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Striking the right balance

Just as an airplane needs air to fly and diesel engines cannot run on petrol, ‘long fibre’ is an essential carbohydrate source for a ruminant and vital for good health, productivity and even its survival.

Carbohydrates, including fibre, are the main source of energy for all ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats or deer) and necessary to sustain their rumen microbial population. Without this unique microbial biome, it is Mission Impossible for ruminants and even monogastric animals (pigs and humans) to digest their feed and efficiently use energy from high fibre feeds.

Without adequate dietary fibre, ruminants cannot maintain proper rumen function because they do not produce enough saliva to buffer their rumen pH. This puts them at risk of developing health problems such as acidosis. Options for
dietary ‘long fibre’ include long pasture, baleage, straw or hay, as opposed to pelleted feeds or grains. For most of the year pastures carry enough fibre to meet livestock needs but there are times when there is a shortfall that must be supplemented in some other way.

Striking the right fibre balance is important as fibre drives feed intake, but too much long fibre can become problematic. This is especially true for a late gestation ewe whose rumen capacity is limited when carrying multiple foetuses. If she is fed too much high fibre low energy roughage, the ewe simply cannot eat enough to meet her growing energy needs, predisposing her to sleepy sickness (pregnancy toxaemia).

In the current economic climate every live lamb successfully raised beyond weaning is an asset and well worth the investment spent rearing it.

One of the real challenges this winter is that for some not only is there a feed pinch, there are also insufficient stocks of long fibre available consequent to either drought, or a major flood event which has damaged pastures and slashed winter supplementary feed reserves. Complicating matters further, if even supplies of alternative forages are obtainable, they are often expensive to buy in. Therefore, some may revert to using a poorer quality long fibre forage substitute, feeding for lower liveweight gains but still prioritising pregnant animals or those with young at foot. Alternatively, NRM Sheep Nuts or MultiFeed Nuts provide an attractive economic option to make up a feed shortfall and complement long fibre stocks while supporting maintenance of body condition, good colostrum production and healthy, strong lamb development.

Good winter pasture management also becomes important to help boost spring feed stocks. Practising rotational grazing allows new grass to come away without immediately getting eaten off (unlike set stocking). This serves to increase overall spring pasture production by up to 30 percent. Consequently, break fencing and then back fencing once an area is grazed helps to reduce overgrazing or creating excessively muddy paddocks that can easily become pugged up and cause further pasture damage and soil compaction.

See the team at your local Farmlands store for more information.

Article supplied by Tiffany Menzies, Technical Product Manager