Matching Stocking Rate to Carrying Capacity
Most farmers I work with plant some sort of crop for cattle feed. This can be in the form of a summer or winter feed; pasture, cereals or legumes. A lot of planning, expenses and efforts goes into this operation and normally season dependant; A good crop is realised in a few months’ time.
Very often the resulting pasture or fodder crop quickly turns into a major headache for the farmer as it all matures at the same time and invariably there is not enough stock to fully utilise the feed. At this point a farmer is faced with three options.
- Do nothing – And potentially waste 50% of the yield that you have just gone to great lengths and cost to produce. The only positive of this response is that if managed opportunistically can be incorporated into the soil as a green manure. This is not normally the goal at the outset and seldom done.
- Spend more money on diesel and harvest the pasture or fodder crop as wrapped silage. This at least salvages the yield to be used later. It is also a sure way to turn cheap feed into expensive feed.
- The 3rd option is to fully utilise the pasture or fodder crop with additional stock that would need to be purchased or agisted in. This is normally highly unlikely as everyone has excess feed currently and cattle prices are high, not available or a multitude of other reasons.
What if you had done a fodder flow (how much will be produced and when), a feed budget (how much is needed and when) and a stock flow budget (how many stock will be on farm) before you planted?
Every fodder or pasture crop we grow has certain growth characteristic, days to maturity, yield potential in DM/ha, quality etc. Every farmer knows how many livestock units (LSU’s) you have or will have when the fodder matures and how much they will need to consume on a DM basis to achieve the production goals, be that average daily gain (ADG) in body weight or milk production.
If this information was taken into account on an annual basis and the carring capacity (CC) of the farm was matched to the stocking rate (SR) applied by the farmer, there would be very little wastage and far greater productivity, profitability and less stress.
How can you achieve this in a practical way when, unless you have irrigation, a lot depends or seems to depend on rainfall?
Here are some tips:
- Do an annual fodder flow plan – how much feed will you have on the farm everyday of the year, this can be on a monthly basis.
- Do a stock flow plan – how many LSU will you have on the farm at any given time.
- The above two should match each other.
- So, what if they don’t?
- Your options are to grow, conserve or buy in more feed, OR sell and buy stocks as necessary to match SR to CC.
- Stagger your planting so that not everything comes together at once.
- Plant different varieties that exhibit different growth characteristics.
- Create a feed bank of silage and hay to use strategically when opportunities arise. Well conserved silage will last for years.
- Sell livestock early if the SR exceeds the CC, if you do not, a feed shortage is on its way guaranteed.
- Love your grass more than your stock!!!!
There is no livestock enterprise that cannot do this effectively.
I have a range of practical tools that can easily be implemented to help you match your SR to CC.
This will put you in control of the operation again, reduce stress and allow you to take advantage of opportunity that other farmers will not be able to take.