MeatUp Forum Wrap Up

August 25, 2021

Milne Feeds’ nutritionist, Dr Joshua Sweeny, recently attended the MLA MeatUp forum at the University of Western Australia.  The event was attended by a range of industry participants including farmers, consultants, researchers and industry participants. 

In his opening address, Dr David Beatty discussed the current climate of record-low cattle and sheep numbers in the state and the forecast to rebuild livestock numbers.  He also highlighted several recent research areas, including improvements to reproductive performance and the very topical methane reduction.  Strong research investments are being made in this area.

Following this was a very insightful overview of strategies to approach the challenge of the autumn-summer feed gap.  This segment looked at the use of chaff heaps (stubble with some grain) and their value to sheep.  Interestingly, the mechanism of feeding in one, centralised location was identified as a means to reduce energy expenditure in sheep, which could have a positive effect on weight gain.  This technique could also be utilised by using pellets in self-feeders in the paddock. 

The lupin standing-fodder-crop grazing strategy, then supplementing with barley, is used by some growers in the industry, however, it was suggested that this approach is not desirable for cattle due to increased feed (grain) wastage.  When feeding whole grain to cattle and sheep, a proportion (~5-15%) remains undigested, passing through the animal & excreted in the faeces. This is effectively a loss in critical protein, energy & other micronutrients.

Another strategy discussed in this session was the use of Salt Bush & Tagasaste, which can be used as a feed source that can be carried right through to the break of the season.  However, Salt Bush has limitations on consumption rates (>1/3 of the total diet) in order to avoid excessive salt load.  Lucerne and summer fodder crops were also identified as potential strategies when summer rain supports growth, however, there is a risk involved with these methods, which also may require sowing, cultivation, and maintenance to be fully utilised.  It was recommended to research the root water percentage requirement when considering these strategies. 

It was noted that sheep with half a body condition score (BCS) more had significantly lower maintenance feeding demands as fat reserves were supplying some of the nutrient demand.  This indicates that feeding sheep in the leadup to the autumn-winter gap, to attain a good body condition score, could be an important and relatively easy strategy to carry them through when paddock feed is limited.  Autumn feeding strategies such as provision of grain, pellets, hay and silage, as part of a confinement feeding program, were discussed as methods to maintain sheep or provide weight gain.  Pasture variability and feed on offer (FOO) can also impact the success of the feed program and liveweight gain percentage.  Pasture was identified as having different ‘gears’ depending on its energy and protein content.  An understanding of the nutritional content of pasture, and subsequent variability, can assist farmers in making decisions on supplementary feeding options. 

The business section looked at alternative approaches, models and opportunities by discussing market factors as a key to ensuring the enterprise meets the market.  Management of land, livestock, people (management & labour) & working capital was identified as the key driver of differences in enterprise business strategies.  There was an interesting overview of land ownership and its benefits for the long-term security of the farming enterprise, along with a comparison of dry sheep equivalent (DSE) value over the past 5 years, and the impact that could have on profit/loss of the enterprise.

The forum then looked at confinement feeding approaches, and information learned from previous examples.  Enterprises can look to utilise confinement feeding as part of a pasture management program.  Taking sheep off pastures and into confinement feeding allows greater pasture establishment and growth at the break of the season, which can lead to both better growth rates in sheep, and a more sustainable winter pasture.  This method can assist with time management whilst also allowing for an increased stocking rate when sheep are re-introduced to pasture.  Confinement feeding also provides a great opportunity to monitor and assess lambs.  The animals can be re-drafted after 4 weeks to identify sheep and lambs in lower body condition for drafting into a group requiring extra feed and attention.

Dr Sweeny recommends feeding strategies for sheep that encompass a balance of protein, energy, essential vitamins and minerals that are well matched to the farming conditions and also the animal life-stage and desired outcome, such as increasing breeding productivity or liveweight gain.  Fine-tuning and matching the supplementary feed is a key factor to ensuring profit opportunity and sustainability of the enterprise.  Providing a more uniform, consistent plane of both macro and micro-nutrients is pivotal to maximising farm profitability, together with business sustainability and optimal animal health status.