What do five out of five beef extension officers say is the best thing a land manager can do? Pasture budgeting! Ok, so I made that statistic up, but I think it would be about right, and here's why.
We beef extension officers are often called at crisis time, when there is little feed in the paddock, breeders are in poor condition and supplements are expensive and hard to get. We would rather be called in at pasture budgeting time. It is much easier to make good decisions for your grass and financial budgets when the pressure is off.
Many producers say they are aware of how long their feed will last, but if you've run out of feed in previous years it may be time to formalise the activity. Here's how.
Step 1: Estimate pasture yield
The easiest way to estimate pasture yield is to use the FutureBeef photo standards, which can be found online at futurebeef.com.au. We estimate pasture yield in kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) of dry matter (DM). Alternatively, you can cut and measure pasture using a 50cm by 50cm quadrant, drying and weighing the sample to calculate dry matter per hectare. If you need some guidance, search for the article 'Dry season pasture budget: a guide for stocking rates' on the FutureBeef website.
Step 2: Consider how much of the pasture is useful for stock
For example, if 80 per cent of the pasture is palatable species and we have 3000kg DM/ha, 2400kg DM/ha is available.
Step 3: Estimate a utilisation figure
A large amount of the available pasture cannot be consumed if the grass tussocks are to remain healthy and provide ground cover at the end of the dry season. Grazing by other animals and loss due to trampling and pasture breakdown has to be allowed for.
The Queensland Landtype Sheets (see FutureBeef website) provide utilisation rates for native pasture and these are in the 10 to 30pc range. Sown pastures can support higher utilisation rates (40 to 50pc). If the pastures with 2400kg of palatable dry matter have a 30pc utilisation rate, 720kg DM/ha is available for stock.
Those who undertake pasture budgeting at the end of the "wet season" set themselves up for less stress, and their animals up for better body condition, better conception rates and more marketable animals.- Byrony Daniels, beef extension officer, DAF Emerald
Step 4: Set the budget period
The budget period is from the end of effective rainfall in autumn to the likely date of the seasonal break (green date). Rainman or CliMate App can be used to investigate these dates. Your local beef extension officer can help you do this, and it's worthwhile because useful rainfall usually comes later than we think. For this exercise let's work from the end of May to the start of January, which is 241 days.
Step 5: Estimate pasture intakes
Pasture intake depends on pasture quality, animal size and status (growing, pregnant or lactating). For consistency when dealing with different sizes and classes of animals, animals are converted to Adult Equivalents (AE) to calculate pasture intakes with 1AE being a 450kg animal maintaining weight.
Let's assume for this exercise that we are running steers that over the budgeting period grow from 300kg to 400kg. Their average weight is 350kg, so their AE rating is 0.78AE (350kg/450kg = 0.78AE). If the dry matter intake is 2pc of liveweight, a 1AE (450kg animal) will consume 9kg dry matter/day. The 0.78AE steers will consume 7kg dry matter/day. For the 241-day budget period, we need 1687kg of DM (7kg DM/hd x 241 days) to run one steer.
Step 6: The budget!
We estimated one hectare of land has grown 720kg of available dry matter and that to run one steer for the budget period we need 1687kg of dry matter. Therefore, to run one steer for the budget period we need 2.3ha (1687kg/ha/720kg/ha). If we have a 100ha paddock, we can run 43 steers (100ha/2.3ha) until the budgeted break in the season.
Those who undertake pasture budgeting at the end of the "wet season" set themselves up for less stress, and their animals up for better body condition, better conception rates and more marketable animals.
Grass is our cheapest feed resource - it is rarely economical to substitute hay, grain, and molasses for grass. Supplement? Maybe. Substitute? No!
It makes sense to be aware of how much feed is in the paddock and how long it should last. It is better to be making decisions about which stock to offload now, rather than how to keep them alive later.
It's come to the time of year when we can no longer expect substantial pasture growth, so if you haven't done yours already, get pasture budgeting! If you need a hand, contact your local beef extension officer.
Repeated overgrazing leads to reduced ground cover, soil loss, less desirable pasture species, lower animal productivity and reduced business profitability.
This article was produced by FutureBeef-a collaboration between Meat & Livestock Australia and the Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australian agriculture departments.
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