UFC (Ultimate Feed Challenge)

Quality v Quantity

Tablelands Telegraph - March 2022

Phil Cranney - Senior Land Services Officer, Pastures

With the record high livestock prices, balancing your feed quality budget may even be more important than balancing your feed quantity budget.

Pasture and forage crop selection/management this year will determine your profitability. While speed to market is driven by average daily weight gain (ADG), markets are increasingly using it as a proxy for determine superior animal welfare standards.

While some producers may be faced with a high proportion of low Me, low protein pasture such as dead red grass, rank phalaris, cocksfoot or fescue stands coming into autumn, others have higher quality options. Lucerne, chicory, white clover, forage brassica and plantain are just a few of the higher feed quality options.

Planning the right mix of pasture quantity and quality should be balanced with your enterprise needs. For example, if you are predominantly an autumn lambing enterprise, often the productive lucerne paddocks can provide more than adequate protein and Me at early lactation, before the dual-purpose crops are available to graze in late autumn or early winter.

However, for spring calving/lambing livestock producers on the higher altitude tablelands with less arable paddocks, the options are a little more restricted.

Here are my top five tips for producing high quality pasture in spring for your livestock enterprise:

  1. Add phosphorous, sulphur and molybdenum to your best sub-clover paddocks in late summer, early autumn
  2. Give a portion (determined by the number of lactating mobs you have in early spring) of these paddocks a hard graze NOW to increase sunlight penetration and therefore increase germination of sub-clover
  3. If feed supply is still outstripping demand in winter, then consider a winter annual grass clean in some paddocks to increase the proportion of sub-clover
  4. If you have good soil moisture and fertility, but feed demand is still outstripping supply, then consider gibberellic acid and a selective broadleaf weed herbicide to both boost production and increase feed quality
  5. Contact our Livestock Officer Brett Littler well in advance of the lambs/calves hitting the ground, to help you fine tune your lactating mob size and best match the livestock requirements to the pasture quality and quantity

Often higher altitude livestock producers do have a few small paddocks that are arable and are often ear marked for oats each year. While oats can help smooth out the feed supply curve in winter, it does little to help the lack of feed quality in late summer and early autumn.

If you are in the minority of farms that have a soil pH above 5.5 (CaCl) to depth, then you can easily establish lucerne and fill that feed quality gap. However, most farms have difficulty establishing lucerne and therefore continue to have a major decline in feed quality in late summer, early autumn.

Chicory has the runs on the board to provide high quality forage throughout summer and early winter. Some keys to successful chicory paddocks are:

  1. Choose a clean paddock to sow chicory, it must have no history of thistles
  2. Choose to plant chicory in a few smaller paddocks, or a paddock that can be easily sub-divided to enable rotation and spelling of the grazed chicory
  3. A solid stand of chicory is easier to manage than a mix including clovers
  4. Nitrogen must be added after grazing to maintain growth through summer and autumn
  5. Plant a true perennial chicory variety

Refining your grazing management of perennial temperate grasses and sub-clover pastures can certainly help increase the feed quality in late autumn, winter and spring. However, diversifying your pasture mix by adding a short-term forage option like a brassica or chicory could be the competitive advantage you need to boost your profits next financial year.

Please consider feed quality budgeting/planning for your livestock enterprise in 2022.

For more information, please contact Phil Cranney (Pastures, based in Orange), Clare Edwards (Pastures, based in Mudgee) or Brett Littler (Livestock, based in Mudgee).

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