Options for feeding in a Dry Period

By Dr Bill Fulkerson - Norco Milk Supply Research & Development Officers

Many areas in NSW and Queensland have had little or no rain in July and August and the situation in the next 8-10 days is forecast to be dry. As a result, without irrigation, ryegrass has stopped growing and if the forecast is correct, there is very little potential for any more growth this season from the early season varieties, leaving a feed deficit earlier than normal. However, where the growth potential of pasture is still high, where pastures have been and will continue to be irrigated and/or with longer season varieties, feeding out bought-in feed now, to make your silage or hay go further and hence to keep an appropriate grazing rotation, seems a good decision.

In regards to pasture, it is important to maintain good pasture utilisation; aim for 5 cm residual after
grazing and topping (if need be) to prevent seed head formation and encourage new leaf growth. It may also
be time to consider grazing failed cereal crops that are just starting to shoot and before the quality deteriorates. Take the opportunity to work ground earlier than normal, ready to plant summer crops such as sorghum.

There are a few options available when purchasing feed as follows:-

1. If you still have some rough feed available perhaps increase grain a bit; at least you have guaranteed quality and zero wastage but be wary of going too high particularly with quickly
degrading grains such as wheat which can cause subclinical and clinical acidosis.

2. Malt combings are available from Castlegate (phone Paul Gamble on 0418 680 713) at about $300/t
delivered on the North Coast of NSW and $320/t in SE Queensland in 20t loads. Probably best suited to
situations where a feed pad is available. The nutrient value is good at 26% crude protein and 10.5MJ Metabolisable Energy (ME)/kg dry matter (DM) with nearly 100% dry matter so is self limiting when fed ad lib
to dry cows or heifers in the paddock.

3. If feeding milking cows in the paddock, there is some really good wheaten and oaten hay coming out of South Australia at about $310/t delivered to the North Coast of NSW and SE Queensland in 20t loads (contact Norco Grain buyer, Neville Brown on 0407 116 485). The hay comes from a large stack with very uniform quality.The crude protein is 10.2% and ME is 9.5 MJ/kg DM and the comments from suppliers who have been using it is that the cows eat every blade of hay. It is also ideal for feeding to springers as the Potassium (1.2%) and Calcium (0.2%) levels are low. In the situation where there is no green grass available you may need to supplement the hay with a protein source. It may besufficient to simply raise the protein content of the bail feed to 18%. Also available is oats / vetch hay at $350/t with a high proportion being vetch so the protein content would be substantially higher than straight oaten hay.

4. Palm kernel is another option but it is only available in 1t bags at about $370/t from the Norco grain buyers.The protein content of palm kernel is 16% and the ME is 11 MJ/kg DM and is
self limiting.

5. Brewers grain is available from Castlegate (see contact details above) at $90/t delivered to North Coast of
NSW and SE Queensland. To compare the price with the other dry feeds multiply the price by 5 to give $450/t DM as there is 80% moisture in this feed, so it is a relatively expensive option compared to the other feeds. The crude protein of brewers grain is21% and the ME is 11.5 MJ/kg DM.

6. Lucerne hay is another option and is about $400-$450/t delivered at the moment. It is relatively expensive
compared to the other feeds and the quality can be very variable. Lucerne hay can also be purchased through the Norco grain buyers.

It is important to introduce these feeds slowly, perhaps over a week, to minimise the chances of acidosis and ensure the cows get the maximum benefit from the start.