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Managing breeding stock in challenging times

Sourcing and providing good quality feed is challenging under the current conditions and it is particularly important that producers take additional care with late pregnant and lactating stock.

Northern Tablelands Local Land Services District Vet, Dr Lisa Martin at Tenterfield, is advising producers to monitor their heavily pregnant and lactating stock closely. The combination of poor quality alternative feeds this year such as Rhodes or Setaria grass hays, cane tops or sorghum stubbles with the continuing cold weather, increases the risk of metabolic disease in pregnant and lactating stock due to energy or calcium deficiencies.

During the last third of pregnancy a cow or ewe’s requirement for energy increases. By the time she births and is lactating, her energy requirements are 50% higher than a dry animal. The developing offspring also increases in size with a decrease in space available for food in the dam’s rumen.

“This really becomes a problem when feeding poorly digestible hays or silage as the cow or ewe physically can’t eat enough for her needs. Additionally, factor in that when it is cold, stock use energy to keep warm and require an additional 20% of feed intake, so producers need to budget to put more feed out at these times,” said Lisa.

Stock will also have an increased need for calcium for muscle contractions during the birthing process as well as during lactation. Poor cows or ewes, cold weather and low quality feeds can mean an increase in slower calvings or lambings and an increase in the number of stock requiring assistance even though the offspring may be small. Producers should be checking their stock, including mature cows or ewes, more frequently than usual as they may just run out of energy and calcium for adequate muscle contractions to successfully give birth.

Lower conditioned stock can also just run out of energy and go down, often then missing the next feed out time. This reduces the chance of them getting any strength back to get up again. Appropriate animal welfare such as vet treatment or euthanasia must always be considered for any down stock.

If possible, producers should try to obtain an energy source to add to the diets of stock on these currently available low quality roughages, as added supplements like grain, pellets, cottonseed or fortified molasses can boost energy levels.

“Ensuring stock have access to calcium supplements, often loose mixes with salt and magnesium, will assist with calcium levels and also minimise grass tetany when rain allows a green pick to grow again.

“Feed sampling and testing will provide savings in the long run as you will know exactly the makeup of what you have on hand and what quantities and supplements are needed to meet your stock requirements,” said Lisa.

“Do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you would like help.”

Producers using alternative feeds like vegetables, potatoes or harvested cane tops or crop trash, should also assess and minimise any potential residue risks. These can have a longer-term impact on market access.

Great advice for producers is available from your Local Land Services office or online through NSW DPI’s DroughtHub. A new 2018 edition of the NSW DPI Managing and Preparing for Drought Book has just been released and is a very comprehensive information source. It is also available on the DroughtHub or from LLS offices.

Media contact: Annabelle Monie 0429 626 326