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Winter feeding - do you have a plan?

June 2019

Lou Baskind, District Veterniarian, Palerang

Cattle feeding

Recent rain across the tablelands has been welcomed by producers, but unfortunately the lateness of it means that pasture growth will be limited by cold conditions and short days through winter.

Winter on the tablelands is a tough time in an average year, so going in with short pastures and on the back of a dry year adds significant challenges.

For producers who haven’t considered supplementary feeding this winter, it might be necessary to re-evaluate.

Have a think about some of the challenges facing your stock this winter:

  • Put simply, animals need more food to maintain their body temperature in cold weather. The hair coats on cattle and the wool on sheep are designed to insulate them, and they do have tolerance to the cold. However, situations that prevent those insulating layers from functioning will result in cold stress.If stock get wet from rain or frost, if there is forceful wind, or if cold conditions are prolonged, cold stress can result.
  • Stock are going into this winter with minimal reserves and so we don’t have the luxury of allowing them little weight loss over winter. Some supplementary feeding is likely to be required to top up their nutrition and maintain body condition.
  • Consider also that if pastures are limited, animals need to spend more time walking and grazing to get enough feed in each day. The energy cost of walking to chase feed needs to be considered in their requirements. This is enhanced if the landscape is steep.
  • Shorter days restricts time available for grazing to achieve the daily requirement.
  • Energy requirements increase significantly in late pregnancy, especially for twin bearing ewes. If feeding doesn’t match their requirement they can suffer with starvation, pregnancy toxaemia, and birthing difficulties. These conditions often result in death.

So, how much additional feed do livestock need? To answer this question it’s important to think through a range of factors including the quantity and quality of pasture available, class of livestock (e.g. dry, pregnant or lactating) and livestock condition.

Also consider the quality of the supplement being provided - this becomes particularly important in late pregnancy and into lactation when green feed is short and limited. Including high quality/ high energy feeds such as grain, pellets, dried distillers grain, lupins etc into the diet will give much better performance than hay alone. For further information on feeding livestock during winter, please refer to the following guides:

Every enterprise is different, but a “hope for the best approach” could lead to disaster. Be proactive, assess what pasture and fodder reserves you have available and whether it is going to get you through winter in terms of both quantity and quality.

If you are unsure and need assistance, do not hesitate to call your nearest Local Land Services office.

Photo Credit: NSW DPI.