Managing a fodder shortage

By Dairy News

HIGH DEMAND and successive years of low production has created a fodder supply shortage across Australia’s dairying regions, causing headaches for farmers sourcing feed.

When pasture is limited and supplies of fodder, or more precisely long fibre, are reduced, the temptation can be to just go and buy whatever feed is available.

However, carefully planning likely feed requirements and actively managing bought feed quality, supply and price risks is the best approach.

This can help reduce the cost of buying feeds and ensure that stock’s nutritional needs are met with reduced feeding risks.

Here are some tips for success as you progress through the five steps involved in managing a fodder shortage:

Step 1: Calculate your monthly feed demand and feed deficit

A monthly feed budget ensures you know what quantities of each feed you need to buy to meet your milk production and liveweight targets.

When doing your monthly feed budget, ensure it:

  • Is based on an accurate head count.
  • Uses realistic metabolisable energy (ME) requirements of your different classes of stock.
  • Includes good estimates of pasture and other home-grown feeds available.
  • Makes allowance for feed wastage based on your feeding system.
  • Is free from errors.
  • If necessary, seek help from an adviser.

Step 2: Calculate your bought-in feed requirement for each month

Consider immediate and longer term options for closing your feed gap, including:

  • Stimulating more growth of winter pasture and crops.
  • Feeding more grain/concentrates safely.
  • Extending your forage reserves with alternative fibre sources.
  • Drying off early and culling cows.

Determine what feeds you can buy to fill each month’s feed deficit:

  • What are their dry matter, metabolisable energy (ME), crude protein (CP) and neutral detergent fibre (NDF) contents?
  • What are their effective fibre values?
  • How do they compare in terms of dollar value per unit energy and per unit protein?
  • What limits are there on the daily feeding rates of specific feeds?
  • What risks — for example, ruminal acidosis, mycotoxins (fungal toxins) and chemical residues — need to be managed when using specific feeds?

Formulate diets for each class of stock — milkers, dry cows, yearlings and calves — that:

  • Are nutritionally balanced, meeting daily energy and protein requirements for target milk production/growth rates within animals’ appetite limits.
  • Will maintain sound rumen function.
  • Make realistic allowances for feed wastage, based on your feeding system.

If necessary, seek help from a nutrition specialist.

Revise your feed budget when circumstances change (for example, available feeds and number of animals to be fed).

For further information on feed budgeting, see the feed budgeting fact sheet at: feedshortage

Step 3: Buy feeds

Work out what you can afford to pay (break-even and target feed prices).

When assessing a particular feed to buy, firstly check its physical quality, making sure that you have a representative sample.

Things to look for:

  • An unusual appearance or consistency.
  • Material too wet or too dry.
  • Any contaminants or foreign materials, which may reduce nutritional value or cause digestive problems.
  • Signs of mould, which can increase the risk of mycotoxins (fungal toxins).

Then look beyond the price tag, and see how each feed stacks up in terms of its relative cost per unit energy and protein using feed analysis.

Increase certainty of feed supply and predictability of feed costs by confirming verbal agreements with feed suppliers by mail, fax or email (in writing). The key points you need to cover are:

  • Quantity.
  • Quality.
  • Price.
  • Delivery period.
  • Delivery point.
  • Payment terms.

A pro-forma that covers all these key points is the Grain Trade Australia Contract Confirmation, which can be used for any feed, not just grain. To download a blank copy, go to:

Step 4: Store feeds

Don’t wait until the truck arrives before you consider how you will manage risks around feed shrinkage, spoilage and/or contamination.

  • Alternative fibre sources such as palm kernel meal and almond hulls may be prone to growth of fungi that produce mycotoxins (fungal toxins) if they are allowed to get wet.
  • Feed contamination with stones and dirt can be a problem if you don’t have a concrete base.

Step 5: Feed diet to herd

Consider your feed-out area/facility and feeding equipment.

  • Check there is adequate area, feed trough space and access to drinking water for the number of animals using the feed-out area/facility.
  • If feeding a partial mixed ration (PMR) using a mixer wagon, ensure the mix is not under or over processed. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Use ration conditioners such as water, molasses or oil to reduce fines, sorting of feed and rejection or wastage of feed.
  • If you don’t have a mixer wagon and must feed two or three fibre sources separately, consider how you will best do this to regulate cows’ feed intakes, and avoid excess competition and wastage.
  • Offer cows the right amount of feed at the right time of the day — don’t overfill troughs.
  • Sequence feeds carefully during each 24–hour period.
  • Offer cows fresh, palatable, high quality feed at all times. Don’t put fresh feed on top of old feed.
  • Clean feed-out surfaces regularly.
  • Discard any spoiled/mouldy feed ingredients.
  • Don’t forget the calves and yearling heifers. Check that they meeting your target daily growth rates. If not, change their diet.

• This is an excerpt from a Dairy Australia article called ‘Managing a fodder shortage’. For further information, go to the Dairy Australia website.