29 MAY 2024

Maximising winter forage

Elders’ livestock production specialist Adam Turnbull explains why a lot of pre-planning and preparation is needed to grow a successful stand of winter forage.

Whether it be fallow sprays, soil tests, fertiliser selection, sowing rate and waiting for optimum moisture levels, this preparation can be at a significant cost to the grower.  

When it comes to grazing the forage that is planted to fill a winter feed gap however, there are times when the planning might go by the wayside.

Stock might be put into forage crops without much pre-planning, which can contribute to significant waste, loss of production and cost. 

As with the planning which goes into sowing a winter forage, to reduce waste and increase production, livestock also require preparation before grazing this valuable feed source. Feed budgeting, stocking rates and crop rotation are all key parts of a successful grazing program to achieve the most out of winter forages.

To understand what is required to achieve this, it is important to understand the challenges and risks which winter forages pose to livestock and the management processes available to alleviate them to maximise production.  

These are just some of the challenges of forages: 

  • Nitrates  
  • High moisture content  
  • Low fibre content 
  • High protein 
  • Poor nutrient balance 
  • Low magnesium level 
  • Poor feed conversion  

These challenges, if not addressed, can lead to a range of animal health problems, including: 

  • pulpy kidney and other metabolic diseases 
  • scours 
  • weight loss 
  • reduced growth rates from poor feed conversion 
  • grass tetany 
  • bloat 
  • higher rate of weight loss during transport.

At times, livestock fatalities can also occur.

Producers might consider implementing a simple protocol to manage most of these risks and achieve the maximum production from winter forages. 

  • All stock should be fully vaccinated with a minimum of 5 in 1 to prevent pulpy kidney, ideally 14 days pre-grazing to allow peak antibody response for maximum protection.  
  • An effective broad-spectrum drench should also be given to eliminate internal parasites. 
  • Stock should initially be provided additional fibre (straw) to maintain rumen function, as well as a lick supplement specific to the crop being grazed. Lick supplements supply the animal with important minerals and starches often lacking in forage crops and enable stock to utilise the feed source that in return increases weight gain, maximising production and return on investment on the winter forage.  

In short – follow the VDS protocol: Vaccinate, Drench, Supplement.

Please note: this article contains information of a general nature, and does not take into account your personal objectives, situation or needs. Before acting on any information, you should consider the appropriateness of the information provided, and seek advice on whether it is fit for your circumstances.

Contact Adam

Adam Turnbull

Livestock Production Specialist
  • Elders Tamworth