Providing Mineral Supplementation via Water (Producer Demonstration Sites)

Supplementation of extensively managed beef breeding herds is beneficial to overcome mineral deficiencies. However, mineral supplements and their delivery are expensive and thus supplementation decisions should be carefully made to ensure that the benefits in terms of cow performance exceed supplementation costs.

Supplementation via water medication is one of the cheaper methods and addresses issues of shy feeding and gorging. Furthermore, providing consistent phosphorus (P) supplementation to cattle during the wet-season can be challenging when paddocks are often inaccessible for long periods of time, and many forms of P supplements need to be protected from rainfall.

This PDS is investigating whether supplemental P can be effectively provided through water medication systems.

Urea can also be supplemented through water medication when properly managed, permitting urea supplementation to continue after the dry season. This would allow remote management and delivery of supplement throughout the wet season, in turn; providing more regulated, consistent supplement and increasing efficiency. However, the effectiveness of water medication through the wet season is unknown, as cattle are often able to utilise surface water and may not frequently return to the water trough. There is also a low rate of adoption of this technology and it requires a certain level of management and technical skills to maintain.

Objectives:

  • Demonstrate successful year-round supplementation via water medication at a commercial scale without negatively impacting the productivity of breeders.
  • Demonstrate cost effective supplementation using water medication to address phosphorus deficiency during the wet season.
  • Conduct a cost benefit analysis to determine the relative economic performance of automatic electronic water supplementation compared to the existing method of supplementation on individual properties.
  • Use GPS livestock tracking equipment to investigate the frequency of access to water medication supplements by livestock during the wet and dry seasons.
  • Increase the awareness, knowledge and confidence of NT producers in water medication systems through various extension platforms and events.

Producer Demonstration Sites

In 2021, two MLA producer demonstration sites were established in collaboration with the Northern Territory Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade (DITT) and DIT AgTech. Water medication units have been installed on each property for the ‘medicated’ groups, with DIT AgTtech maintaining the units throughout the trial. These units are calibrated to supply the target phosphorus intake of seven grams per cow/per day, and will provide feedback allowing the actual P intake to be estimated at a mob level.

At the Barkly region site, 332 breeders have been inducted into the project, with half being assigned to the ‘medicated’ group, and half assigned to the ‘control’ group which will be supplemented using the property’s current practice (loose lick mineral supplementation). At the Katherine region site, 223 breeders have been assigned to the ‘medicated’ group and 149 assigned to the ‘control’ group.

When inducted into the trial, animals were weighed, body condition scored and a base phosphorus status was determined by collecting blood samples from 50 animals from each group to measure plasma inorganic phosphorus (PiP). Ten animals from each treatment group were fitted with GPS collars scheduled to record location every five minutes, the data from which will show the proximity of animals to the trough. The amount of supplement distributed to each group is being recorded to assess the costs of each method.

During the first-round musters of 2022, the weight, body condition scores and PiP will be analysed to provide wet-season results. Weaning rate will be calculated and the breeders will be pregnancy tested to determine re-conception rate. Wet-season GPS data will be used to show the utilisation of the trough. Preliminary results will be summarised and available by July 2022.

Contact details

For more information, contact Stacey Holzapfel, Livestock Extension Officer on (08) 8973 9730


Project articles

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