Hand feeding livestock

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

Feeding

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As the storm clouds roll in

I’m not one to give weather updates nor qualified to talk on climate variability, but I thought the past 12 months of weather extremities deserved a mention, and its impact on farmers and their livestock.

The South West Slopes region of NSW (my home), a traditional sheep grazing area experienced flooding in March 2012, snow in August 2012 and catastrophic fire danger in January 2013. I know a lot other areas across Australia experienced similar extremities in weather, and in many cases much worse off.

The recent catastrophic fire danger across NSW rightly had everyone on edge. There were many large fires within this region, notably the Geegullalong Road, Boorowa fire in December 2012, the Jugiong to Yass fire in mid January 2013 and the Watershed Boorowa fire in late January 2013. It is a credit to the RFS and volunteers that due to their quick actions and tireless efforts no lives or homes were lost.

Geegullalong Road, Boorowa, December 2012

Geegullalong Road, Boorowa, December 2012

When I received the call to say that the Watershed fire was heading in my sheep paddock’s direction, I was very quick to get the trailer on, and as I was driving the 40km I thinking about where I would move them to. The rams were moved to my backyard. I was also very fortunate to have access to a friend’s block where the ewes and lambs were re-located to. At the time it was physically and emotionally intense – for not knowing if the fire would change direction or if the fire would pick up speed. Fortunately for me the fire didn’t come as far as my sheep paddock. The day certainly was a learning experience and a bigger than ever incentive to complete my Bush FireFighter training.

Fires Near Me app, January 2013

Fires Near Me app, January 2013

In March 2012 Young recorded 184mm of rain within 7 days. This is equal to a third of their average annual rainfall – all within a week. The area was declared a natural disaster where affected farmers could seek financial support to repair the damage to infrastructure (fences and internal roads). The medium-term result of this high rainfall event was an increase in the biomass of vegetation, providing valuable feed for livestock before going into winter.

Boorowa River, April 2012

Boorowa River, April 2012

August 2012 was a very cold month, seeing a reduction in pasture growth (as normal). Yass NSW experienced temperatures as low as -4.8 degrees with an average maximum temperature of 14.4 degrees. Sheep grazier alerts became common, as detailed in my previous post, including the impacts on livestock. Click here.

A cold day in Boorowa, September 2012

A cold day in Boorowa, September 2012

For farmers, a key goal is to manage stocking rates to match the ever changing carrying capacities of the seasons, with the focus of producing a consistent and quality product to the consumer, and managing stock and pastures in a way that maximises ground cover.

As the storm clouds roll in, I hope for rain across south west NSW.

A fast moving storm, February 2013

A fast moving storm, February 2013

Useful links:

Fires Near Me NSW – app available for smart phones and tablets

NSW Rural Fire Service – http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/

BlazeAid Volunteers: working alongside farmers to rebuild fences after fires and floods – http://blazeaid.com.au/

NSW Rural Assistance Authority: Natural Disaster Relief Scheme – http://www.raa.nsw.gov.au/assistance/natural-disaster-relief