Current nutritional circumstances in Northern and Southern Australia

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IMG_2001In an El Nino year, the words of Kenny Rogers “The Gambler”, are worth putting in the context of a livestock business.

You got to know when to hold ’em  know when to fold ’em
know when to walk away and know when to run
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done

Northern Australia

Most people are having quite a poor summer. Even though we are now at the beginning of February and there is still a possibility of some good rain between now and the end of the growing season, we know that the growing season is already short. What that means for nutrition is that we’re likely to end up with less quantity of feed. However, in these years when rain stops and starts during the growing season, you end up with much better quality feed than you would normally get in a big wet season. So what do we do with that?

Let’s assume that we are going to have good quality or better than normal quality of feed this year but lower quantity than we would hope.

What are some of the strategies that we need to consider:

  1. Early Weaning. Look at getting calves off ASAP so to reduce the nutritional stress on the cow. Early weaned calves have got to go on to a full calf ration but it is much more cost effective to feed a small animal with low maintenance requirements, than handle a poor cow/calf unit. If your season is bad, the time to wean is NOW.
  2. De-stocking. Firstly, just removing the calf will halve the stocking rate for breeders. Following this up by getting rid of any fat cows, empty cows and starting to de-stock will make another significant impact on your stocking rate (perhaps reducing it by another 20- 30%). They key to de-stocking is that you want to bring your stocking rate back to the carrying capacity that you’ve got to go forward with for the rest of the year.

Assuming that there will be some showers over the next 2 months, weaned cows are going to pick up very quickly and they’ll be back in good condition to calve at the end of this year regardless of the fact that you might have had a smaller season. They’ll be on pretty good quality feed and that will also help them pick up condition quite quickly and maintain condition better than they normally would through the dry season.

If you’ve got sale animals or young growing stock, then they are going to do better in a year like this (a year where you’ve got lower rainfall and less growth than you normally would) but the big proviso is that the stocking rate is matched to the carrying capacity. So the only thing we’ve really got to do with growing stock and younger stock is make sure that the stocking rate is matched to the carrying capacity so they can be turned off as fast as possible.

Southern Australia

I know there are people in southern Australia who have had a good spring and then there are those who have had a poor spring.

If you’ve had a poor spring then you’ve got very little feed and perhaps poor quality as well. There’s not a lot you can do in those circumstances except wean and de-stock and match the stocking rate to the feed that you have available. The alternative is to gamble with substitute feeding. As Kenny Rogers says “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold (sell) ‘em”.

But there are people that have had a good spring and you may have a bulk of poor quality dry feed in mid summer. This is an energy source which must be put through the animals. The best way to achieve that is to feed a urea supplement. Urea supplementation will stimulate dry matter intake and start using a lot of that old feed. It will also pick up animal production and start getting the old grass back on the ground in terms of dung and urine and start opening the plants up for a much-awaited autumn break. Follow the recipe and the rules in the McCosker Brew to achieve this outcome.


Article by Principal Advisor
Terry McCosker

Terry-McCosker