Why a budget?

Feed budgets are needed to make sure there is enough feed on the farm to meet the needs of the stock. Doing a budget gives you the confidence to know what’s going on – and if you have a feed deficit coming up, you can see it in good time and are not caught out.

When a budget?

In a grazing situation, start a regular monthly feed budget in autumn from the date when the animal feed needs exceed pasture growth on your farm. Stop when your feed supply exceeds the animal needs in spring.

Basics to understand before you start

  1. There are two sides to the budget; the IN side - i.e. the feed you have on the farm, and the OUT side or feed needed by the stock.  
  2. Do the budget calculations on a “per hectare” basis for the farm. Always think per hectare.
  3. You can do a budget every month but in winter as the feed gets tight, then do a weekly budget to keep you on track.
  4. You can do the feed budget using ME (energy values) too, which is more accurate, but here we will stick to Dry Matter (DM) to keep things simple.

 How to do a budget?

 Step 1: Measure the feed on the farm

Pasture

  • Walk the entire farm and estimate the DM growing as pasture on each paddock. Use a pasture meter for this, or learn to estimate it by eye from other farmers or at discussion groups. You can also use a calibrated ruler provided by some commercial companies.
  • Estimate and record the DM/ha. This is not an exact science, but the main thing about whichever method you use is – be consistent.
  • You must walk the whole farm! It’s no good looking at the paddock from the gateway or where the grass is longest. Paddocks very greatly so walk around and try to balance up the good parts with the bad parts (which may be at the far side of the paddock).
  • You will need an accurate farm map with the area of each paddock on it.  Make copies and take this map around the farm with you to write on. Laminate a copy so you can write on it and wipe it clean again.

 Hay

  • Calculate how much DM is stored as hay. You can easily weigh small hay bales or you can accept the description of big bales of hay e.g. 12 bale equivalents. It’s better to get them weighed somewhere if you can.

 Silage

  • For silage stacks calculate the volume (volume = length x width x height) and use the density figures in below to get a total weight. Note they are very general values so use scales to weigh a bale where possible.

 

 Silage yield, density and DM% values

Silage type

Green yield (t/ha)

Density (kg/m³)

DM %

Direct cut grass

12-30

700-900

13-18

Wilted grass

12-30

500-800

20-30

Mature maize

30-70

500-600

20-35

Green maize

30-70

500-600

20-25

 

Crops

With crops it’s more difficult. You have to first measure the yield of wet crop/ha, and then get this to DM/ha. To do this you need to

  • Walk across the paddock and select at random areas to be sampled.      
  • Cut and weigh what grows on 1 square metre samples.
  • Chop up the crop on each square metre, mix it well and take a sub sample for drying.
  • Dry the sub samples in the oven at 100°C for about an hour.
  • Work out the DM% by (Dry Weight / Wet Weight) x 100 for each sub sample and then work out an average.
  • Multiply this average DM/square metre by 10,000 to get kg DM/ha

 

Step 2: Estimate the feed that is going to grow

This is a tricky bit. You’ll have to estimate how much feed will grow over the budget period and include this in the total feed supply.

You can use average figures for the district or your own values collected over time. A local farm consultant will be able to provide figures for your district.

The table below shows pasture growth for the Ruakura Research Centre in the North Island of New Zealand where it has been measured for over 40 years. It grows about 16 tonnes of DM/ha/year.

Monthly pasture growth values (kg DM/ha/day)

Month

Kg DM/ha/day

Month

Kg DM/ha/day

January

51

July

23

February

53

August

35

March

39

September

52

April

21

October

72

May

19

November

77

June

16

December

67

 

 

TOTAL

15,920

 

 Step 3: Estimate the stock’s feeding needs

  • Calculate the DM feed needs for every animal on the farm.
  • You’ll need to add to this, what is called “feed carried forward”. This is feed you need at the end of the budget period as it’s no good getting to the end of the period having eaten all the feed on the farm. It’s “carry-over” feed and plan to have at least 2000 kg DM/ha saved for this, that will see you through.

The concept of Maintenance and Production

  • An animal uses part of its feed for “Maintenance” which is to keep its basic functions working like a stationary car, parked with the handbrake on and the engine ticking over.
  • It needs nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, minerals and trace elements to maintain its basic body function such as body temperature, digestion, blood flow, organ function and minimal movement.
  • Then there are the feed nutrients needed for “Production” which is over and above maintenance. This is needed when the animal starts to grow, become pregnant, lactates or walks long distances each day to find feed, water or to be milked. It’s the car now moving with your foot down on the accelerator.
  • How much an animal needs for maintenance is based mainly on its live weight.

Feeding a milking cow

Look at the table below which shows how much DM a cow needs based on its liveweight at different stages. It sets it all out showing the months before and after calving when the cow is dry then milking, and what an average Friesian, Jersey and a Crossbred will need in terms of DM/head/day.

  • Note that after calving the cow has lost the weight of the calf and fluids it was carrying.

 

Feeding a milking cow at different stages

Months before calving

% of Live Weight

Friesian

LW (kg)

Kg DM needed

Jersey LW (kg)

Kg DM needed

Stage

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dry

- 3

1.2

510

6.1

392

4.7

 

- 2

1.4

515

7.2

400

5.6

 

- 1

1.6

525

8.4

406

6.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calving

+1

3.5

470

16.5

360

12.6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Months after calving

 

 

 

 

 

Milking

+ 2

3.9

470

18.3

360

14.0

 

+ 3

3.9

480

18.7

370

14.5

 

+ 4

3.7

490

18.1

380

14.0

 

+ 5

3.3

515

16.7

390

12.8

 

+ 6

3.0

515

15.4

400

12.0

 

+ 7

2.7

512

13.9

400

10.8

 

+ 8

2.6

512

13.3

395

10.3

 

+ 9

2.5

510

12.7

395

9.9

 

Drying off

2.4

505

12.1

390

9.4

 

Key points from the table

  • The DM values in the table are the minimum worked out for a cow, standing indoors in a stall at an experimental station.
  • So when the cow is outside in a cold wind and has to walk long distances to find feed, then these maintenance values will be far too low, and the cow will use its own body reserves to meet the deficiency and lose weight and condition.
  • A cow that satisfies her appetite long before her nutritional needs are met ends up in ‘negative nutritional balance’ which can have serious implications.

Feeding a beef cow

Feeding a beef cow is a much simpler challenge, and the table below shows some general figures for beef cows for different periods before and after calving down the side and for three different average weights along the top.

Feed intakes in kg DM/head/day for cattle of three live weights

 

350kg

450kg

550kg

Periods

 

 

 

Post weaning

4-4.5

5-5.5

5.5-6

-3m Calving

4.5

5.5

6.5

-2m Calving

5

6

7

-1m Calving

6

6.5-7

7.5-8

+1m Calving

6.5-7

7.5-8

8.5-9

+3m Calving

7.5

8.5

9

+5m Calving

7

8

8.5

 

Key points from the table:

  • After weaning and before the next calving - increase DM by 15% for lean cows and reduce it by 15% for fat ones.
  • 3 months before calving - Add 0.9kg DM/day to the cow’s needs for pasture eaten by the calf
  • 5 months after calving – Add 2.7kg of DM/day to the cow’s needs for pasture eaten by the calf.
  • If you want to put condition back on a cow, a mature cows needs about 6.5kg of DM for every 1Kg of live weight above what it needs for maintenance.

Feeding young growing cattle

With young stock it’s very important that they are always fed above maintenance as their future performance is dictated by how well they are reared. The effects of poor rearing last right through the animal’s life. The table below shows the feeding levels for animals of different starting weights down the side, and for different growth rates along the top.

 

Kg DM/head/day needed for stock growing at varying rates/day

 

Kg gain/day

0 kg/day

0.25

kg/day

0.50

kg/day

0.75

kg/day

1.00

kg/day

1.25

kg/day

1.50

kg/day

LWt kg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

100

 

2.2

2.6

3.1

3.4

3.9

4.4

4.9

150

 

2.8

3.2

3.8

4.4

5.0

5.6

6.3

200

 

3.1

3.8

4.4

5.2

5.9

6.8

7.6

250

 

3.6

4.4

5.1

6.0

6.9

7.8

8.8

300

 

4.0

4.8

5.7

6.8

7.7

8.9

9.9

350

 

4.4

5.4

6.4

7.4

8.6

9.8

11.0

400

 

4.7

5.8

6.9

8.1

9.4

10.7

12.1

450

 

5.1

6.2

7.5

7.9

10.2

11.6

13.1

500

 

5.5

6.7

8.1

9.4

10.9

12.5

14.2

 

Key points from the table

  • Be generous when you use these values and increase rather than decrease the values.
  • Over winter or when feed is short, stock should grow at a minimum of 0.25kg/head/day.
  • In the spring flush of pasture, aim for growth close to 1kg/head/day.

Target weights

  • The tables below (for dairy stock and beef animals) show some currently accepted target weights for stock of different ages.  
  • Note that target weights are not “average” weights.
  • A “target” weight is the weight every animal in the group should have reached by the defined age.
  • Again realise they are general values used as a guide.

 

Target live weights ( kg) for dairy stock at different ages

 

2 mo. weaning

6 mo.

9 mo.

15 mo.

24 mo. calving

Mature Wt.

Breed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jersey

83

125

166

250

374

415

J X F

96

144

192

288

432

480

Friesian

104

156

208

312

468

520

% of mature

20%

30%

40%

60%

90%

100%

 

Target live weights (kg) for beef stock at different ages

Stage

For yearling 14-month

mating (kg)

For mature cow

mating (kg)

For mating

250-300

 

Immediate pre-calving

380

440

Post-calving

340

390

Mating

370

430

Weaning

 

430

Mid winter

 

380

 

How much feed do sheep need?

Using pasture length information

The table below shows some information as a general guide to feeding sheep at different production levels and ages.

Minimum pasture length and DM needs for sheep at different stages of production.

 

Pasture length (cm)

Pasture mass

kg DM/ha

Feed intake

kg DM/day

Production levels

EWES

 

 

 

 

Mid pregnancy

1-2

400-500

1.0

Maintenance

6 wks pre-lamb

2-3

600-800

1.3

60-80g/day

Ewes & lambs

4-5

1400-1600

1.8

180-200g/day (lambs)

Summer

1-2

900-1000

1.0

Maintenance

Mating

2-3

1200-1400

1.4

120-150g/day

 

 

 

 

 

LAMBS

 

 

 

 

Weaned–spring

3-4

1200-1400

0.8

160-200g/day

Weaned-summer

2-3

1400

1.0

130-150g/day

Weaned-autumn

2-3

1200

1.2

80-100g/day

Weaned-win./spr.

3

1100

1.2

100-120g/day

 

 

 

 

 

HOGGETS

 

 

 

 

Summer

2-3

1400

1.3

60-80g/day

 

Key points from the table

  • Note these are minimum values so always aim to exceed them in practice.
  • When pastures are short and don’t exceed 5 cm in length they would generally be green, leafy and hence have high protein and energy. The challenge is to keep them like this all the time.
  • The exception would be in summer when it gets dry and there was a lot of dead litter on the surface that rots away quickly with the first autumn rains.
  • The ewe in late pregnancy and when suckling lambs needs the very best of pasture to meet her daily DM needs.
  • Growing lambs need good pasture to allow good growth and development. The figures in the table should be minimum levels.
  • The same applies to hoggets – they need to be kept growing on good feed levels.

Feeding levels for different weights of ewes

The feed needed for maintenance is based on live weight and this is shown in the table below along with what happens when feed quality varies.

Kg DM/head/day for grazing adult ewes of different weights fed different qualities of pasture

Pasture Quality

Poor

Average

Good

 

ME 8

ME 10

ME 12

Liveweight (kg)

Kg

Kg

kg

40

1.13

0.85

0.67

50

1.31

1.00

0.79

60

1.50

1.15

0.92

70

1.69

1.30

1.00

 

Key points from the table

  • Poor quality pasture has 25%+ dead material.
  • Average quality pasture is green leafy.
  • Good quality pasture is legume dominant.
  • For extra 50g/day gain (feed = 10 ME) add 30% to maintenance
  • For extra 100g/day gain (feed = 10ME) add 100% to maintenance.
  • So a good round figure to remember is that a ewe need to eat 1.0 – 1.3 kg of DM/head/day of good to average quality feed to maintain herself.
  • This can also be defined as holding her at a condition score of between 2.5 – 3.5. This should be your management aim during the summer period after her lambs are weaned

Feeding for flushing and joining

  • Flushing is the ancient practice of feeding ewes on a “rising plane of nutrition” 2-3 weeks before the ram goes out, and a couple of weeks during joining to encourage better ovulation rates.
  • What is a rising plane? Research shows that gains of 0.5 -1.0 kg/head/week can be useful targets, but it depends so much on the actual weight the ewes are at to start with.
  • Good target (minimal) weights for ewes are:
    • Pre-mating 53kg and Condition Score of 3-4.
    • ating – 57kg for 2-tooths and 60kg for mixed-age ewes.
    • ٱRam removal – 55kg.
  • Ewes can gain 0.5-1.0 kg liveweight during the first few weeks of joining if good green leafy feed is available. Ideally they should be going into 5-6cm of pasture (2200kg DM/ha) and leaving 3cm pasture (1500kg DM/ha).
  • This is not often possible on hill country, especially in dry autumns when 2-3cm-long feed would be more likely to be available.

Feeding for pregnancy and lambing

  • Good feeding in the first half of pregnancy is vital for good placental growth, and if this is neglected, it cannot be put right by good feeding in the second half of pregnancy.
  • This means a good pasture cover for lambing is around 1200–1300kg DM/ha but for really high production 1400–1500kg DM/ha should be the target.
  • The other target is a minimum of Condition Score 3 for lambing.
  • It’s a good aim to feed ewes 3 weeks before lambing on the same feeding level as they will get as soon as they have lambed.
  • Table 15 shows how feeding levels needed at different stages of pregnancy.

Feed needs for growing lambs

The table below shows the different needs of lambs growing at different rates.

Feed needed (DM & ME) by lambs growing at different rates

Post-weaning LWG (g/day)

50

100

150

200

250

300

Days to make 1kg CW

45

23

15

11

9

8

ME/head/day

11

13

15

17

19

21

Kg DM/head/day

1.0

1.2

1.4

1.5

1.7

1.9

Total ME needed

495

299

225

187

171

168

Total DM needed

45

27

20

17

16

15

 

Key points from the table

  • Fast-growing lambs are more efficient converters of pasture into meat.
  • They reach target weights faster and eat less getting there.

Feeding growing sheep (hoggets)

  • Hoggets are the future flock ewes, and again need special treatment.
  • If they are mated, then they need an even higher feeding level.
  • The table below shows some ME feed requirements for hoggets.

ME/day requirements of ewe hoggets of different weights growing at different rates

 

LW (kg)

25

30

35

40

45

LWG/day

g/day

 

 

 

 

 

 

0

 

8

9

10

11

12

50

 

10

11.5

13

14

15.5

100

 

12.5

14

16

17.5

19

150

 

14.5

17

19

21

23

200

 

17

19.5

22

24.5

26.5

 

Feeding lactating ewes

  • A lactating ewe, especially one suckling multiple lambs, is pouring out energy which she may struggle to take in through her diet.
  • In the early stages of lactation, like the dairy cow she’s in “negative nutritional balance” which can affect her health unless she is given extra concentrate feed which is not a common practice in New Zealand.
  • The table below shows the high levels of DM needed during lactation for ewes of different weights.

DM/day requirements of ewes of different weights at varying stages of lactation

 

Week 1

Week 3

Week 6

Week 9

Ewe LW (kg)

Single (Twin)

Single (Twin)

Single (Twin)

Single (Twin)

40

2.1 (2.3)

2.3 (2.6)

2.0 (2.3)

1.8 (2.0)

45

2.1 (2.4)

2.4 (2.7)

2.1 (2.4)

1.9(2.1)

50

2.4(2.8)

2.8(3.2)

2.4 (2.8)

2.0(2.2)

55

2.5 (2.9)

2.9 (3.3)

2.5 (2.9)

2.1 (2.3)

60

2.6 (3.0)

3.0 (3.4)

2.6 (3.0)

2.2 (2.4)

65

2.7 (3.1)

3.1 (3.5)

2.7 (3.1)

2.3 (2.5)

70

2.8 (3.2)

3.2 (3.6)

2.8 (3.2)

2.4 (2.6)

Extra pasture needs/lamb

 

0.3 (0.2)

0.5 (0.4)

0.9 (0.8)

 

Key points from the tables

  • Ewes suckling twins need more feed than those suckling singles, right up to week 9 of lactation. Peak lactation is around week 4.
  • As ewes increase in weight, they need more feed too.
  • Losing weight has important implications – it needs to be avoided wherever possible.
  • Each kg of ewe weight gained will need an extra 65 ME units.
  • Being realistic, you would never be able to feed ewes on pasture, and even with grain supplements to gain weight during lactation. The aim is to avoid massive losses. It all goes back to having ewes in top order at mating and coming up to lambing so they can stand the negative-balance time with minimal impact.
  • A good ewe is one that can lose weight during lactation because she is milking well and using her body reserves to good effect. Such a ewe has the capacity to regain weight quickly later.

How to provide these feeding levels?

  • For lambing most farmers provide at least 1200kg DM/ha for ewes with singles, and 1500kg DM/ha for ewes with multiples.
  • Ewes with twins eat about 25% more than ewes with singles in a 100 day lactation.
  • During lactation, pasture covers should not drop below 1200kg DM/ha as quality also drops, and the ewes have to work too hard to get enough to eat.
  • Any paddock that gets beyond 1800 kg DM/ha is too long for sheep and should be fed to cattle or taken out of the rotation for silage or hay.

Step 4: Does it balance?

Now you’ll be able to see from the difference between Step 1 and 2 if things balance or you may find you have a feed deficit or a feed surplus.   Here are some suggestions on how to mange each:

Managing a feed deficit

With a deficit there are three things you can do - some good ideas and some not so good! Remember you have to consider the farm, your management and work load, and your bank manager: Bank managers don’t like surprises! Consider these:

 

1. Reduce feed demand

  • Sell all culls and surplus stock.
    • Draft stock on the basis of their condition score and give the low CS animals the best feed.
    • Dry off some or all lactating cows, and wean calves from suckling cows.

2. Increase feed supply

  • Apply some nitrogen fertiliser if the 10cm ground temperature is above 6°C and the soil is moist. This should boost feed, provided all other soil nutrients are at adequate levels.
  • Buy in some supplements such as hay, silage, surplus crops or concentrate meal.
  • Graze animals off the farm. Check the Tb status of the farm they are going to before you move them.
  • Slow down the rotation to give the pastures time to grow. But you will have to feed supplements during this time to make up the difference.

3. Reduce production targets

  • Delay the date of making silage.
  • If you have paddocks closed for silage or hay, open the gates and feed your stock.
  • Accept that you will have thin stock and this will affect their performance. This is not a good decision!

Managing a feed surplus

If you have a feed surplus, first check that you have you done the sums correctly? Is the surplus real or a misplaced decimal point? Don’t tell anyone till you have double-checked the figures.

  • If it’s a true surplus, then rejoice and enjoy the peace of mind.
  • But then start to worry about it going to waste.
  • Feed your stock more and let them convert it into body condition, and enjoy looking at them!
  • Sell some surplus as silage or hay.
  • Take on grazing stock from farmers who are overstocked.
  • Delay weaning calves off cows.
  • Buy in some stock as grazers.

 

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