Upper Hunter sheep and cattle producers urged to firm up feed and water budget

UPPER Hunter sheep and cattle producers are being urged to make sure they have firmed up their feed and water budgeting as we move deeper into winter.

They're also reminded to check their plans to ensure pregnant or lactating stock are receiving adequate energy in their feed, with lambing season underway and calving about to begin.

Hunter Local Land Services (LLS) district vet Jane Bennett said last winter proved very difficult for many producers and it's important to learn lessons from that and better prepare for coming seasons.

"In 2018 we saw a lot of pregnant cows die from pregnancy toxaemia, this was directly related to the type and quality of feed they were receiving," she explained.

"While producers may have been feeding out the right quantities, without testing the quality of feed they learned the hard way that it did not have enough energy to support pregnant or lactating stock.

"It is crucial to ensure that the feed you are providing stock is of the necessary quality and provides enough energy to meet their requirements, especially as we move further into winter and the drought continues to impact."

Over winter the predominant coastal perennial grasses such as kikuyu, seteriia and natives deteriorate in nutritional content such that the energy levels are often inadequate to meet the maintenance needs of pregnant and lactating cattle.

Without supplementary high-energy feeds such as grains and pellets breeders can lose body weight on a daily basis making it difficult for them to maintain their calf and their own life.

Stock cannot be transported as they come closer to birthing, and transporting is very difficult in the first six weeks after a calf or lamb is born, so it is important to make sure your feed budget extends for up to 12 weeks as a minimum, but much longer if you are intending to hold onto all stock.

The entire Hunter LLS region remains drought affected, with 17 per cent in intense drought.

This area includes parts of the Upper Hunter, but is now spreading through to the Mid Coast around Gloucester and the Manning Great Lakes where conditions are deteriorating.

Hunter Local Land Services has staff and support services available to support local producers including the newly-appointed regional livestock officer Teresa Hogan who can assist with feed and nutrition advice.

"Drought continues to have a major impact on local producers, and we know many producers now have been managing difficult seasons for more than two years," she said.

"We have recently received a spike in requests for advice about feeding livestock and also dealing with water quality issues, as winter begins to take hold.

"Sourcing quality feed became difficult during last winter as grain and hay supplies dried up and had to be sourced from as far away as Victoria and South Australia.

"We want producers to be prepared in case this happens again - reports already show feed supplies are tightening up with the associated increase in prices."

With many producers fully handfeeding stock, calculating correct ratios and budgets is critical to ensure the health of cattle and sheep.

"Please ensure when you are doing your budgets you fully cost the long-term needs of your sheep or cattle because there is no guarantee conditions are going to ease in the near future," Ms Hogan said.

"Drought creates stressful situations for farming families, and it is important to understand the physical and mental impacts of long-term handfeeding, as well as the financial implications for your business."

The NSW Government recently extended the NSW Emergency Drought Package, including extending Transport Subsidies for feed, water and livestock over the next 12 months, as well as waiving Local Land Services Rates in 2020.

Hunter LLS also has a dedicated drought support administration officer, Anne Lantry, who can assist landholders with processing their applications for support.

You can reach your nearest Hunter Local Land Services office by phoning 1300 795 299 to speak to agricultural extension officers, district vets or the regional drought support team to assist you in making important livestock and property management decisions.