Use your head rather than heart when it comes to core breeding stock

Keep emotion out of tough livestock decisions says Alastair Rayner

PLAN FOR DROUGHT: Livestock consultant, Alastair Rayner, said producers needed to have a hard-and-fast plan for both droughts and post-drought recovery.

PLAN FOR DROUGHT: Livestock consultant, Alastair Rayner, said producers needed to have a hard-and-fast plan for both droughts and post-drought recovery.


Leading livestock consultant, Alastair Rayner, says many producers will be doing things differently after the drought.


One of the biggest lessons for producers from the worst drought in living memory is not to get too emotionally attached to core breeding stock.

And another is to have a drought plan along with one for recovery and not abandon them after the first decent fall of rain.

These were among the key pieces of advice delivered by Tamworth-based livestock consultant, Alastair Rayner, during a webinar on drought and bushfire recovery hosted by Sheep Connect NSW.

Mr Rayner, principal of RaynerAg, said emotional decisions about livestock increased the risk of holding onto animals longer than needed or missing the chance to sell them for good money which could be reinvested in other opportunities or simply to relieve stress on producers.

"So you need to be realistic and not emotional about this and I think that needs to be a really big lesson into the future," Mr Rayner said.

He said many producers would be doing things differently post the drought and his experiences indicated many would opt for a wider enterprise and investment mix to reduce reliance on one income stream.

That could include producers breeding and trading cattle, having both sheep and cattle enterprises and having more off-farm investments.

The drought had also underlined the importance of on-farm conservation of forage and the value of reticulated water supply systems.

Mr Rayner said having drought and recovery plans was vital.

"People who don't plan are always reacting to circumstances and when you are reacting your choices are much more limited you have much less opportunity to do things better, you are always on the back foot."

Mr Rayner advised producers who had received some rain not to rush livestock back onto paddocks left bare by drought or bushfires which were now growing green pick after 50 or 60mm.

Important decisions about feeding, transporting stock home from agistment or sowing forage crops should not be based on one decent fall of rain, he said.

Green pick was high in protein, digestibility and moisture content but low in energy which meant stock were likely to go down hill rapidly and suffer mineral deficiencies without continuation of supplementary rations.

Mr Rayner said avoiding the temptation of rushing stock back onto paddocks soon after rain would also give pasture the chance to properly recover while also giving producers a clear picture of what species had survived after years of drought or the intense bushfires.

One agronomist had suggested fencing off a small area and watering it to see what grew as a guide to the need for pasture renovation or the risk of high weed germination.

He warned people who had lost their fences not to put heavily pregnant ewes into feedlot areas because of the likelihood of high mortality rates.

Running them in sacrifice paddocks was possible as long as they each had five to 10 square metres of space.

Early weaning to help ewes recover more quickly was producing some "terrific results" along with some disasters.

He said having the correct pen densities was important along with putting lambs into pens based on their size and weight to avoid smaller ones being bullied off their feed.

Under-weight lambs significantly raised their risk of mortality, he said.

Good quality rations with the right balance between protein and energy was vital along with a good quality roughage.

Young lambs needed to have some experience with supplementary feeds (around six feeds) before being placed in pens on their own.

Good quality water was also essential and its temperature should not get above 18 to 20C or the animals wouldn't want to drink which would affect their appetite, he said.


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