Green pick: the awkward transition to winter
A season break signals the start to building the winter feedbase, but the first few weeks of green pick present an awkward time for managing the nutritional needs of livestock.
No guts, no glory
Early green pick is notoriously ‘gutless’. It is common to see low or inadequate levels of fibre, sugars, magnesium and other minerals. The high moisture content further dilutes any nutrients in the plant, meaning that stock are usually unable to eat enough of this green feed to meet their needs. We end up in with low quantities of both poor-quality dry feed and green pick, with stock losing weight. This situation is often referred to as a ‘green drought’.
Other than a high moisture content, early green pick is often high in nitrates. Low fibre levels mean that feed passes through the rumen rapidly, reducing the ability of rumen microbes to process the surplus nitrogen entering the system. When nitrogen and ammonia (a product of nitrogen fermentation) accumulate, scours and setbacks start to occur.
Compounding the problem
Early green pick is usually quite palatable and stock will preferentially graze it. This often means a higher energy expenditure while they ‘chase’ the green. Due to their greatly increased requirements, ewes and cows in late pregnancy or lactation often suffer the most grazing a green pick, with problems such as pregnancy toxaemia (energy deficiency), hypocalcaemia (calcium deficiency) and dystocia.
How can we help?
First and foremost, it is important to make sure energy needs are met. A starchy grain such as barley can also help balance out some of the nitrogen in the green feed. Rumen fermentation also relies on a supply of such sugars so supplementation can improve rumen function and, therefore, digestion as a whole.
From here, we can continue to balance the green feed out. Avoid adding any extra high nitrogen feeds, such as urea and high protein legume supplements. Good quality cereal hay can slow the passage of feed through the rumen and improve digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Include a quality green feed supplement, such as Grazemax, that can provide critical minerals such as magnesium and some simple sugars. This will improve feed utilisation and help make the most of what you have.
Article written by Elders Burra livestock production advisor Emma Shattock.
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