Smart stock management could put farmers ahead

Andrew Bailey with Sheep

Now is the time for Tasmanian sheep and beef producers to review their livestock operation plans and consider their feed budget for the upcoming season.

Feed budgets are an important part of the day-to-day management of stock, especially during lambing and calving season, when knowing exactly what feed you have available is imperative for livestock survival and growth.

Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) Sheep and Wool specialist, Mr Andrew Bailey, said it was important that farmers make the time now to look at their stock management and feed budgeting and have a plan in place so that critical decisions can be made early, before the season unfolds.

“Using information from feed budgets and condition assessment can help farmers make informed decisions about offloading stock that do not fit with the feed budget, without last minute urgency or suffering poor prices,” Mr Bailey said.

The latest national predictive data suggests there is the possibility of an unfavourable finish to the season, making the need for a management plan and feed budget particularly important.

“The current season can be described as reminiscent of 2015 when the season started well, but finished quickly,” Mr Bailey said.

“When you also look at the forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), as well as grains prices, what we are seeing are indicators that pre-planning will go a long way in helping farmers make the best decisions for profitability.”

BoM weather forecasts for the coming three months are neutral. This suggests no sign of either an El Nino (dry and warm) or La Nina (wet and cool) event. So far, the prediction is only for hotter median maximum temperatures in all states.  

Mr Bailey said that for Tasmania, this outlook was accentuated by the last three months of below-average rainfall contributing to low levels of subsoil moisture.

“Last season large amounts of hay were made on the back of a good finish and minimal reserves following the previous dry summer and autumn, but already many farmers have drawn down on these reserves.  

“With the chances of exceeding median rainfall now only 50:50, it would be wise for farmers not to expect the same level of hay production as last year.

“The latest cattle and sheep market reports indicate that prices are easing across the board, with cattle prices in particular falling from their peak of 2016 and approaching 2015 prices. This amounts to a reduction of about $350 on a 400kg steer.

“While cattle prices are dropping, we are also seeing that nationally grain prices are on the way up. This has the potential to increase pressure on Tasmanian livestock producers as they plan to fill any feed gaps.

“Having a plan in place means farmers can adapt to challenges through the season. Feeding only the animals you want to could well be smart feeding.”

Some key things to remember when it comes to your livestock management are:

  • Have a plan that is regularly reviewed, don’t make a plan and file it.
  • Identify key dates for when decisions need to be made.
  • Communicate the plan to all those affected.  This will include more than family and staff, but also those supporting the enterprise such as financiers and contractors.

A number of feed budgeting and stock management tools are readily available for producers. A good start is to visit Meat and Livestock Australia’s website (www.mla.com.au) for three livestock tools: feed demand calculator (for seasonal demands and options), rainfall to pasture growth outlook, and general market information.

For a local indicator of how pasture growth is progressing people can access The Pasture Predictor online tool developed by TIA and Sense-T. The tool provides 30-day forecasts for the growth of pasture to help farmers to make better decisions in managing their herds, production and costs.

Forecasts for seven locations across the State’s main beef and dairy areas in the far North West, North West, central North, North East, northern Midlands and Derwent Valley can be found at www.sense-t.org.au

This article was originally published in Tasmanian Country on 18 August 2017.

Published on: 18 Aug 2017 3:36pm