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Prepare now for earlier livestock feeding

A few dry months across South West Victoria has decreased the normal spring pasture flush, meaning there is less carry over feed going into 2024.  Pasture agronomist Cam Nicholson has been examining the impact of the dry spring through work supported by Southern Farming Systems and funded by the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund.

“In the past two years we have had a lot of carryover feed in South west Victoria but this is unlikely in 2024” Cam said.

“The dry spring period has roughly halved pasture growth, with annuals running to head earlier and leaf emergence in perennials slowing as they become moisture stressed” he said.

Cam anticipates the impact of the poorer spring will mean farmers will have to start feeding about 6 weeks earlier than normal.

While it is not uncommon to supplement animals before the autumn break, feeding will start earlier and last longer according to Cam.  Knowing a rough timeframe now allows farmers to plan, including examining if there is currently enough feed on hand.  It also means putting animals into containment may need to commence earlier to manage groundcover and enhance perennial grass survival.

“Regrowth of our perennial grasses relies on the new tillers that form in the crown of the plants in spring surviving over summer” Cam said.

“If we graze these crowns too hard over summer we run the risk of damaging these growing points which means we will have poorer growth after the Autumn break”.  Perennial ryegrass and cocksfoot pastures are more susceptible than phalaris or tall fescue to new tiller damage from grazing.

“Once we graze below 1000 kg/ha of residual dry matter we increase the risk of wind and water erosion because too much soil is exposed” Cam said.

Another approach is to sell animals earlier which reduces the feed required.  “Selling stock earlier can delay the time to commence feeding of the remaining animals, but with current livestock prices this isn’t very attractive at the moment” Cam said.

A more detailed explanation of how to create a summer feed budget is available https://sfs.org.au/resource/feed-shortfalls-over-summer and a simple online calculator https://sfs.org.au/tool/simple-summer-feed-budget

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