The Local Land Services held a workshop for farmers at the Narrandera Ex-services Club on Thursday, offering advice for livestock care in the current drought and dry conditions.
The main feature of the workshop was a presentation by Dr Jim Gibbs (pictured) from Lincoln University, New Zealand. Dr Gibbs, who has worked in New Zealand for the last 15 years, specialises in nutritional requirements for ruminants.
Lisa Castleman, Senior Land Services Officer with the Riverina Local Land Services, said that the important thing about the workshops was allowing farmers to understand their options in the dry times.
“In a lot of ways we’ve missed out on an autumn, as such, and the rain that comes with that. A lot of people are a bit worried about winter and spring,” Ms Castleman said.
“If producers are seeing protracted feeding sessions then it puts them under financial stress. Grain prices are high at the moment, so then farmers have to ask themselves whether to sell or to put it down the stocks’ throat.
“What Dr Gibbs talked about was that if you put them on the grain diet and do it slowly and carefully, there’s enough protein in many of our cereal grains to maintain stock.”
Dr Gibbs spoke about low-cost production, not just survival.
“There are a couple of fundamentals about ruminant nutrition, and these should help you decide how to feed. I’ve been involved in ruminant nutrition now for the last 20 years, and I’m not always sure it’s taught in a way that’s successful. People make it very, very complicated.”
Dr Gibbs broke down the fundamentals of ruminant nutrition into three tiers of importance: energy and protein were considered the most important.
“The rest of ruminant nutrition – fibre, minerals and micro-nutrients – they all have a place, but in the ranking scheme of things, they’re not nearly as important in ruminant nutrition as the top two.
“The very first and most important component of ruminant nutrition is just energy transfer.
“Everything you do, and everything you sell, with no exceptions, is the consequence of energy. If you don’t provide the energy, none of that happens, doesn’t matter what you’re producing.
“Protein is important, but I want to be really clear; you can raise the protein in the diet, and at a certain point, it doesn’t help you any more. Protein going up comes to a stop; energy never stops.”
Dr Gibbs pointed out that he wasn’t downplaying the role of other elements like fibre, micro-nutrients and minerals.
“Get your energy and protein right, and most of the rest will fall into place. There are some specific circumstances, for example in trace elements in certain places – there are some places where animals become cobalt deficient. There’s a very specific symptom for that, they stop eating. They starve to death. They can be up to their bellies in green grass and they won’t eat a mouthful.
“My point isn’t that they’re not important. My point is, you can get lost in all this and miss the majors.”
Dr Gibbs also used the workshop as an opportunity to clear up some misconceptions about ruminant nutrition, which he referred to as “witchcraft”.
“I don’t believe that there’s a bigger demographic who have people coming up their driveways with glossy brochures than farmers. They’ve all got the same story, and it goes something like this: I’ve got this potion, this approach, whatever, and I make things better. Digestibility, increased production, some variations in that.
“Most of them have some element of truth in them. But the point is, I might change radically, and only improve it by five per cent. Most of the time I won’t change anything at all.
“One can easily improve things by 20 per cent through intake. In the scheme of things, intake counts. Get up in the morning and ask yourself this question: what can I do today to increase intake?”
Dr Gibbs went into more depth about ways to supplementary feed when dealing with a forage based system.
The crowd were also treated to a talk from LLS district vet Sophie Hemley regarding the advantages and disadvantages of early weaning, and common diseases and their causes.
“Early weaning can give you better production on less feed. Cows and ewes with a lamb or calf at foot will use 30 to 40 per cent more feed than if they were separated. It’s inefficient to produce milk.”
Ms Hemley went into detail about the ideal weight for offspring when weaning, but also was realistic about the drawbacks of early weaning, such as disease management and stress on the animals.
“Look at the economic viability of it. It’s worth talking to you agent to see if this is worthwhile.”