Using trees as fodder: Guidelines for producers
Historically trees such as Mulga and Kurrajong have been used for drought feeding. In our current drought, some producers are using these and other trees as part of a ration or as a full ration. As with any time stock are being fed, it is important to take into account livestock requirements, feed quality and feed quantity. A quick summary is provided below with the full version of the document available to download as a PDF.
Before you start cutting trees for fodder, you need to decide if it is going to be an activity that is going to benefit you and your business. Climbing trees with chainsaws is hard and dangerous work. I am regularly hearing of injuries as a result of falling out of trees, cuts from the saw and even felling logs onto waiting stock. You need to decide if it is a job you are willing to do or pay for someone to do, you should also make sure you have suitable insurance if you are employing someone.
How much energy do trees provide?
Energy is the most important nutritional input followed by proteins then fibre, minerals and vitamins. The amount of energy and protein stock can access from a feed source is driven by the amount of feed they can process through their digestive system. Feeds with high levels of fibre will move more slowly through the digestive system than feeds with low levels of fibre.
In many trees that are used for forage, energy is low and fibre is high. This means that it is difficult for stock to eat enough of the leaves to get the energy they require for maintenance, especially if they are pregnant or lactating.
In most cases fodder should be used as a roughage source, supplemented with a feed high in energy, like grain. Molasses can be used to limit impaction (sticks and stems blocking the digestive tract), but should not make up more than 10% of the diet. Urea can also be used to improve the efficiency of the rumen, but great care should be taken as urea is highly toxic if over fed. Protein levels in some species are quite good, particularly in wattles and kurrajong trees. It is a good idea to get a feed test done so you know the quality of the trees you are cutting.
Weighing it all up
It is hard to accurately weigh out leaves as we would if we were feeding out grain or hay but it is important to feed enough and therefore we have to be able to estimate the amount of feed needed for each day. It is worthwhile cutting a proportion of a tree then weighing the sample. If you do this regularly, it will allow you to “get your eye in”. Once you know how much fodder you can cut in a given time, you can then work out labour costs per tonne. You could feed this into the Drought Feed Calculator app and compare the cost of feeding trees versus hay or grain.
Get your feed trees tested
If you are thinking of feeding trees you should get a feed test done on the trees you plan to use. Once you know the quality of the feed you are using you can then use the Drought Feed Calculator app to calculate the amount of feed your stock need and any supplementary feed you need to include. Finally, get a rough idea of the quantity you are cutting so you can supply your stock with enough feed.
If you would like any help completing these steps, call Central West Local Land Services on 1300 795 299.
The full article on feeding paddock trees is available to download as a PDF.
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