An industry specialist believes if livestock producers do not incorporate a protein supplement during the summer months when pasture quality is low they run the risk of productivity and fertility loss.
Jeff House, principal of Jeff House Livestock, Forbes, said as the majority of pastures in the summer are dry stubble and hayed - off material which can have a protein count as low as 4 per cent; an imbalance of feed nutrition occurs and can directly impact the rumen function and cause weight loss in livestock.
According to Mr House, a former NSW Department of Primary Industries cattle officer, although the overall nutrition of the ruminant is important, the main focus is actually on keeping the microbes inside the rumen functioning at their optimum capacity.
“When the nutritional content is out of balance it means the bugs in the rumen don’t get enough protein to actually function properly, this causes a decline in the speed of which the feed goes through the animal because the more fibrous the feed material is, the longer it takes for the rumen to break down,” Mr House said.
A targeted supplement approach is best according to Mr House and common forms include a urea mix, protein meal or pulses.
He said this approach is achieved by monitoring livestock dung and visually recording whether sheep dung is fibrous and dry, and for cattle in particular, a high and dense pat will form.
“Those are probably the biggest signs that the rumen is not functioning well and they are not processing the feed,” Mr House said.
“Once the rumen is really firing and ticking over, the microbes will break down the food better and move the material out of the rumen – if this doesn’t occur because of a lack of protein, then the rumen is physically full and the animal does not get a signal to graze more,” he said.
“The animal is aware that it is in a nutrient deficit but it just physically can’t get enough to actually meet its needs.”
From February 21 until March 2, Mr House will be discussing how producers can achieve a balance between stubble and pasture quality in Dubbo, Tamworth and Inverell.
“The information is about maintaining the productivity of your stock - we need to keep these animals productive and fertile if we are going to get through periods when they lose condition – if your fertility drops because of lack of nutrition at this time of year, that has a massive impact on the amount of kilograms you produce of lamb, beef or wool,” he said.
Containing livestock to help boost pasture production and quality
Livestock producers are encouraged to trial stock containment measures when pasture quality and quantity depletes during the summer months.
Jeff House Livestock, principal Jeff House said traditionally when feed requirements for stock get low, producers are inclined to open the gates on a number of paddocks and let the stock spread out across the property to find their pick of greener pastures.
However Mr House believes if stock are confined to a smaller grazing area; containment grazing, potentially producers can feed livestock easier, more adequately and monitor their health in the tougher summer months more accurately.
“In the initial situation, it’s to provide protein and utilise feed but once that feed bulk drops down then producers need to supply stock with a balanced ration and supply them with energy as well,” Mr House said.
“If a bit of rain helps to green up the pastures, instead of the stock hammering it into the ground, you contain them and give it a chance to help maintain ground cover and material on the summer pastures ,” he said.
Mr House said depending on how much ground cover producers are looking to maintain, by removing stock from those paddocks into smaller areas and letting it rest, the rate and quality of pasture recovery when it rains will increase.
“From a livestock point of view there are also productivity gains with confinement because stock use a lot of energy chasing the green feed which causes weight loss.”