Deciding whether to hand feed livestock or not is a big decision no matter how many animals you have. The reason why it is such a big decision is because hand feeding costs a lot of money and time. As many areas are getting drier, it certainly is time to start putting your drought plan into place.
Questions such as:
- How any animals can I now carry on my farm given recent rainfall and pasture growth?
- What agistment options are viable?
- How much am I willing to spend on hand feeding my livestock?
need to be asked.
These same questions can also be asked when you are thinking of setting up a livestock enterprise or when you want to expand your herd/flock numbers.
It is important that you know how far you are willing to go in terms of your investment of time and money, well before the situation becomes critical and stock-prices have fallen due to a flooded market. For some farmers hand-feeding is no longer an option given previous experiences – instead adjusting their stock numbers to match the amount of pasture they have available to them. The money made from sales is then used to purchase new stock when feed (pasture) is available.
What makes all of the above so difficult is the emotional connection we have to our animals and wanting to do the best thing by them. We also have goals for our livestock enterprise to make genetic progress and to build-up stock numbers – selling animals can be seen as a back-step given all the energy you have already put in.
The point is to have plan in place that respond to climatic and market events: What actions would you take in your best case scenario, your worst scenario and in between. Time, money and natural resources all need to be considered.
My tips for supplement feeding livestock
- The diet must be balanced with energy, protein and roughage
- Roughage (such as pasture, hay or chaff) must be a high percentage of diet. (For example my show-sheep and lactating sheep feed on pasture, and grain is mixed 50% grain and 50% chaff on a volume basis 3 times per week.)
- Quality hay can be cheaper option providing quality feed when pastures are low
- Keep volumes consistent. How much do you want each animal to have per feed multiplied by the number of animals
- Introduce any change in diet gradually ie. Start with a high roughage content. If scouring treat and feed roughage
- Keep feeding areas clean eg. clean troughs or feed in different areas to prevent disease
- Mineral blocks are relatively cheap and the easiest way to ensure stock are getting any missing nutrients 100% of the time. Mineral drenches can also be used
- Access to water 100% of the time