Managing feed during dry conditions

Managing dry seasonal conditions

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed a declaration of El Niño in conjunction with a positive Indian Ocean Dipole weather event. This announcement confirms what is already being felt in some regions, dryer and hotter conditions with reduced rainfall forecast across the country. Dairy producers will need to plan and be prepared for an increased likelihood of reliance on purchased fodder and supplement in conjunction with likely reduced availability in some regions. The Bureau has indicated the current forecast period is until autumn 2024, however El Niño events can last up to nine months and beyond. There are many resources available at both state and federal level to assist in dry weather preparation. Dairy Australia and the regional offices, as well as your local state government organisations and drought hubs, have several resources available to assist you with preparing your farm business for the dry season.

To find out what programs and services that may help you prepare for, manage and recover from dry conditions please visit: Drought, disaster and rural support - DAFF

To find your nearest Rural Financial Counsellor that provides free financial counselling to farmers please visit: Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) - DAFF

To find your local Drought Hub location and the services they offer please visit: Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hubs - DAFF

For social support and wellbeing please contact Lifeline on: 13 11 14


Feed budgeting

One of the most important aspects of planning, preparing and managing a dry season is having a feed budget to make the best decisions to manage feed. A feed budget prepares you for quantities of feed to source for milk production requirements and to meet the nutritional requirements of your herd.When calculating the feed demand, the most important considerations are:


  • an accurate head count of the stock on your farm.

  • realistic assumptions of the energy requirements for the different classes of stock for maintenance, production and growth.

  • the pasture growth rates (if relevant) for home grown feed availability.

  • amounts of conserved fodder on hand.

This information will give you the most accurate estimation of the feed deficit you need to fill.

When you are sourcing brought in feeds ensure that assumptions are made on well-balanced diets and using realistic allowances for feed wastage (approximately 30% wastage when fed on the ground and 15% when fed in hay rings).

Dairy Australia has feed budgeting tools to help you estimate what quantities of feed you require. The tool makes it easy by containing estimated daily pasture growth rates for pastures at locations across all regions as well as factors in wastage during feeding out.

Consider using an advisor to assist with developing your feed budget or before you purchase in feed.

For more information on how to use the tool and to download the Feed Budgeting spreadsheet please visit: Feed Budgeting | Dairy Australia


Buying in fodder

When it comes to purchasing in large quantities of fodder to meet the demands of your herd, it is important to know that you are getting value for money. This becomes especially important when feed prices and demand are high. Dairy Australia generates a hay report which is updated frequently with independent and timely assessment of hay markets in each dairy region. This report provides farmers with the information to make informed decisions when buying hay. The hay prices are based on shedded hay without weather damage, of good quality and colour and the prices are indicative of a mid-range product. The prices are estimates based on delivery with allowances for freight and storage, exclusive of GST. Actual prices may vary for quality or other reasons.

The report is especially useful when making decisions around when to buy in fodder and preparing for feed deficits The prices in the report are independently verified and a trusted source of information to test if you are getting a good deal through your hay supplier.

As the dry season approaches it is important to be proactive when making decisions around purchased feed, as waiting to see how the season progresses could result in purchasing into a market with inflated prices due to higher demand.

For more information and to the access the hay reports please visit: Hay Report | Industry News | Dairy Australia


The importance of feed testing purchased hay and how to interpret the feed test reports

An important element to buying in hay is to know what the quality of the product is. A feed test should be readily available before you commit to the purchase.

Quality of the feed is a driver of milk production and animal performance. Measuring feed quality enables you to optimise the diet to meet your milk production targets. There is large variation in the nutritional composition of a feed type, even within the same product. Having a feed test allows you to know the quality of what you are buying in/feeding out. There are three key elements when reading a feed test to provide a good estimation of the overall quality of the feed.


  1. Metabolizable Energy (ME) is energy available to the animal for production, maintenance and growth. Generally, the higher the ME the higher the production capacity of the feed.

  2. Crude Protein (CP) is essential for production, maintenance and growth of the animal. Protein and energy must be in balance to be most effectively utilised by the animal.

  3. Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) is a measure of the overall bulk of the forage. NDF is the driver for dry matter intake as it fills up the rumen. Generally, the lower the NDF the higher the quality as this allows the animal to rapidly digest and absorb nutrients. Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF) is the least digestible component of the plant. Usually, the lower the ADF the more digestible the feed is.

So what are good values for these nutrition components, it depends on the feed type. For example, a CP of 12% in a cereal hay would be considered excellent, but 12% CP for a legume hay would be poor. It is a good idea to check the feed test reports with a trusted nutritionist, independent of the hay supplier. Refer to the table below for a general guide of the quality levels of different hay types.



Image credit from Feed Central: Get Your Feed Test Kit - Feed Testing | Feed Central

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