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Preparing for El Niño

If the meteorologists are correct, an El Niño weather pattern will bring hot and dry weather to the east coast and wet weather to the west coast in the months ahead.

For those affected by hotter and drier than normal conditions, making plans and taking steps early to respond to the opportunities available can make a significant difference to the financial and emotional cost of a hot, dry spell.

As both the quantity and quality of pasture available for grazing stock declines, it is important to remember that drought weakens plants. Grasses store energy above the ground, so pasture survival will be better and recovery faster if some pasture cover is maintained. In the long run, confining stock to sacrifice areas and feeding supplements is preferable to overgrazing the entire farm and facing extensive re-seeding.

If a drought is expected, it may be worth directing high quality supplementary feed to highly productive stock – good milking cows, prime cattle, calves and lambs – to put milk in the vat or increase growth rates to reach sale weights or as a buffer against harder times ahead. Thin cows and poor performers may need to be dried off or put on OAD. Lambs could be weaned off thin ewes and fed NRM Lamb Performance Pellets to help support their growth whilst taking pressure off the ewes. Destocking before demand for stock falls may be worth considering. Capital stock often reflect a long-term investment in breeding, which best complements the farm and systems adopted, so preserving their condition and numbers should be a priority. Dry mature stock are more likely to maintain condition on summer pasture, provided supply is not limiting but even they may need supplementation during an extended drought – especially with tupping in mind.

Conserved forages are typically the first thing people turn to as pasture growth slows, to help maintain livestock production and condition whilst simultaneously reducing pasture consumption. Ruminants need some long fibre but think about the true cost of the dry matter you are buying after taking into account the moisture content of the forage, feed out costs and losses and potential deterioration once the bale or stack is opened. Not all metabolisable energy is used with the same efficiency – more metabolisable energy has to be consumed as conserved forages than straights.

Hard feed – ranging from straights to blends to fully formulated compound feeds – has grown in popularity during droughts because of its consistency, ease of use, availability of supply and cost effectiveness compared to purchased forages. Hard feed can range from straights like corn gluten feed to help fill a simple energy and protein deficit, through to fully formulated blends and compound feeds. Specialist feeds are available for a range of grazing animals. NRM Summer Dry Nuts could be a topical, versatile option – available in bulk or bags that are designed for feeding in the paddock as pasture protein levels drop.

Lag times in procuring and shipping imported straights means that even their supply can tighten, so it is worth discussing your needs with your local Nutrition Specialist earlier rather than later – especially with local grain supplies tightening.

For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.

Article supplied by Dr. Rob Derrick, Lead Nutritionist.