Feed budgeting – the basics for drought recovery

// Feed Planning and Strategies

Waikato-based AgFirst consultant Bob Thomson shares his advice for carrying out a feed budget when feed resources are tight and practical tips for managing feed in drought conditions.


The basics for drought recovery

  1. Start by creating a priority list for the different stock classes on your farm, which mobs have the highest priority and highest feed demand?
  2. How big is your feed deficit and what can you do to address this? What is your current pasture cover and what do you think your pasture cover should be at this time of year?
  3. Create a plan of action to address the feed deficit. Big feed deficits will require big decisions. A proactive grazing plan will be essential once the feed deficit is addressed.
  4. Use your farm paddock map as a planning tool to create a practical grazing plan. By forward thinking to lambing and calving, you can allocate paddocks to each stock class at that time.
  5. Once you have determined the allocated areas for all stock classes as at lambing and calving you can then work back to the current time and start planning the autumn/winter rotational grazing programme.
  6. To support farmers, the Ministry for Primary Industries together with Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ, Deer Industry Association, AgFirst and Federated Farmers are providing remote feed planning support to farmers including a feed budgeting service and professional farm systems advice.
  • Dry stock sector - Beef + Lamb: 0800BEEFLAMB (0800 233 352)
  • Dairy sector - DairyNZ: 0800 4 DairyNZ (0800 4 3247969)
  • AgFirst: 0508 AGFIRST (0508 243 477)

*This service will be available until the end of November 2020 at which time farmer need will be revised.

Practical tips for managing your feed when farming under drought conditions

  1. When pasture covers are low then pasture-growth rates are also low and so it’s worth remembering the old adage that ‘grass grows grass’.
  2. In the Waikato and upper King Country rotation lengths of at least 70-days are required to build pasture cover. In practice it will be tough on livestock in the short-term, so you need to keep the long-term goal in mind i.e. creating feed for lambing and calving when ewes and cows will recover quickly and productively.
  3. Rotational grazing allows you to ration your feed far more effectively than set stocking.
  4. Temporary fencing is a cost effective, practical method of controlling pasture intake for cattle.
  5. Nitrogen boosted pasture is the most cost-effective supplementary feed but obviously requires moisture to activate. Theoretically, there should be plenty of nitrogen stored in the soil following drought conditions, but practical farmer experience has shown nitrogen application is a valuable way of getting pasture covers back sooner. There will be heavy purchasing demand on nitrogen so you must contact your fertiliser company and book. Also make sure you book your fertiliser contractor as Covid-19 restrictions have reduced their capacity to deliver by some 50-60%.
  6. The only way for nitrogen to work is when it’s on the ground and not in the fertiliser bin. If you need nitrogen book it in and get it one ASAP.
  7. Breeding stock are very sensitive to underfeeding in early lactation so important to plan early. When feed is short. It is better to ration feed before lactation than during lactation.
  8. Post-calving feeding is much more important than pre-calving feeding.
  9. Once calved or lambed, breeding stock need to be fully fed and will recover quickly and productively.
  10. Finishing and trading stock are a flexible stock classes and can take some short-term reduction in feeding or alternatively could be sold store.
  11. Once ewes and lambs have been set-stocked for lambing you will have little opportunity to manage feed, but you can manage other classes of stock:
  • Allocated areas for cattle which can be block grazed.
  • Maybe set stock young cattle on the lambing platform.
  • Set-stock single scanned ewes at higher stocking rates or add more cattle to their paddocks.

12. Quick tips for feed management of breeding cows:

  • Early weaning of calves is a good option and especially when combined with yard weaning where weaned calves can be supplemented and cows put on sub-maintenance rations.
  • Pregnancy scan cows ASAP to determine empties for sale and late calvers for sale or extra rationing if required.
  • When planning for saved feed for calving lock-up 0.4 ha per cow of saved feed by the end of May to achieve pasture covers of around 3,000 kgDM/ha at calving. This will get them through calving up to the inevitable spring pasture surplus. Good planning here will secure good in-calf rates and bigger weaners for next year.
  • Restricted feeding of late calving cows will help you build a feed wedge ahead of the cows.
  • Break-feeding calving cows helps to manage feed and allows you to shed calved cows onto fresh pasture.
  • Underfeeding breeding cows after calving will have an impact at mating – this is especially true for dairy-cross breeding cows.
  • Target pre-graze >2,800 kgDM/ha.

Remember, with good planning, the drought will be a short-term issue and by mid-late October there should be surplus pasture once again.

Find out more

View Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s tools and guides for feed planning at: https://beeflambnz.com/news-views/feed-budgeting