to make informed decisions and successfully manage the winter feed gap.

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