Low Stress Stockhandling – ticking boxes for Animal Welfare and Production
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Low Stress Stockhandling – ticking boxes for Animal Welfare and Production

Livestock producers work within a competitive space under  ever increasing scrutiny from both animal activist groups and  consumers. Cost of production can be prohibitive, but there  are certain things that can be done to improve the quality and  value of the product. LSS is one of them.  Production and  ultimately financial reward are key drivers behind the concepts  embraced through Low Stress Stockhandling Schools.

Research has shown that animals can lose as much as 6 % in  shrinkage and “dark cutters” are severely discounted if not  condemned.  Dark cutting beef (DCB) is largely linked with  stress and the mobilisation of muscle glycogen (energy  store)in the live animal prior to slaughter. Discounts of up to  $0.60/kg can be applied for each carcass determined to be a  dark cutter. This equates to a $150 discount for a 250kg  carcass. Shrinkage directly affects the income of all cattle producers. Shrinkage can be reduced through better handling techniques, attention to environment and diet, market planning and an appreciation of animal psychology.

Numerous trials conducted in the Northern Territory monitored weight loss in mobs of heifers on a particular property.  From paddock weight to weighing at a live export depot, 12% loss of body weight was normal. By working and transporting the animals using Low Stress Stock Handling Techniques, shrinkage was reduced to 8% . This equated to a difference of 14kg/head, @$1.60 = $22.40/hd, or $67,200 over the mob of 3000 head. A trial on young cattle (200-350kg) at Moree, saw 242 head fed for 47 days.  An average daily gain of 1.2kg /day for an intake of 3.25% of animal body weight was achieved. The second mob were handled with some particular LSS methods and consisted of 348 young cattle (200-350 kg) which were fed for an average of 59 days. They ate 3.5% of  their body weight and gained an average of 1.8 kg per day. This group ate 8% more feed and put on 50% more weight. For an extra 16c/day in feed costs they put on an extra 80c/day in value. Over the mob of 348 head, this equates to $278/day or approx. $15,400 increase in profit over the mob. The feed programme for both mobs was the same, and the cattle were similar. The difference in performance was due to the way the two mobs were handled.

Three Low Stress Stockhandling workshops have been held in the Burdekin region over the past twelve months. Organiser Lisa Hutchinson, the Burdekin Grazing BMP coordinator with NQ Dry Tropics, said  “ it is always rewarding to run events that you know will influence individuals, enterprises and ultimately the industry.  The Grazing BMP program exposes beef producers to practices that can help improve the long-term profitability of their enterprise and these schools ticked all the boxes for new knowledge and practical skills that can be implemented immediately. Low stress stock handling challenges everything your Dad taught you, so the schools were both stimulating and thought provoking. Enormous benefits for both animal welfare and production outcomes can be achieved by handling cattle quietly, and there was no-one better equipped to deliver these schools than the man who developed the concepts – Jim Lindsay.”

Grazing BMP provides a breath of fresh air for Monto grazier
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Grazing BMP provides a breath of fresh air for Monto grazier

Kapaldo grazier, Alison Gray, attended a 2 day Grazing BMP workshop in Eidsvold last year and found the Grazing BMP program to be a recipe of ‘just what the doctor ordered’.

Alison could have quite easily have found a reason to stay home and continued to help husband John to muster, draft and transport cattle between properties.  Like so many other landholders, Alison finds it difficult to afford the time to attend workshops, juggling the ever changing priorities and demands of the farm. It’s a big ask when there are horses to feed and water, cattle in the yards to tend to,  and then be expected to travel about an hour to get to the workshop venue and not do any ‘real work’ for the day.

At the beginning of day one of the workshop, Alison was feeling tired, drained, and wondering why she continues to do what she does.  When asked what she hoped to get out of the workshop, Alison responded “I would just like to know that there is some positivity out there”.

Alison and husband John have 4 properties within the Kapaldo, Gin Gin and Mt Perry districts running a 350 breeder and fattening business.  Both have worked hard all of their lives to develop and expand their holdings.  Their children have all grown up and left the farm to pursue their own interests, and do not wish to return to take on the family farm.  The light at the end of the tunnel can at times be hard to see by aging eyes in times of drought.

The Grazing BMP workshops are designed to inspire the participants through presentations by guest speakers, and facilitate discussions between producers to learn from each other’s experiences.  The aim is to deliver information in a manner in which participants can return home and adapt to their business.

Alison was so motivated by day one of the workshop, she returned home and convinced husband John to come with her to day 2.  “Everything came together, and it all made sense.  This morning I had a spring in my step as I fed the animals before I came to the workshop” Alison said.

The Grazing BMP program offers a comprehensive health check for any grazing business.  The program provides the medium for graziers to ‘have a good look’ at every aspect of their enterprise, including people and business, soil health, grazing land management, animal health and welfare and animal production.  It allows landholders to assess how they are currently operating their business against a set of standards developed by the grazing industry for the grazing industry.
The Grazing BMP program was developed by Fitzroy Basin Association (FBA), Agforce Queensland and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), supported by Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP).

BMRG is committed to the protection and enhancement of the agricultural and natural environment of the Burnett Mary region.  If you are a grazier within the Burnett or Mary River Catchments and wish to complete the BMP self-assessment or undertake the audit process, please contact Sue Burt (Grazing Land Management Officer) on 4169 0720 or 0499545627.

Animal modules improve awareness in industry
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Animal modules improve awareness in industry

Animal modules within the Grazing BMP program have been delivered in workshops within the Fitzroy, Burnett Mary and Burdekin basins over the past three years.

Feedback results collected from 266 participants indicate that the workshops have enabled producers to identify areas within their beef business that require improvement through innovative management.

Participants reported increased awareness of the standards presented in the Animal Production and Animal Health and Welfare modules since attending the workshop. The top four were these:

  • role of bull breeding analysis and selecting bulls for genetic improvement
  • management of heifers to improve breeder performance
  • implementing a health management program
  • planning for biosecurity and quarantine.

Bull breeding analysis and selecting bulls for genetic improvement

Bull breeding analysis is a tool that can be used by cattle producers when purchasing bulls.

It is now summarised as Bull Check, which is a comprehensive analysis of the bull performed by a vet. The analysis assesses all aspects of the animal’s structure, which is given a score out of 10.

Semen morphology is also assessed to identify any defects that may be occurring that can affect the ability of the bull to get calves. The complementary tool to Bull Check, Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), should be used as an estimation of the genetic gain that the bull can offer to the herd of cows he is joined to. More information about Bull Check and EBVs can be found on the FutureBeef website www.futurebeef.com.

Participants at the accelerated grazing best management practise workshop in Emerald. 

Management of heifers to improve breeder performance

Many producers who attend the Animal workshops having trouble getting their maiden heifers back in calf for the second time.

Keeping heifers in a separate mob and not boxing them with the main breeder herd until they calve out for the second time is a tool that can be used to improve reproductive efficiency within first calf heifers.

Heifers can then be able to be managed more intensively. Practices such as early weaning of calves and supplementary feeding of the heifers to maintain body condition during lactation can lead to improved conception rates.

 Of course this strategy depends on how practical it is to keep the heifers separate. More information about heifer management can be found on the FutureBeef website www.futurebeef.com.

Implementing a health management program

Vaccination of cattle can be compared to insurance cover, it can cost money but it can save producers huge economic returns in protection against diseases that decimate calving percentages and production gains.

Some producers vaccinate their cattle for a wide range of diseases, while others don’t vaccinate for any diseases. The aim of the workshop is to provide producers with a guide on which vaccinations that should be given to bulls, breeders and calves. Vaccination protects herds who are naïve to disease. More information about cattle diseases can be found on the FutureBeef website.

Planning for biosecurity & quarantine

Biosecurity is an important issue for the wider industry and individual beef businesses. Farm biosecurity covers disease, pests and weeds.

A farm biosecurity plan is a document that lists procedures that protect the farm from biosecurity issues. It enables the producer to negotiate with mining companies and set standards for all visitors to prevent weed infestation and spread.

A strategy to minimise disease is quarantining new animals entering the property. The quarantine area needs to be a place where animals can be monitored to ensure that they are in good health and don’t spread weeds through faeces. Animals should be quarantined for a minimum of seven days.

 Any unusual disease symptoms observed in livestock should be reported to the relevant authorities, it is imperative that Australia keeps its disease free status for market access. More information about farm biosecurity can be found on www.farmbiosecurity.com.au.

 Standards within the animal modules enable producers to assess where they stand in comparison to industry standards.

 The animal modules enable the industry to demonstrate to the wider community that they take animal welfare seriously and they are willing to embrace new ideas to increase productivity through sustainable management pathways.

 The program has reached a wide audience of producers from many different areas who are passionate about promoting their industry and improving their bottom line.

 The program links directly to extension and producers are encouraged to work with DAF staff to further investigate avenues to improve their management.

Matt Brown
Beef Extension (FutureBeef)
DAF Rockhampton
07 4923 6211
The Power of Poo
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The Power of Poo

Is cattle dung a useful tool for managing animal production and grazing in your business?

Looking at your cattle’s dung can give you an indication of the quality of feed they have available to them, flat and sloppy versus hard and mounded. However, to get a really good indication of diet quality the use of NIRS (Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy) technology is the key.

Photo: The key to a good sample – Fresh is best! 

With the information from an NIRS analysis producers can implement appropriate and timely supplementation programs to their herds. An NIRS analysis and interpretation can give an indication of 

  • Dietary crude protein
  •  Dry matter digestibility
  •  Faecal nitrogen concentration
  •  Non-grass proportion of diet
  •  Phosphorus availability; and
  •  Growth rate

Dung sampling and NIRS analysis have been used over the last few years at ‘Ninderra’ Injune to ensure that the supplementation program in place was appropriate and cost effective. A side by side paddock comparison was conducted looking at the production impact of supplementation versus no supplement over the dry season (this work was carried out as part of the Climate Clever Beef Project). 

Dung was analysed over the three years, at different times of the season for both paddocks. Supplement intake and animal performance were also monitored. From this work the supplementation program has become timelier and is adjusted from paddock to paddock depending on the pasture type (Biloela or Gayndah Buffel grass) and the rainfall received. 

Dung analysis continues to be an important tool, with sampling carried out over other parts of the property before any supplementation begins. 

More information can be found at Futurebeef