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Information for operators setting up temporary feeding areas or sacrifice paddocks for the season

Many farmers in the Murray Dairy region will use temporary feeding areas or sacrifice paddocks this summer. Getting the set-up right can help to maintain productivity and effectively use the feeds you have on hand. A good set up also offers enormous benefits to your herd’s health and welfare.

Here are some considerations for setting up your temporary feeding area.

Regulations

In Victoria, the current definition of Grazing Animal Production is land used for animal production where the animals’ food is obtained by directly grazing, browsing or foraging plants growing on the land. This definition allows for emergency, seasonal and supplementary feeding.

Intensive Animal Production is land used for animal production where the animals’ food is imported from outside the immediate building, enclosure, paddock or pen. If you operate a system like this on a more permanent basis, permits and other planning may be required.

In NSW, these definitions vary between municipalities, so it’s recommended that you contact your local council for information.

Site selection

If you are seasonally or supplementary feeding in Victoria, it is required that your feed area is:

  • 100m from any residential dwelling
  • 100m from waterways
  • 100m from urban zones

Also check overlays on your property for: cultural heritage, environmental protection, flood, erosion or salinity. This may impact what you can do with your site.

You can check overlays at mapshare.vic.gov.au/vicplan/

Consider amenity and environmental issues such as odour, noise, dust, flies, runoff and public perception. 

Feed areas should be situated near the dairy to reduce walking distances in summer and for ease of management. Consider opportunities to store your feed within proximity of the site to save time and labour. 

If you think you will continue to use the site through winter, choose higher ground that won’t get boggy when the rain comes in. An earthen drainage slope of 2-4% is recommended. For concrete, the recommended gradient is 0.5-2%.

It’s suggested that if you’re working towards a permanent feed pad, the temporary feed area should be situated elsewhere, which will allow building and feeding simultaneously when the time comes.

Area

Feed and Water

To maintain milk production, cows need to spend as much time as possible with access to feed. Ideally you should provide enough feed space for all cows to feed at once, with minimal aggression or interference. This includes space for cows to back out and walk behind those feeding.

Cows must also have adequate access to water. Space around water troughs should allow for 10% of the herd to be drinking at any one time.

Multiple troughs give less dominant cows better access to feed and water. 

The following are the recommended measurements for your feed area: 

Along the feeding face:

60-75cm/cow

Along the drinking face:

10cm/cow

Cow feed alley

4.5-6cm/cow

Loafing area:

10-15m2 /cow

Total distance between water and feed sources:

10m

 

Trough height

600 – 1200mm

Shade and sprinklers

Cows can be heat stressed at 26oC. As farmers well know, keeping cows cool is critical to maintain milk production. All cows should have access to shade, which might mean moving cows to shady areas after they’ve had a good feed. Trees can offer a valuable source of shade but are susceptible to damage if crowded. Other options include soft roof shade covers and portable shade structures.

More information is available from coolcows.dairyaustralia.com.au

Sprinklers can also be used to encourage heat loss through evaporative cooling. Consider putting your cows under sprinklers more often, even first thing in the morning to cool down if overnight temperatures have not dropped. You can assist cows to cool by wetting concrete before you bring them into the dairy.

For sprinklers to be effective, the droplets must be big enough so that they can penetrate the the hair coat and soak the skin. However, it is important that cows aren’t so wet that water runs down the udder, increasing risk of mastits. Fans can be used as a complement to sprinklers.

More information is available from coolcows.dairyaustralia.com.au

Resting surfaces

Cows need to spend 10-12 hours a day lying. A clean, dry comfortable surface to lie on encourages this. Hard, slippery or wet surfaces should not be provided for lying on.

The recommended per cow bedding area for compost barns and stand-off pads ranges from 12-20m2. This is to ensure there’s a good balance between moisture input and evaporation so that suitable conditions can be maintained. Specific site and environmental conditions may mean larger areas are required.

Bedding areas require daily maintenance and management to keep the surface dry and comfortable. Dried manure makes a comfortable lying surface so long as it is tilled daily to incorporate fresh manure, break up lumps and keep the surface dry.

Feeding infrastructure

Feeding infrastructure can reduce wastage and enables you to offer a broader variety of feeds and supplements to the herd.  

Over 30% of feed is wasted when fed out in the paddock. This can be reduced with hay rings and conveyer belting to around 20% or with troughs to around 12%. Wastage on concrete pads and in free stalls is generally around 5%.

There are a range of troughs and module feeders available at different price points, but cheaper options generally wear and tear more easily. When considering what will fit in your system, check the feed platform of your machinery.

Factor in the delivery costs when weighing up your options. Bear in mind the waiting time for infrastructure that is made to order.

Examples of feed infrastructure can be found at dairyinfrastructure.com.au

Spoiled feed should be regularly removed from feeding areas. Mould is dangerous to cows and will deter cows from eating, even if fresh feed is on offer. Feed at the base of troughs or feeders can become slippery and will create more stress for cows that are being pushed around.

Managing animal health

Acidosis

Animals moving onto new diets suddenly or with a high grain intake are at risk of ruminal acidosis. Reduce the risk by transitioning cows on to the summer diet. Ensure that a balanced diet is on offer to all cows and that they are consuming adequate fibre to stimulate rumen function. Watch cows who have the bulk of their intake in the bail if that’s where you feed rain.

Dairy Australia’s Ruminal Acidosis Risk Assessment will help you identify ways to reduce the risk of acidosis in your herd.

Mastitis

In a temporary feeding system, your cows may spend a lot of time in dirt and dust. Good pre-milking and post-milking teat treatments will help to reduce the risk of mastitis.

Ideally, follow these four steps:

  1. Wash and dry all teats before cups go on
  2. Strip cows to detect, treat and isolate clinical cases of mastitis.
  3. Cover 100% of teat skin on every teat with disinfectant
  4. Keep teats clean for at least an hour after cows have left the shed. Encouraging cows to stand after milking (with adequate feed) will allow the teat canal to close off before they lie down.

Dairy Australia’s Countdown Resources go into more detail of mastitis prevention and management.   

Mould and mycotoxins

With extra silage and hay in storage this year, it’s important to keep an eye out for mould which can be dangerous to your herd. The risk of mycotoxins forming in feed is increased with extreme weather conditions, including drought.

Poorly stored hay, silage and/or other high moisture feeds are at risk of spoilage by microbes (e.g. yeasts, bacteria and moulds).

Silage made from mature crops has a high risk of spoilage as it is hard to keep oxygen out.

Alternative crop hays are often at risk of becoming mouldy in storage because of their high moisture content and higher microbial load than normal hay sources.

Check feed regularly by visually inspecting and smelling it. Patch up any holes. If in doubt, feed test.

More information is provided in Dairy Australia's factsheet: Mould and mycotoxins risks in feeds

Monitor your cows to get an indication of how your temporary feed area is functioning:

Hair loss or injuries on knees/hocks of most cows

Excessively dirty feet and/or udders

Feeding area surface or lying area not adequate: either too hard or poor drainage/build-up of manure

Hair loss and/or injuries on neck

Feeding infrastructure not suiting cows

Excessive stiffness or lameness. Looking exhausted.

Not lying down after eating

Lying down instead of eating post-milking

Stressed cows

Not spending enough time lying

Not happy with surface for lying

Increase in mastitis or other illnesses

Decrease in milk production

Stressed cows

Surface unhygienic

Diet not adequate

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