Feed budgeting essential where winter feed supplies are tight

Uncertain feed supplies around many parts of the country reinforce the need for sheep and beef farmers to carry out regular feed budgets and make management decisions early.
Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Central Otago-based farm consultant Peter Young says ideally, sheep and beef farmers should be assessing their feed supplies once a month, increasing to fortnightly when feed supplies are tight.

He says if feed supplies are precarious, farmers should objectively identify the stock classes that could be considered tradable- such as annual draft or B-line ewes – and manage those separately. They can then be off-loaded quickly if the feed situation deteriorates.

“That’s the real benefit of a feed budget, you know where you are in terms of feed supply and by objectively assessing which stock are tradable and which are capital, you can prioritise them early on.”

Feed budgets also allow management decisions to be made early, so farmers can be ahead of the pack when looking for off-farm grazing, supplements or killing space.

Peter says part of the decision-making process is about determining the long or short-term impact that decision will have on the farm system. For example, compromising hoggets can have a long-term impact on the flock whereas off-loading B-line ewes would only have a short-term impact on the business.

“Don’t get hung up on the short-term costs if they protect the long-term viability of the farm system.”

Grazing dry hoggets off-farm can be a cost-effective way to protect their future reproductive performance while also freeing up feed for lambing ewes.

“I wouldn’t consider grazing tradable stock off-farm unless you’ve done the numbers and it stacks up,” says Peter.

Scanning data, particularly foetal aging, can be a valuable tool as it allows limited feed supplies to be managed more accurately.

A lot of feed can be saved by delaying set-stocking for 10 days. Holding the later-lambing ewes back behind a wire, for example, will allow pasture covers to be built on the lambing areas.

Peter says lambing covers should be a priority and management should be focused on building those covers.

“There is no substitute for spring pasture for multiple-bearing ewes.”

Going into spring, feed quality is a challenge on many hill-country farms due to last season’s particularly growthy summer.

Peter says farmers struggling to restore pasture quality should focus on their lambing blocks and use the correct class of stock to do the job. Ewes cannot be made to eat poor quality feed for too long.

While winter has been relatively kind with dry weather, there is concern about the lack of snow- which could limit the supply of irrigation water over summer. Farmers could also get worried if this lack of moisture continues through until spring.

“Most farmers are happy with the current situation but they are nervous about a dry spring and potentially dry summer.”

This reinforces the need for early decision-making and regularly updating feed budgets.