Countering the dry season

By Country News on January 20, 2016

An extremely dry spring has farmers rethinking their management to counter the lack of pasture growth and low silage yields.

Without some significant changes, it is likely many Gippsland farms will face the prospect of running out of feed before the autumn break.

Some farms also face the prospect of running into problems with water supply.



Feed and water


Past experience gives us confidence we will get through and making decisions early opens up the most options.

A feed plan is essential.

How much feed is required to get through? How much is on hand? What needs to be done to balance the budget?

A water budget is also necessary.

How much water is required (for stock, dairy, etc)?

Will I have enough to get through and is the supply reliable?

What can be done to secure or conserve water to limit the need to cart water in or destock.



Feed budgeting


From a feed budgeting point of view; it is about working out how much feed your stock need, how much you might grow (the hard bit) and how much fodder you have on hand.

For example, assuming there is enough pasture plus grain to get through November. My feed plan starts in December (you may need to feed fodder earlier?).

I am not planning on growing much pasture or crop between December and March; maybe 15 per cent of the feed requirements, so my feed budget will look to have supplements at 15kg of dry matter per cow per day for four months.

This is about 2.2 tonnes per cow.

I will then need to guestimate the timing and strength of the autumn break, but am hoping to reduce purchased feed in the diet reasonably significantly.

I will also need some dry cow hay, say 10kg hay as fed per day, for 60 days (maybe less if I have pasture or if I feed lead feed in the diet).

Next I look at my fodder reserves and work out my purchasing requirements.

Have a monthly feed plan and check your feed inventory to make sure you have enough feed reserves to get through.

This will tell you if you are feeding out quicker than planned and need to purchase more feed or reduce feed demand.



Feed purchasing


When it comes to feed purchasing, it is about the cheapest feed that will achieve the result.

A milker and heifer diet needs to be about 11 ME of energy and 14-16 per cent protein.

Top quality hay (such as vetch and lucerne) is a good feed, but this year it is probably going to be dearer than concentrates by the time you look at cartage, wastage and energy density. Do your own sums.

Assuming this is right, then the diet might consist of some moderate quality fodder (such as leafy cereal hay) and concentrates that might need a bit of extra protein to balance the diet.

It might be the diet ends up containing 8kg per cow per day as concentrates - perhaps more at some point in summer (assuming that concentrates are cheaper per unit of energy and protein).

Logistically, feeding this much concentrate might be a challenge on many farms.

One suggestion is to consider feeding some concentrates on the ground between milkings.

Large pellets would be best to reduce wastage (you will need to do some homework around cost and logistics of paddock-feeding concentrates).

It is typically cheapest to purchase hay during harvest.

Dairy Australia’s Hay and Grain Market Report gives a guide to prices and what the market is doing (it is on their website or you can subscribe for updates).



Young stock


Don't forget your young stock. Ballpark daily feed intakes are 5kg of feed for 200kg animals, 8kg for 400kg animals. Hay might not be good enough quality on its own (is there a need to feed concentrates?)



Reducing feed demand


On some farms it might be a consideration to reduce feed demand to get through.

Maybe it is worth considering culling early.

Basically, if herd feed demands can’t be met, you can potentially sell some cows and redistribute the feed to the rest of the herd.

If the remaining cows eat the extra feed (because they were hungry), then the maintenance energy savings will be converted to milk and condition.

If cows are in good condition, then the portion of spared feed going to milk (and making immediate income) will be relatively higher.

If you reduce herd numbers after the herd becomes thin, then there will be relatively more of the spared feed going to condition rather than milk (producing less immediate milk income).



In addition, thin cows are worth less as culls, so ideally make the call before the herd strips too much condition.

There is always the risk that the season turns out pretty good and you could have fed the extra cows, so this strategy is for situations where this is not likely.

It is important to take next season into account before culling too heavily (how many cows will be required next season).



People matter


In a tough season, there is always the need put time aside to look after yourselves and those around you.

Make sure you stay in contact with family and friends and seek help if you’re struggling.


-        Greg O’Brien

Dairy extension officer, Ellinbank, DEDJTR

By Country News on January 20, 2016

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