‘Bang for buck’ supplementary feeding

Jeisane Accioly explaining animal condition scoring at a Grazing Matcher group meeting in July.

Livestock producers involved in the Grazing Matcher program met in Donnybrook recently to hear how they can get the most benefit from their supplementary feed budget.

The event was facilitated by Jeisane Accioly from Accioly Livestock Industries Services, who outlined how understanding nutritional requirements, testing feed quality and monitoring animal condition can help producers make good feed budgeting decisions.

The discussion was relevant to both sheep and beef producers, but with calving for most beef producers due in the coming months, Ms Accioly began by describing the ideal condition target for calving animals.

“Calvers should be between a condition score of 2.5 and 3.5 (on a scale of 1-5) to ensure they can cope with early lactation demands and resume cycling in time to produce another calf next season,” Ms Accioly said. “For younger breeders, aim a bit higher, between 3 to 3.5, because they are still growing themselves so need to be in better condition. But we need to avoid calving at a condition score above 3.5 because this can cause calving problems.”

After calving when cows begin lactating, nutritional requirements in terms of both feed quality and quantity increase drastically. Cows will take a couple of weeks to adjust their appetite to new feed requirements so will lose condition initially, emphasizing the importance of achieving the target condition before calving. Feed requirements drop in late lactation.

Other stock vary in their feed requirements, providing managers with options to allocate different quality feeds to different animals.

“Weaners have a high requirement for energy and protein if growth is required. However, weaners in maintenance or dry cows need comparatively less energy and protein, so are more suited to lower quality feeds. One should however ensure young stock don’t go through long periods of growth check as this may compromise future production.”

With an understanding of stock requirements for feed, attention turns to the quality and quantity of feed on hand to identify possible deficits and either source complementary feed or sell stock before they lose condition. This requires a good understanding of feed quality.

“The quality of feed can vary widely between different feedstocks such as dry standing pasture, hay silage and grain. Knowing the quality of all feed sources enables better calculations of feed budgets, but quality can even vary between different sources of the same feedstock. To get the best understanding of feed quality we need to get it tested.”

The key variables to look at from tests are:

  • Metaboliseable Energy (ME), which is used by microbes in the animal’s gut to repackage protein into a useable form. This is often considered the most limiting factor, because without energy, a high protein ration can’t be properly utilised by the animal. Getting the energy right is often the first consideration in a feed budget. High ME indicates high digestibility.
  • Crude Protein (CP) is considered the building blocks for animal meat and milk, with more required as production targets increase.
  • Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF), which is basically the structure of the plant that holds it together. NDF increases at seed set, reducing the quality and digestibility of pasture. However, some fibre is needed in their diet.

Once producers know the feed quality, they can allocate depending on the class of animal and growth rate requirement. However, the problem is that lower quality feed is harder to digest.

“Low digestibility means that the feed is processed slowly, and animals feel full which inhibits appetite. In this situation there is a risk that they won’t eat enough to meet daily protein and energy targets, resulting in weight loss. Animals typically take in 1-3% of their liveweight in feed daily, with intake increasing with feed quality, so if you have low quality feed, you can’t necessarily just feed more of it. It may need to be complemented with a higher quality feed.

“The other thing that limits intake is space in the abdominal cavity, so at late gestation the animal will have less physical space available. They can’t eat as much and need a higher quality feed to meet daily nutritional requirements.”

Another important consideration in allocating feed is to take moisture content into account when feed budgeting. Feed budgets typically use dry matter as the unit of measurement, but feed like hay and silage contain moisture. If your hay is 80% dry matter and 20% moisture, feeding out one ton means you have only fed out 800 kg of dry matter.

To complement feed budgeting, animal condition and weight should be monitored to ensure adequate nutrition is being provided or whether feed can be reduced. This is essential because it is difficult to predict how much individual animals will take in and how they respond to it.

“Without monitoring you may find that animals are not eating as much as you expect, or they may be getting more nutrition than required and can have their nutrition reduced.”

Ms Accioly also advised producers to vaccinate animals (and give a booster) with 5 in 1 (or 7 in 1) prior to starting supplementation, especially if grain-feeding is likely.

For more information on feed budgeting, or to be involved in the Grazing Matcher program in 2020, contact Jeisane Accioly on 0403 327 216.

This project is supported by the South West Catchments Council, though funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, and Western Beef Association Inc.

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