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Managing stock in dry times

By Digby Rayward

Hunter Local Land Services District Veterinarians are offering advice to producers to help with the current dry conditions. Unfortunately predictions are for below average rainfall for the coming three months. This increases the urgency for producers to have a plan in place to reduce stress on stock and themselves.

Assessing stock condition, pasture availability and developing a plan to either supplementary feed or lighten the load is an important decision to make.

The biggest contributor to landholder stress, production loss and livestock death due to starvation is lack of early planning for an extended dry season. However, the implementation of several basic principles can determine how well your livestock and pastures fair over the coming months and how quickly your production system is able to rebound with rain.

Key actions to take now include:

Assessing your pastures - know how much pasture feed you have on offer, its quality and how many cattle your paddocks will sustain without further rain and pasture growth.

Assessing stock condition - what condition is your stock currently in? Are they maintaining or losing weight? It can help to put a condition score on your herd so that you can objectively measure if they are going backwards. Meat & Livestock Australia has a handy guide to help assess stock in low body condition.

Reducing stock numbers by selling and culling aged cows - this can help generate cash flow to fund the purchase of feed and maintain remaining stock. It will also take the pressure off soil, pasture and water supplies. Maintaining ground cover greater than 95% will help the pasture respond to small falls of rain.

Weaning early - feeding cow /calf units can be unproductive and expensive. By weaning, the cow drinks 30-50 litres a day less and need 20-30% less feed.

Assessing water supplies and determining how much water your stock need - if you have to start carting water to paddocks this handy guide may help

Working out what you are going to provide as feed - feed is expensive. Are you going to feed hay, silage or grain and how much will each week’s feed bill cost. More importantly what is the quality of the silage and hay.

Is agistment a better option for you?

A do nothing approach and hoping to tough out the dry times can be fraught with stress and heartache. Many producers take a tried and tested common sense approach. Sell steers first, wean early and sell calves and old poor performing cows. Hold onto your young cows and heifers so you have a head start when conditions improve.

Hunter Local Land Services is running a number of workshops across the Hunter to help producers make these important decisions, scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for details.