WHAT’S the ultimate compliment a farmer could receive?
The top price at the sale or an inquisitive query from their neighbours as they drive past, 'gee whiz your heifers look good, what are you doing?'
Some may respond with a tongue in cheek comment, 'well that's just good management'.
Admittedly, there's nothing like a bit of healthy competition, especially when it comes to farming. Competition breeds excellence, cultivates engagement and instills the desire to achieve better results every season.
But with such variable conditions, it can be challenging ensuring livestock's nutrition and productivity levels are optimal all year round, especially during times of increased demand, such as joining, calving, lambing or weaning.
Veterinarian of 18 years and technical services manager for Virbac Australia, Matthew Ball said the biggest challenge of farming with sheep and cattle is matching the needs of production; when animals need the most nutrition to the production system.
Dr Ball recommends implementing preventative health treatments for younger animals as a golden rule to achieving long-term gains for livestock's immunity and fertility functions.
"Increasing optimal levels of trace minerals in young cattle and sheep will have the most impact for farmer’s profitability and return on investment," Dr Ball said.
“Those young animals are still growing and there are lots of studies to show that the focus on animal health, good parasite control and optimising trace minerals will influence the lifetime fertility and immunity of that animal."
So what are trace minerals?
Trace minerals such as selenium, copper, manganese and zinc have roles of maintaining a healthy immune system, protecting normal growth and improving fertility.
"The reason we know that, is if an animal gets suboptimal levels of any of them, it becomes obvious - they don't grow as well, not as fertile or more prone to disease,” Dr Ball said.
Trace minerals also play an important structural role for cattle and sheep, such as hoof and skin health.
"Skin is the first line of defence and if animals have healthy skin, healthy hooves and gums they're less likely to have germs and become infected."
Many farmers provide supplementary nutrients at some point to maintain and increase their stock's performance.
Orally consumed mineral absorption, like capsules, loose licks, or blocks are commonly used to help stock meet their day-to-day nutritional requirements.
However the complex rumen environment interferes with optimal trace mineral absorption and depending on the mineral, fluctuates between 1 to 30 per cent absorption.
Therefore most of the orally absorbed minerals are excreted in the dung or urine, making it very difficult for farmers to effectively top up trace minerals during high demand periods.
"That's why ensuring optimisation of trace mineral nutrition is so important in ruminants," Dr Ball said.
The balancing act of nutrient intake
Advancements in mineral science now show there are more controlled methods to ensure livestock receive the right amount of minerals at the right time that will ultimately boost their performance on a long term basis.
Virbac's trace mineral injection, Multimin 4 in 1 for cattle, delivers a balanced ratio of four trace minerals (selenium, copper, manganese and zinc) and Multimin 3 in 1 injection for sheep and cattle containing selenium, manganese and zinc, bypass the rumen for direct uptake through the blood in eight hours.
When used strategically during periods of high demand, Multimin has been shown to improve fertility, increase immunity and vaccine response, and optimise growth and development.
Managing productivity during critical events
Dr Ball acknowledges ewes and cows need vast amounts of good quality nutrition when feeding their young animals but explains, "that it may not always be easy to match that".
This dilemma reinforces the value for implementing prevention management strategies that enable farmers to maximise stock protein and energy levels around these critical times.
"Cows need to be in good condition to be joined but once they're pregnant we tolerate them to lose weight so we often try and time our management events so that we accept breeders to lose some condition but then we want them to build up condition towards late pregnancy," Dr Ball said.
Mothers shift all the possible trace minerals from their liver to the growing fetus during the end period of pregnancy; meaning they're at their lowest point after giving birth.
"But if the mother doesn't have an optimal trace mineral level, like all good mothers she'll give more than she should have – ending up in worse condition."
"Without farmers necessarily knowing, the mother will give birth to that animal, and she's given way too much of her trace minerals."
The newborn will be happy for a while but will use up most of those trace minerals as it heads towards marking and weaning.
Dr Ball said the problem farmers face is, "mothers will then have a sub optimal trace mineral level, meaning she'll find it harder to get pregnant next time".
"For example that mother is in with the bull or ram, and instead of getting pregnant on the first cycle, she doesn't conceive, so she doesn't get pregnant and gets behind."
This can then lead to prolonged lambing and calving patterns.
"One of the first things farmers notice when they implement a Multimin program is their calves and lambs are born closer together," Dr Ball said.
Dr Ball said this is really important observational evidence that shows how Multimin influences reproduction and improves fertility patterns.
Changing growth patterns & investing for the future
Farmers generally recognise first and second calvers have the most problems.
Dr Ball believes it's really worth implementing a Multimin program to help influence the fertility and immunity of younger animals.
If you help make a heifer or a maiden ewe grow well, what’s been shown by numerous studies is that if the light bulb switches on earlier for their fertility and they do a good job the first time – they will always do better.
"Heifers that calve early their first time, will always calve early and will always be more fertile."
Dr Ball said this sort of fertility program is about investing for the future and the same strategy applies for immunity programs that help prevent disease.
If farmers can recognise a cycle when their stock's nutrition is low and target those times, Multimin will help alleviate those pressures and boost long term productivity.
An opportunity to improve livestock performance
“We live in a time when we should seek best practice and look for innovative ways to face some of the challenges we have in livestock,” Dr Ball said.
Farmers seeking to improve their livestock's performance levels and expand their knowledge on trace minerals should consider entering the Multimin Performance Ready Challenge.
The 12 month challenge will see up to seven farmers experience the livestock benefits of Multimin.
To be chosen as one of the challengers, you must:
- Be 18+ years
- Be an Australian resident who is a sheep and/or beef cattle and/or dairy producer
- Be able to actively participate in the challenge from March 2018 – March 2019
Mentored by vets and livestock nutrition experts, the selected challengers will receive a 12 month supply of Multimin and an on-farm program designed to improve animal fertility, health and ultimately the producer’s financial bottom line.
Dr Ball said this is a unique opportunity for innovative type farmers to observe the benefits of following a program like this.
Challengers will have the opportunity to win a trip overseas for two people along with professional development tailored to the winner and their farm. With total prizes valued at more than $21,000 this is an exciting opportunity for farmers.
Challengers will be expected to share their program results and experiences, with a winner announced in March 2019 as judged by the challenge mentors and public.