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Rumenco livestock feeds - Rumevite, Lifeline, SUPAlyx, Beetlic

COPING WITH SUMMER DROUGHT

It’s been the second driest first six months in the UK for a century and even the
grass in Cumbria is desperate for rain. Many of the region’s livestock producers
are short of grazing, so how to you keep those cattle and lambs growing in a dry
summer? David Thornton from Rumenco offers some important topical advice.

Early in the season when conditions are favourable for grass growth, it’s pretty easy to
achieve above average daily liveweight gains for your cattle and lambs. Highly digestible
grass of a high protein and sugar content is usually in plentiful supply and since ruminant
livestock generally spend little time sheltering from hot weather, good dry matter intakes
and performance are usually guaranteed.

However, the problems start when dry weather conditions persist into mid to late
summer. Hot sunshine and lack of rain means the optimum sward heights for cattle at
8cm and sheep at 4cm are rarely reached – and if it’s really dry grass literally burns off.
The grass sward will either ‘go to head’ so lowering its digestibility and feed value or – in
a high stocking rate situation – grass will become so sparse it’s almost non-existent.

Recently, EBLEX reported that grass growth was way behind last year and first cut
silage crops are less than 75% of 2009 levels due to the exceptionally dry season. Regrowth
for second silage cuts has also been slow and the forage quality is questionable,
so conserving as many acres as possible is vital.

Even in good grass growing years the growth rates of cattle and lambs decline as the
season progresses, simply because of the natural fall off in grass sward digestibility. In a
drought year this digestibility deterioration simply accelerates and you can even find your
animals losing weight.

The late summer, post weaning period is also the time when breeding stock need to
recover body condition loss caused by lactation. Last winter’s harsh conditions
highlighted the importance of having stock in good condition with plenty of body
reserves. Suckler cows and hill ewes going into last winter with low body condition
scores came out of the winter in very poor shape; performance suffered significantly and
maintenance costs increased.

With these issues in mind it’s important to find some way of supplementing grass that is
in short supply at this time of year. As a result, many livestock farmers turn to straw to
maintain growth rates in young cattle and lambs, and to keep milk output up in ewes and
suckler cows.

The Value of Rumevite
Numerous trials have been conducted over the years with various classes of stock
showing that supplementation of late summer/autumn grazing with Rumevite blocks
pays dividends. Introducing Rumevite will typically improve cattle growth rates by 0.2-
0.3kg/head/day and improved the weaning weights of suckler calves.

In the trials grazing alone delivered growth rates of 0.52kg/head/day, but access to
Rumevite increased daily liveweight gains to 0.76kg/head /day. What’s more, the cattle
supplemented with Rumevite were 25kg heavier at the end of the grazing season.
The combination of ad lib straw or haylage offered in a ring feeder and Rumevite fed in a
feeder is a popular combination, especially on the lowlands where grazing is
disappearing fast and straw is readily available.

However, supplementary feeding must be cost-effective as well as convenient during the
busy summer period. After deducting the cost of Rumevite, cattle on the trials returned
an extra £70 per head (based on £1.40/kg liveweight).

Rumevite works by improving forage intake, digestibility and hence the utilisation of the
roughage component of the diet. So if your grass is sparse, you must make some form
of additional forage available. This can be silage, hay or straw and obviously the
performance of your livestock will be partly dependent on the quality of this forage.

The other key benefit offered by Rumevite is mineral supplementation. Salt intake is
particularly important in hot weather and by offering fully formulated feed block no
additional supplements are necessary.

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