Livestock farmers are continuously being encouraged to calculate grass availability and act quickly to prevent forage shortages amidst one of the driest springs. April and May typically see peak annual grass production. However, some livestock producers are reportedly feeding ‘hand to mouth’ with supplementary feed, weaning early, destocking, and grazing silage fields.
Livestock consultant Liz Genever says it is important for farmers to review their situation and ensure they have enough feed for their animals. They must also prevent sward damage by not grazing pastures too hard. Dr Genever says grazing paddocks below 4cm without enough resting time between grazing will affect regrowth when rains return. It is vital for farmers to be fully aware of how much grass they haven’t got and plan accordingly.
In most cases, you find that supplementary feeding is a necessity on dairy farms. This is in cases where there is a decrease in grass growth against the increasing demand. Silage and concentrates are the most common supplementary feeds available.
However, it still remains pertinent that livestock farmers are ahead of forage shortages. This can be accomplished in the following ways: measuring the available grass and knowing how many grazing days there are ahead will allow you to plan what to do to overcome the deficit. Farmers who keep a mixture of different livestock should also ensure that they prioritize the different animal groups in accordance to their feeding needs. All these measures should be complemented with the knowhow needed to efficiently rear animals.
Feeding and nutrition
The livestock farmers should ensure that the young ones are weaned early enough to reduce grass demands. This is because fully grown livestock have less nutritional demand when compared to lactating ones.
In the introduction of supplementary feed, it is also advisable to sacrifice some standing grass and strip graze. This can be an option for lambs as they transition onto the grass and eat more. Feeding silage, hay or concentrates may be necessary where demand exceeds supply.
Creep feeding young stock will depend on individual farms. On dairy farms with a forage shortfall, concentrate levels may need to be doubled from 2-3kg/head a day to 4-6kg.
Another viable option is slowing down the grazing rotation. For instance,
Ryegrass paddock rotation lengths can be increased from about 21 days to 30 days and herbal leys to 40 days. Herbal leys can handle longer rotations as they do not head as fast and bases will not rot as quickly as ryegrass. Pastures containing plenty of red clover can be extended to 50 days.
Alternatively, instead of reseeding, farmers should consider planting forage rape that will be ready to graze in 12 weeks. Although this can put pressure on remaining grazing ground it will provide extra forage later. It has rapid growth availability and good year-round performance.
Preserving forage quality in dry weather
Regular assessment of cereal crops and a short wilt time are essential to maintain crop quality after one of the driest springs on record, says Dave Davies of Silage Solutions.
As such, it is best to monitor crops as often as possible to allow for an early harvest if necessary before crude protein and energy are lost. This can be achieved through regular forage inspections, early harvesting of cereal forage crops, leaving a residual when cutting and shortening silage wilt time.
When all is said and done, if a farmer is taking the above initiatives and it is not making much of a difference, maybe it is time to cut down on the livestock numbers.