Feed security slows with dry season start

Feed security slows with dry season start

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WAITING GAME: Annabelle Preston, 9, with her father Trevor at their Hampden property where new-season lambs are hitting the ground.

WAITING GAME: Annabelle Preston, 9, with her father Trevor at their Hampden property where new-season lambs are hitting the ground.

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AS most of SA reaches its peak lambing period in the coming weeks, the late season break has caused concerns about lamb survival and high supplementary feeding costs until substantial rain arrives.

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AS most of SA reaches its peak lambing period in the coming weeks, the late season break has caused concerns about lamb survival and high supplementary feeding costs until substantial rain arrives.

But with much-needed rainfall recorded in some parts of the state this week, livestock producers' confidence about pasture revival to provide feed for ewes and new-season lambs has increased somewhat.

The Eyre Peninsula recorded some of the highest rainfall in the state this week, with Mount Hope, near Cummins, recording 35 millimetres but despite this, it is the driest start to a season for about 30 years, according to EP Livestock's Richard Hill.

"Most ewes are lambing down on bare paddocks or in containment feeding," he said. "There is a lot of hand feeding but, with the recent rain, hopefully in about a month there will be some feed in front."

Mr Hill said most had reduced flock numbers subject to this season with just core breeding flocks left.

"If the EP can get some follow up rain in coming two to three weeks, then hand-feeding should stop in the next seven weeks," he said.

"Stock are in good condition and should provide lambs with a good start."

The EP has finished its April/May lambing and recorded about 90 per cent to 110pc lambing percentages.

Supplementary feed stocks are low, with hay and grain in limited supply, according to Mr Hill.

"Worst case scenario, if rain was not to arrive, most would look to reduce stock numbers further, most likely ewes with lambs at-foot," he said.

About 5 millimetres of rain fell on Hampden grazier Trevor Preston's paddocks this week, bringing his monthly total to about 11mm.

Though paddock feed had come to a halt, Mr Preston said dry starts were not unusual for the region.

"We often are waiting for rain but this is a dryer start than in the past," he said.

"But we had a great spring and if the paddocks are not grazed, there is still some growth during lambing."

Mr Preston said with timely rainfall, vetch and barley feed paddocks were generally ankle high by this time, with hills country also in a flush of spear grass and native clover.

"If the break does not come for another month or so, it just means I will have to continue to feed hay and grain for longer," he said.

"I am ready to go though. I was not prepared for the tough year in 2017, so now I have plenty of sheep feeders and a stock of hay.

"Once you get bitten like we did that year, you learn your lesson. I am not too concerned at this stage, but if there is no decent rain by August I will be."

Many Kangaroo Island producers will potentially fork out a fair bit of money for supplementary feed in the coming months.

Elders Kangaroo Island branch manager Marty Kay said some parts of the island had received more rain than others but most producers had stocked up on mineral supplements to help ewes lamb in the dry conditions.

"Feed is very patchy," he said. "Lambing is becoming a concern - some ewes are lambing down onto bare dirt which is not ideal at all.

"The stress on the ewes is a major concern. In particular, managing milk supply."

Mr Kay said a few months ago, there was thought to be a slight oversupply of hay on the island but with limited pasture growth and rainfall, feed supplies should get "swallowed up".

"Some producers have bought more feed in from the mainland but many wish they had secured more," he said. "A positive has been the increase in containment feeding on the island since the fires though, so that will be advantageous for ewes and lambs."

Most KI producers will be feeding at least until mid-July and potentially longer if rain does not arrive soon.

Pardana producer Peter Cooper shears about 10,000 ewes and started hand-feeding at the end of January, and with lambing percentages between 110-170pc for Merino and crossbred ewes, paddock feed supply was a concern.

"We had about 22mm in the past few days and we have partial germination on some of the barer paddocks," he said. "I will continue to supplementary feed thought to keep the energy of the ewes up - it is one thing to have good lambing percentages and another to keep the lambs alive."

Mr Cooper said financially, supplementary feeding was a "big hit" to the bottom line and having such a late break this year meant it was going to be more expensive than in past years.

"We would manage I suppose but with limited feed supplies, it would not take much for a difficult situation to turn into a desperate one," he said.

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