A WILLINGNESS to make decisions earlier and the ability to do so objectively has the potential to maximise beef production opportunities in the face of moisture-stressed grain crops.
This is the key message to come from research into the nutritional value for livestock of failed cereal and canola crops, conducted through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation at Wagga Wagga over the past year.
In light of a flood of forage, hay and silage samples submitted to the NSW Department of Primary Industries following the dry seasonal conditions across many areas of south eastern Australia last winter, researchers sought to determine the opportunities for livestock producers.
The Graham Centre is a collaboration between NSW DPI and Charles Sturt University.
Leading the work was DPI’s John Piltz and Richard Meyer, who were able to put some solid figures on steer liveweight changes when fed conserved wheat and canola at various levels of metabolisable energy.
Diet metabolisable energy (ME) is king, according to Mr Piltz.
The more ME an animal consumes the faster it will grow, provided requirements for crude protein, vitamins and minerals are met.
When diet ME increases, intake also lifts because the feed consumed is digested more quickly, he explained while presenting the findings from the research at last week’s Animal Production conference in Wagga Wagga.
The study predicted increasing feed ME from 8.5 to 10.5 increases liveweight gain from .15 to .92kg/day in a British-bred nine-month-old, 280 kilogram steer, of .37kg.
Actual liveweight gain achieved will depend on the class of livestock being fed.
Plant ME content declines on average .05 MJ per day post vegetative stage.
The researchers concluded that delaying cutting from early October to early November in the hope beneficial rain will reverse a deteriorating grain situation would have a negative effect on crop quality and potential animal production.
That 30-day delay would reduce ME by 1.5 MJ/kg dry matter, in turn reducing potential liveweight gain by approximately .58kg/day.
“The quality of forages, hay and silage fed to cattle determines how fast they grow and therefore potential beef production,” Mr Piltz said.
“Forage, hay and silage quality is determined by plant maturity and conservation losses - maturity is the one thing you can influence.”
That has some very practical implications for the management of drought-affected crops, he said.
“We grow crops for grain but if we are put in a situation where the likelihood of getting grain has diminished, think hard about economics,” he said.
“Where climate is variable, there will be times when crops won’t be finished for grain and that usually comes at times when pasture feed is short.
“If you can cut hay when ME is 11 - what can you achieve if fed to sheep and cattle?
“Or what would it be worth to sell, given what a tonne of hay is currently worth?
“Last year’s short spring meant a lot of crops didn’t look that great and with the dry conditions we’ve had this year, people are looking to feed livestock - demand is very high.”
Mr Piltz also said based on limited evidence available, forage yields of less than 2t/ha dry matter would create a situation where the losses incurred in conserving outweighed potential benefits and grazing would be the wiser option.
The way forward when faced with moisture-stressed grain crops?
- Make a realistic assessment of potential grain or forage yield.
- Make provision for losses during hay or silage making.
- Accurately value all on-farm or sale options: grain, hay, silage, grazing and agistment.