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Supplementary Feeding of Livestock on Pastures

Dry autumns are common in southern NSW and are not necessarily linked to dry conditions during winter and spring. However, when the season does not break until late April / early May, there is little time for pasture growth to occur prior to winter. Such years, are when the typical winter feed gap occurs, and stock require hand feeding throughout winter.

Currently many growers have commenced or are about to commence supplementary feeding. To date much of the supplementary feeding has taken place in stubble paddocks. However, as crops are sown, stock are likely to be moved to pasture paddocks where hand feeding will continue.

Where pastures are growing slowly and providing some nutrition, supplementary feeding on pastures is fine. However, as the feed available from pastures declines and full maintenance feeding commences, the risk of sustaining permanent damage to the pastures increases.

Perennial pasture species (lucerne & phalaris) persist best when they are grazed heavily followed by a long rest period. Overgrazing these pastures causes the plants to constantly draw on root reserves which weakens the plant, leading to loss of plants and pasture decline. These pastures then provide little additional nutritional benefit and become infested with weeds, plus energy demand is increased as stock continuously walk around seeking a green pick. In addition, pastures that are overgrazed are much slower to respond when they are eventually destocked.

During lambing there is little choice but to feed ewes on pasture. However, other classes of stock should be fed in containment areas. If full maintenance feeding continues once lambing has finished, ewes and lambs are best moved to paddocks which are towards the end of the pasture rotation, as the ramifications of damaging these pastures are relatively short term.

Care should be taken not to overgraze or damage pastures that are early in the pasture rotation. Loss of productivity in these pastures will have implications for several years, resulting in significant loss of production to the business.