Time for the bulls
WITH bulls now being put out with cows across most of the State, beef producers are aiming to maintain cow condition to avoid a reduction in herd conception rates as they play out the dry spell.
This has included putting in place supplementary feeding plans and strategies like false weaning and destocking.
Government beef cattle officers have warned any “hanging off” on decision making now will likely leave producers in a compromising situation, particularly given Bureau of Meteorology forecasts point to warmer and drier conditions in the lead-up to Christmas.
Saleyard reports are showing bumped up numbers, with offloading of older cows and plainer heifers and unfinished steers.
Agents say the price gap between the well-finished lines and the lighter condition cattle is much more significant with the heavier supply.
The North West Slopes and the Hunter Valley are where cattle are showing the most signs of deteriorating condition.
Prime sales at Dubbo for the past six weeks have seen yardings of up to 5000 head, close to twice that earlier in the year, while in the Hunter Valley prime sale numbers are now pushing past 1600 head in what is traditionally a very quite period.
Elders Dubbo livestock manager Paul Jameson said two good summers led to an increase in numbers being run in the western areas like Broken Hill and Nyngan and the dry had now spurred a big turnoff in cattle from that area.
Jim MacCallum of MacCallum Inglis at Scone said selling had been deeper into herds than just the crop and grain-finished cattle more typical of this time of year.
“No one is pulling calves off cows yet, but that’s not too far away,” he said.
The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator at close of trading on Tuesday was 352.5 cents a kilogram (carcase weight), about 30 per cent less than this time last year.
The combination of weaker prices and the two good seasons prior to this recent tough spell means most producers are keen to hang onto core stock to take advantage of recent investments in improved genetics.
Inquiry, therefore, has been largely based around what and how to feed, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries beef officers Alistair Rayner, Tamworth; Brett Littler, Mudgee, and David Llewelyn, Moree.
Most have run out of dry feed by now and are in a position where supplementation can’t be based around protein, they said.
The window of opportunity for blocks and licks and molasses has closed and people are now looking to whole cottonseed, lupins and a grain supplement.
Across the Central West and North West Slopes stock are being put onto failed grain crops, particularly canola, and the price of lupins has moved from $200 a tonne in the paddock to $275/t, Mr Littler said.
One of the big focuses now is managing fat on calves. Weight gain of as little as one to two kilograms per head per day at a rate of $3.50 per head per week could have a big impact on re-breeding rates, they said.
“Generally, producers are tending to underfeed,” Mr Littler said.
“They aren’t monitoring cows closely enough and are thinking they are getting enough then all of a sudden they discover the cows have lost 50kg to 60kg and that is a full fat score.
“With cattle in that borderline situation, which have dropped from a fat score of 3 to 2, we’ve seen a drop of up to 30pc in conception rates.”
One strategy now being widely used is a false wean, where calves are taken off cows for 48 hours, stimulating ovulation, he said.
Mr Littler said that strategy had increased conception by 6pc to 9pc.
Mr Rayner said supplementary feeding was not a static thing.
“Producers need to match livestock and pastures with the supplementary choices in front of them,” he said.
“And remember that by increasing protein in the diet you’re lifting intake and you’ll run out of pasture quicker.”