Contain drought's costs with fenced-in feeding efficiency

Drought confinement feed paddocks offer longer term value


Agribusiness
Feeding the flock: Larger scale producers have been more likely to implement livestock containment feeding strategies during drought, but interest has become widespread in some areas.

Feeding the flock: Larger scale producers have been more likely to implement livestock containment feeding strategies during drought, but interest has become widespread in some areas.

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Holding sheep and cattle in purpose-built drought feeding areas is a temporary strategy with more regular appeal

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The benefits which come from holding sheep or cattle in purpose-built drought containment areas are likely to see the temporary strategy deployed far more frequently in years to come, even in better seasons.

Fencing off confinement feeding zones has been a noticeable dry season management trend in the past few years as livestock producers focus on saving pasture paddocks from overgrazing and restrict their herd and flock energy demands.

A containment feeding, or sacrifice, paddock ensures stock no longer must walk big distances seeking feed and water, reducing their energy needs by eight to 15 per cent, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries beef development officer, Todd Andrews.

The risk of weed seed germination from imported drought fodder was also restricted to a specific feeding area, and stock feeding was faster and more efficient than in large paddocks which required mustering at feed time.

Confining livestock to a small area also meant a safe minimum pasture cover (ideally about 70 per cent) was retained over the rest of the farm, protecting the landscape from erosion, and enabling better rainfall infiltration, which in turn promoted rapid feed recovery when the season did break.

It may only be a temporary arrangement at the moment, but the return on investing means people probably would look at doing this more regularly - Todd Andrews, NSW Department of Primary Industries

"There are large areas of NSW where I'd say landholders should now be looking at confinement feeding, if they're not already doing it," Mr Andrews said.

"Given a lot of producers have been in and out of drought and regular feeding routines since 2001, it's no surprise many view containment paddocks as likely to be frequently used in the future.

"The severity and length of the current drought conditions, combined with the big lift in livestock prices since about 2014 have made it more logical for people to invest in the infrastructure they need for these feeding arrangements.

"It may only be a temporary arrangement at the moment, but the return on investing in confinement feeding strategies means people probably would look at doing this more regularly."

In addition to preserving valuable soil and pasture resources, confining stock allowed managers to monitor and manage their animals' health and weight more practically.

Larger scale producers had generally been more likely to implement containment strategies so far, but interest had been widespread in some areas.

In the Riverina, where Local Land Services has promoted "drought lot" initiatives for a decade, Temora-based, Geoff Minchin said about 100 had been established with LLS funding assistance and more built independently.

Farm innovation loan funds now available via the NSW government's drought assistance package had prompted fresh interest state-wide.

Establishing specific feeding sites now was also a helpful post-drought insurance strategy, providing temporary holding spaces or emergency paddocks for situations such as during and after bushfires, or floods, or if a locust plague hits.

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DPI's Mr Andrews said landholders may not need to spend much fencing off a section of an existing paddock or utilising existing structures such as stockyards, laneways or sheds.

However, it was essential to factor in good water infrastructure, easy vehicle access, and consider artificial shade, and decent fencing protection around existing trees.

A solid five-wire, 1200-millimetre high perimeter fence was adequate for cattle, or steel cable was a more expensive, but excellent option favoured in some permanent structures he had seen.

Todd Andrews

Todd Andrews

A wire fence could be reinforced with an internal electric offset hot wire attachment, while a simple three-wire electric fence may be sufficient for a short term confinement paddock.

For sheep, hinge joint fencing was recommended, with steel posts every five metres or less.

Although producers might be tempted to be generous with the space allocated to feeder mobs, he warned the bigger the area partitioned off, the more likely dust would be a problem for the stock, for nearby neighbours and drinking water quality within the confinement area.

Conversely, high stocking rates could lead to bogging problems in damp weather.

Numbers should be limited to 400 sheep for a paddock and 250 grown cattle.

Pregnant stock needed additional space or an adjoining hospital paddock for birthing, while mothers and young offspring had to be fed ad lib to avoid mismothering and stock rushes at feed times

"Having reasonably good access to grain is also a pretty important consideration for anybody looking into confining livestock regularly in drier times," he said.

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The story Contain drought's costs with fenced-in feeding efficiency first appeared on Farm Online.

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