Making your crop go further with livestock

AG ADVICE - July 2021

Brett Littler - Senior Land Services Officer, Livestock

We have seen a decline in the amount of crop planted for livestock to graze across the Central Tablelands this year. This has been for several reasons.

For some producers, it was that they were understocked and had more than adequate amounts of pasture, others did not plant forage crops at all or planted late as a result of the issues they were having with mice.

The rain has also made this situation a little bit harder to manage as well, with some producers not being able to get in and plant with a rain front coming through every week or so (trust me, I am not complaining about the rain!).

To make things a little bit more interesting this rain has led to an increase in the amount of wastage/spoilage that we are experienced in these crops, and in some cases up to 50% instead of 20-30% we would normally expect depending on stocking rate.

This decrease in crop available for livestock has led some farmers to ask how to we make this crop go further or to better utilise their crop. We have seen a number of producers try to tackle this in different ways. I have seen some use ‘green feed/crop’ supplements or licks, others have fed out hay and also there are others who put out self-feeders in the paddock with grain/pellets in them.

With the licks/supplements there are too many to cover here but you need to ask yourself what the issue is I am trying to fix or what is it they are adding to make it cost effective. I would make up your own list of questions to satisfy yourself that a product is worth it and beware of perceptions vs fact when looking at the issue.

As most people know, I am not a fan of feeding hay to cattle on cereal crops and believe that the use of hay is a case in point of perceptions vs fact. On some crops with some classes of stock, hay is an important consideration, particularly with brassicas crops. Once again, ask yourself what it is you are trying to achieve and what is being gained by this extra cost end effort.

Feeding grain and pellets to livestock while on crops will generally improve the performance of the livestock. Anecdotally, we generally see an improvement in weight gain and some producers report this can be as high as 30% depending on the crop and the supplement used. The research has not quite shown this level of performance but has shown an increase in weight gain. What we do know is that when stock are fed a grain or pellet while on a crop they will substitute the amount of crop eaten for the amount of grain consumed. This is why I call grain feeding on crop ‘substitute’ feeding verses ‘supplementary’ feeding.

It is also important to feed a grain/pellet that is at least the same quality or better quality than the crop you are feeding them on. I would get a feed test of the grain so you know the quality it is this is particular important for last years grain where I have seen some large variations in energy, digestibility and protein content.

So, if your goal is to make the crop last your livestock longer, then feeding some grain/pellets to your stock is an option for them to consume less of your crop. This comes at a cost but generally it is worth it and will help to make your crop last longer. To assist to make the decision a fodder budget is a useful exercise. A guide to do this can be found here.

Finally, it would be ideal if you are looking at doing some supplementary feeding to do an on-farm trial to evaluate if a supplement or product is actually worthwhile and cost effective, but this is often difficult and takes some planning to ensure the information is worthwhile, so seek advice if you wish to run one.

Also be aware that there is much ‘old’ technology that still works very well and economically and there is much ‘new’ technology that repackages and rebadges old technology. Talk to our ag or vet team if you would like some more information.

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