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Supplementation during the summer drought period

While the difficult drought conditions continue, it is important that farmers provide supplementation and adequate volumes of water to maintain condition score on animals and reduce any heat-related repercussions.

The drought conditions continue to cause a lot of havoc to all farmers across the country and unfortunately, it is expected to last for another two weeks. In some areas soil moisture deficits are as high as 80 mm of which is having a detrimental effect on grass growth rates with some records suggesting growth rate is very low at 45 kg DM per day. As a result, average grass covers are falling throughout the country, consequently leading to increased supplementation on dairy and beef farms. It is important that farmers are strategically focused on providing economical supplementation, well in advance to make sure there is a certain proportion of grazed grass in the diet for respective dairy and beef animals. Otherwise the cost of providing supplementation will be increased significantly with offering a high proportion of ration or cubes. The aim must be to extend the rotation length out to 25-30 days on farms and balance the herd demand with forage, ration or concentrates.

Once the amount of daily grass allowance is known the deficit can be formulated in a diet to maintain milk performance in dairy herds or average daily gain on beef farms. The shortfall can be balanced with forage in particular baled grass silage or hay either at grass in the paddocks or indoors (after milking or beef cattle could be housed during the day and left out to grass at night when temperature has subsided). If the forage supplementation is high, a form of concentrates or rations should be offered to achieve an overall balanced diet. Straights such as soya hulls, beet pulp and palm kernel are being offered in conjunction with compound feeds to stretch the deficit. In some instances dairy farmers are offering up to 4 kilograms of soya hulls and 6 kilograms of compound feed in the parlour and baled silage.  It will be important to increase the content of protein up to 16% in the compound feed if a high level of supplementation is required to balance the overall diet. It is important to note if dairy cows are being offered grass silage fulltime, the crude protein of compound feed must be adjusted to 18% to maintain milk performance. For store cattle I would recommend offering 4-5 kilograms of a high energy ration or cube to maintain average daily growth rates. If finishing cattle, they should be housed indoors and offered ad-lib to reduce the grazing pressure on the grazing platform.

It is important not to forget about the essential nutrient required for all species – water. Water is essential for many functions, but is often overlooked so thereby in periods of drought, it is more crucial as consumption is almost doubled in some cases where air temperature, diet composition and higher dry matter in grass swards are reported. Studies have reported a negative effect between low water quality and a decrease in milk production.  It will be vital to provide fresh water at all times to maintain the correct electrolyte balance for dairy and beef animals.

It is important in these times of drought, health, metabolic and performance of animals is not compromised as it may have repercussions in the near future e.g. inadequate energy or protein in the diet may result in excessive body condition loss, heat stress may result in embryonic loss. We all need to be aware that when the weather changes it will take a further two weeks to achieve typical grass growth rates for the time of the year. In summary, I would be advising all farmers to complete a farm cover to find out how much supplementation is required and consult with their local RED MILLS feed sales representative for advice.

For further information, contact the Red Mills nutrition team.

  • Tags:
  • Agri
  • animal health
  • animal nutrition
  • cows
  • dairy
  • dry matter
  • feed
  • heifers