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Department of Primary Industries:
How Much Is Enough?

As the pasture feed shortage continues, particularly on dry country in some areas of Gippsland, some cattle are losing body condition.

By Department of Primary Industries - 20th March 2003 - Back to News

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As the pasture feed shortage continues, particularly on dry country in some areas of Gippsland, some cattle are loosing body condition. Action should be taken now with these cattle to avoid losses and to maintain minimum welfare standards.


Heavily pregnant cows on poor pasture are at greatest risk, a large foetus and a rumen full of poor quality feed may give the cow a rotund appearance, however prominent rib and back bones indicate that there is little or no condition on the cow.  If these cows are not fed well they will develop pregnancy toxaemia, become weak, won’t be able to get up and will die.


If pasture feed is running out action must be taken.  Stock must be either fed, agisted onto country with feed or sold.  Cattle cannot graze pasture below 2.5 cm (1 inch) in height. Short pastures provide very little nutrition for cattle.


Good agistment is hard to find.  If selling, off load any cows not in calf, or nearing the end of their breeding life or non-breeding stock such as steers.  The rest must be supplementary fed with hay, silage or cereal grains or pellets.


Hay is currently expensive and hard to obtain and quality can be variable.  If there is some green pick from pasture, generally as a rough guide, a small 25 kg square bale of good quality hay per day would be sufficient to supplement three to four cows in the last three months of pregnancy.   If hay is the sole diet of a late pregnant cow, the intake required to satisfy energy needs exceeds maximum possible rumen capacity and a more energy dense feed, like grain or pellets, should also be provided.   


If feeding grain or pellets, start off by feeding O.5 kg grain per head per day and stay at this level until all cattle are eating it, then gradually increase the ration by 0.5 kg every second day until the desired feeding level is reached.  A cow in the last three months of pregnancy would need approx 3.5 kg of grain per day and also access to roughage which could be provided by 3kg of hay.


Deciding how much and what to feed stock requires time, effort and research. It depends on the number and condition of stock, their age, pregnancy status, posture availability and cost, availability and quality of supplements. To help you think through this process an excellent publication on Drought Feeding and Management of Beef Cattle is available free of charge from Department of Primary Industry Office at Maffra 5147 0800, Bairnsdale 5152 0600, Ellinbank 5624 2222 and Leongatha 5662 9900. DPI Beef Industry Officers at Maffra, Ellinbank and Leongatha will also be able to assist you.


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