Wet spring poses nutritional concerns for livestock

Following recent wet conditions, farmers need to be particularly focused on management tools to aid animal health through nutrition.

“It has been unseasonably wet and cold in recent weeks, and livestock are at risk of suffering’ if farmers do not ensure their nutritional needs are met,” said Dr Elizabeth Berry BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, Animax Company Veterinary Director. “It is imperative that farmers understand what requirements their livestock have in order to maximize productivity.

“To simplify this, I break it down into four categories; energy, protein, water and other. The first three are absolutely critical for survival and this year’s ground and growing conditions are proving a challenge for providing energy and protein. The fourth category relates to factors such as trace elements, and diseases, that make significant differences in animal performance.

“Much land is underwater or sodden, and grass growth has been very limited. In many areas, animals are in need ofsupplementation and I am aware this is causing serious concerns throughout the country as forage stocks are low.

“The cold weather is also affecting the uptake of trace elements, and in addition to the limited growth, nutritional value of grass is much lower than normally expected in April. But don’t overlook the detail – make sure you address this, and itwill result in an improved year ahead.

“Sheep and cattle are at high risk from soil contamination at grazing this spring, particularly from soil ‘splash’. Taking in more soil in the diet can result in an increase in antagonists – other compounds that affect uptake and availability of minerals in the diet.

“Particularly in current conditions, we must also consider the key antagonists that affect trace elements as these may be more significant this year. For example, the key copper antagonists are iron, molybdenum and sulphur, which reduce theavailability of dietary copper.

“Alongside this, low levels of essential macro minerals for example magnesium can result in grass staggers or grass tetany. The prolonged winter weather also increases the stress particularly on the new-born and young.  This can result in more conditions such as white muscle disease, where a lack of selenium and vitamin E can be factors. As you can see, there’s a whole range of conditions that could see an increase in health issues this year unless addressed.

“Remember, trace elements are essential for cell metabolism which affects energy production, growth, reproduction and the nervous system – so have a significant impact on animal performance.

“In what is proving to be an incredibly challenging year already, I believe farmers need to look at balancing their animal’snutrition by using proven products. Trace elements can be given in a slow release bolus – which offers a reliable and consistent supply. It is an easy way of addressing this issue and will give peace of mind by reducing uncertainty this year.

“Also, by balancing the diet correctly, you will maximise the benefits of forages or grass. The efficiency of your nutrition will also increase, especially if you have the added expense of buying in forage at this time. It will be particularlyimportant that it is utilised effectively,” she added.

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.