Farmers who want to capitalise on the effects of the excellent summer grazing season now need to focus on their animals’ winter nutrition needs to achieve the best margins, according to a North East expert.
The good weather of 2014 provided perfect summer and autumn grazing conditions, setting up many farms to face the colder months with confidence.
Now the normal winter weather has arrived, however, it is time for farmers to take stock and pay close attention to their feeding regimes in order to maximise gains, said John Naylor, nutritionist and general manager at the Belford-based Northumbrian Quality Feeds.
“Although we’ve thankfully not had the 18 inches of snow we saw three years ago in early December, the weather has definitely turned,” he said.
“The good summer has presented farmers with both positives and negatives when it comes to organising their winter feeding programme.
“There is an ample supply of fodder around, with most barns and pits overflowing. However, the quality can be questionable, both nutritionally and with regard to minerals.
“We’re also seeing cattle entering the winter in very good condition, which in itself could present a problem with spring calving cows, which may be over-fit.
“Now is the time to ensure that they have the correct condition score – 3.5 – because attempting to do this in the last two months before calving is not advisable.”
Similarly, Mr Naylor said, store cattle have entered the winter in very good condition and, at this point, it is worth looking at their diets in detail.
To do so, different approaches will be required, depending whether the cattle are to be sold as stores in the spring or whether they will be put out to graze.
Sheep farmers with store lambs have also benefited from the good grazing conditions into early November.
Mr Naylor said: “When the grasses started to deteriorate, we’ve seen the killing-out percentages of these lambs deteriorate at the same time. To finish lambs on grass alone is not an efficient option.
“Many fodder crops are doing a good job but whether you are using grazed fodder or grass, concentrate feed is vital to ensure efficient finishing.”
When feeding concentrates to lambs, meanwhile, farmers are advised to use a quality product and to feed for no more than eight weeks.
The lower prices of cereals this year means many farms are now mixing their own feeds, but Mr Naylor said it was important to get the balance right.
“When mixing at home, you need to construct a digestive-friendly ration to ensure acidosis is kept to a minimum,” he said.
In addition to both conventional and organic feed, NQF’s base at Easington, near Belford, also supplies mineral, feed blocks and liquid feeds.
Mr Naylor added: “Livestock farmers are always facing the delicate balancing act of ensuring a return on the investment they put into their animals.
“Currently, morale in the beef and sheep sector is improving as a result of better market returns. Finished lamb prices have improved markedly in the last three weeks and store cattle prices are holding up well.
“However, the spring weather can have further challenges, so it is vital to ensure animals are in optimum condition over the winter months.”