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Why is forage budgeting important?

What is a forage budget?

A forage budget is a series of calculations that allows you to determine the quantity of palatable feed available for grazing stock at a point in time and compare that with the amount of feed those stock will require for a defined period of time.

Forage budgets can be calculated for varying periods of time from a day to a season or for a year. They are, however, most commonly used at the end of a growing season to work out whether there is enough feed on hand to carry grazing stock until after the commencement of the next growing season.

Why should I complete a forage budget?

The purpose of doing a forage budget is to match forage supply (the amount of pasture available in the paddock) with forage demand (the number of livestock in the paddock) for the grazing period in question, to ensure stock don’t run out of feed, and that land condition is maintained or improved.

A dry season forage budget is calculated to match the amount of feed that is available in the paddock at the end of the growing season (April/May) with livestock feed requirements over the dry season.

Completing a dry season forage budget allows us to get an early warning of whether available feed is going to last the stock until after there has been rainfall resulting in sufficient pasture growth. This is referred to as the ‘production point’ and is typically 2 to 6 weeks after the break of season, depending on locality and soil type. This means that if there is not enough feed on hand in the paddock, a decision can be made to sell stock before reaching a “crisis point”. That is, the point at which there is no longer any feed available, and you are faced with having to sell livestock when there are likely to be many others in the same situation. Forage budgeting may also eliminate the need to feed high amounts of energy supplements.

The process of forage budgeting can also allow you to forecast whether you have extra feed on hand and whether purchasing livestock to take advantage of that extra feed might be an option for improving the profitability of your operation.

If you have a woody weed problem, forage budgeting can help to ensure you leave enough pasture in the paddock in spring or early summer so that you can get a fire with enough heat to kill those woody weeds. Also, ensuring pastures remain productive and healthy, in good condition, means they will compete more strongly with emerging pasture weeds and woody weeds and hopefully, reduce their incidence.

Most importantly, matching the forage supply with the demand from the livestock and ensuring we leave an appropriate level of residual pasture in the paddocks after grazing, will ensure a good level of ground cover is maintained and that land condition is not impacted negatively.