Year-round planning for the winter months

Stockfarm|June 2020

Year-round planning for the winter months
Although the winter months pose several challenges to livestock farmers, they can be overcome quite easily with proper planning throughout the year.
Andries Gouws

Knowing which nutritional sources to supplement when deficiencies arise, is the recipe for overwintering livestock. This allows the animals to maintain their condition and the producer to achieve his long-term reproduction goals.

The key to profitability lies in optimal reproduction in a system that produces as many calves and lambs as possible and rears them successfully. The animals’ genetic fertility and nutrition, which enables them to conceive, are the main drivers of good reproduction.

Nutritional shortages on grazing

Natural grazing is the cheapest main source of nutrition for cattle and sheep, but even in times of abundance, some nutritional shortages may occur that must be supplemented. In most of the country, the nutritional value of natural grazing decreases as soon as the rain season ends. The protein content of grass, in particular, tends to decline sharply, as the mature grass begins to dry out and nutrients are returned to the root systems of the plants.

Dr. Francois van de Vyver, national manager for ruminants at Nutri Feeds, says grazing deficiencies can be supplemented and the strategy for supplementation should focus on limiting nutrients in order to stimulate digestibility and therefore the intake of available material, without losing sight of veld conservation.

Feed for overwintering

Nutrition aimed at overwintering livestock poses special challenges since the animals’ production status also needs to be considered. Beef cattle usually calve about a month before the first rains. The final stretch of the cow’s gestation, when her nutritional requirements are high, coincides with the harshest part of winter when grazing is sparse.

She therefore only has two to three months in which to recover post-calving; during this period, she must increase her body condition score so that she can mate and reconceive. To this end, a winter lick containing a large amount of non-protein nitrogen (NPN) such as urea, can be provided to meet the nitrogen requirements of the micro-organisms in the rumen; it will also activate the microorganisms to better digest fiber, which in turn encourages the utilization of poor quality grazing, Francois explains.

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June 2020