Thursday, 19 September 2013

Managing livestock through winter

With the weather taking a distinct turn for the chillier recently, thoughts are turning towards how to manage stock through the winter.

As conserved forages are mostly now in store, calculating feed budgets are coming into sharp focus, not least to ensure adequate forage supply and avoid having to buy in feed at the last minute.

The importance of practical advice can’t be overstated and our latest Stock Briefing on Winter Feed Budgeting is an ideal illustration of this in practice. Providing a starting point to calculating a winter feed budget, the briefing highlights a key area of EBLEX’s work.

For instance, it details how much feed is required and, when formulating the rations, advises consulting an independent nutritionist is recommended and can prove good value for money. Analysing conserved forages will ensure the correct level and type of supplementation is fed to achieve optimum growth rates.

During the winter, producers are also advised to review the feed budget to ensure it is still on track, allowing changes in livestock numbers or problems with feed to be identified in time to take any necessary action. Advice also includes monitoring stock regularly by checking body condition scoring and weighing, to ensure the ration is delivering the expected performance. By reviewing calculations at the end of the winter, it will also help understand where improvements may be made for next year.

It’s all about knowledge transfer. Similarly, for sheep producers considering all grass wintering, it can increase grass utilisation and reduce feed costs, according to our livestock scientist, Poppy Frater. All-grass wintering involves sheep being managed at high stocking densities and moved frequently through electric-fenced paddocks. While it needs careful management in terms of feed budgeting, forage reserves and monitoring body condition, English producers have got on very well with it, even during last winter. For those producers considering it, now is the time to start thinking about shutting up fields.

As we’ve already said, knowledge transfer is one of the cornerstones of EBLEX’s work, to enhance the profitability and sustainability of the English beef and lamb sector. Further advice on these and other topics can be found in the Better Returns Programme section of our website www.eblex.org.uk.