Livestock producers must act immediately as dry conditions worsen to maintain proper nutrition for sheep, cattle and other animals.
North West Local Land Services veterinarian Heidi Austin, speaking at a Tamworth NSW DPI pasture update, provided a livestock health analysis and said the first task producers should identify was the number of day requirements for the metabolisable energy of their stock.
"Knowing what these requirements will be is vital to help their stock get through a dry time," Ms Austin said.
"The biggest thing is to plan how to manage your animals as the paddock feed decreases. How you're going to supplement them, and what rates you're going to feed them at.
She also said knowledge of a cow's rumen and how it works as a 'fermentation tank' relying on the activity of millions and millions of biota should help producers plan stock rations and make slow and careful changes to feedstuffs to avoid weight and condition loss, illness and in even some cases, deaths.
"The most important thing with feed is providing enough metabolisable energy in a day for an animal to maintain its body weight and do what it needs to do concerning production," Ms Austin said.
"When you've got plenty of feed in the paddock, you don't have to think about feed intake. They eat what they need. But they need so much more energy when they start to grow a calf inside them or lactate to feed a calf on the ground."
She said producers needed to be mindful of what they were putting in feed rations into their cattle.
"Know what you're putting into that rumen and what the digesters are doing in the rumen to handle what you're putting in.
"Changes (in fodder types) need to be made slowly. If you want to add a grain into the diet, do you fill your feeder with barley and open it right up, or do you transition them over with small amounts daily?
"Everything (in fodder types) is slightly different, and the biota in the rumen needs to be able to change in a well-managed, maintained way so that your animals don't get sick."
The main condition with ruminants with grain feeding is acidosis, and this was because the rumen hadn't been properly transitioned over to the grain being used, Ms Austin said. Calcium deficiencies are another condition producers should be aware of, and this can be combated with supplement licks that are 50/50 with lime and salt.
Caution should also be applied to sorghum and millet hays, which can be high in nitrates and, in some cases, have lethal effects on stock if it is not eased into a feed ration. She said producers can have these types of hay tested for nitrate levels or use Quantofix Nitrate/Nitrite test strips to self-test the hay.
Ms Austin said any livestock producers in doubt about specific nutritional advice on managing stock through these times, ration formulation, and how much to feed should contact the LLS's livestock extension team for further information.
The LLS general contact number is 1300 795 299 from Monday to Friday during business hours.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.