Winter Feed Budget

Although autumn this year has stayed warm for much longer than usual, we’ve had about half our average rainfall for the season, and we’re now two years into this drought. We had a lot of pasture growth after the early summer rain, but, from the standpoint of water, the subsoil moisture is tremendously low so we need more than average rain to get things going. The upshot of this is that the grass which grew in summer needs to last us until spring as not much grows once the frosts start. So at this time of year we do a calculation of how much feed we have on the ground and compare that to how much we’ll need for our current flerd.

The advantage we have this time over last year is that everyone is going in to winter in very good shape. Also, prices at the saleyard are pretty good at the moment, so if we decide we have too many mouths for the amount of grass, we can at least get a fair price for the ones we can’t keep.

Any paddock that’s been grazed since March hasn’t has a chance to recover, and won’t now until October, and we’ve been checking on the areas which haven’t been grazed to see how much the local residents have been eating. We share the place with more species than I can count, all of which in some way utilise the grasslands, so we need to factor that in to our calculations.

The other complication this year is that there is a wild dog baiting program going on in the area. Baits have been dropped from helicopters right across an area which we would usually graze in winter. These won’t affect the livestock, but it means we have to split the sheep and cattle up as we can’t muster the sheep if we need to without our dogs. Cattle we can manage with a couple of horses; it’s a lot harder but possible. So the sheep are staying where we know the baits aren’t.

My usual way to do the feed budget is to walk around the paddocks, looking at ground cover (what percentage of bare ground shows through the grass) and grass length. From this we can generate a kg of dry matter / hectare figure which can then be compared to what’s required to keep everyone healthy. As mentioned earlier, we need to reduce the available feed to account for the native animals and we add a species diversity figure as well, because we believe that the stock stay healthier on less feed if they have plenty of diversity to choose from.

Our best estimate is that we will have enough feed for the winter for all our stock and hopefully a bit of rain through winter will allow for a good spring.

Close up of the grass in the paddock the sheep are about to move into.

Close up of the grass in the paddock where the sheep are now.

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