Increase feed quantity in cold and wet conditions

Dr Jillian Kelly, District Veterinarian, Central West Local Land Services

Although it is nice to see a bit of rain around today, wet conditions coupled with cold conditions forecasted for later in the week could cause issues for stock.

In cold and wet conditions, stock will use energy to keep warm. In drought conditions, where stock may have experienced under nutrition, they do not have the fat reserves to handle the increased energy requirements.

Pregnant stock are particularly at risk. Pregnancy Toxaemia is caused by low levels of glucose in the blood which adversely affects brain and nervous system function. It most commonly occurs in ewes and cows during the last month of pregnancy, when there is a high demand for glucose (energy) from the rapidly growing foetuses.

In cold conditions it is advisable to increase feed by 20%. For example, a twin bearing ewe should be receiving 1.6kg of cereal grain per day (in combination with a roughage source) to meet its nutritional requirements in late pregnancy. It is difficult to get them to physically eat more grain while heavily pregnant, especially without inducing grain poisoning.  The simplest and most effective way to increase their energy intake is to put more good quality hay out into the paddocks during the wet and cold weather.

Hay is also good to feed to cattle in cold weather as the rumination of fibrous, bulky feed produces heat as a by-product that helps to keep the animal warm.  However, it is worth remembering that some hay is very poor quality, meaning it is high in fibre but low in energy and protein which are the most important factors when supplementary feeding stock.

So while increasing the amount of hay is a good idea as a short term measure during the cold wet weather, you may need to do some calculations to work out if you are spending your money in the best way to meet the nutritional needs of the animal. The NSW DPI Drought Feeding Calculator is a great tool to help with this.

Alternatively, our Ag advisory and vet staff are available to help you formulate your drought feed ration.

Further reading

The following DPI Prime facts will provide more information on pregnancy toxaemia in sheep and cattle.

Related information