Drought feeding alternatives

Protein supplements

Each winter/dry season the protein content of most of Queensland´s pastures fall below that required to support animal production. The low protein levels also reduce intake of pasture, resulting in a deficiency of energy. This deficiency can be overcome by feeding a protein supplement. Protein supplements that are commonly used are:

  • commercial preparations such as blocks, loose mixes and liquids
  • urea/molasses roller drums
  • vegetable protein meals
  • adding urea to the drinking water.

For these supplements to be effective, there must be an adequate supply of dry pasture available.

Producers should aim to feed 100 g of protein per day to weaners and 150 g to breeders.

Supplements for protein and energy

As the dry season/winter progresses pasture conditions will deteriorate to the stage where both protein and energy are below the level necessary to support animal production, such as pregnancy, lactation and growth. In this crisis situation there are several management practices that should be implemented before more intensive feeding commences. These practices include:

  • assessment of the available pasture quantity in relation to likely demand until the season will break
  • sale or agistment of cattle so that pastures are not overgrazed
  • early weaning to remove the pressure of lactation on breeders
  • pregnancy testing of all breeders where practical
  • segregation of cattle according to nutritional requirements and desired performance.

Supplements that can be used in this crisis situation to provide protein and energy are as follows.

1. Fortified molasses

Suggested mixes include:

  • molasses plus 8% urea (M8U)
  • molasses plus 3% urea and 10% vegetable protein meal.

M8U (molasses with 8% urea) is very bitter and the bitterness reduces the animals´ rate of intake. The urea should be very well mixed in a mechanical mixer. It is fed in open troughs.

2. Whole cottonseed

3. Grain

Grain is a valuable source of energy in a drought feed, but there are problems with feeding that need to be considered.

This is usually associated with introducing pasture fed cattle to grain and/or animals gorging on grain. It can be overcome to some degree by:

  • slow introduction
  • addition of bentonite to the ration
  • allowing sufficient trough space so that all animals can eat at one time
  • adding salt to the grain, which may reduce intake of the grain.

Even distribution throughout a mob
Where animals are not fed to appetite on grain they have the ability to eat more than 'their share'. This can be overcome by ensuring there is sufficient trough space for all animals to feed at once and by adding salt to the grain to slow intake. Grain can be fed on the ground on soils that have a hard surface.

Suggested rations
Many producers will not have sophisticated grain storage/mixing and feeding out equipment. This means that ease of handling and mixing a grain ration is paramount.

Grain alone
Where mixing is difficult and large numbers of cattle have to be fed, this may be the best option. This ration would be best fed in small heaps on the ground.

Grain mix

  • Grain: 93%, 40 kg
  • Bentonite: 3.5%, 1.5 kg
  • Urea: 2.5%, 1 kg
  • GranAm: 1%, 0.5 kg

To feed this ration, place the grain in an open trough. Dissolve the urea and GranAm in a watering can and sprinkle over the grain then add the bentonite. The bentonite will stick to the grain that is wet from the urea/gran am/water mix. Care is needed if rain falls on this mixture.

Salt could be added to both the above rations to reduce/slow intake. The amount of salt to add would have to be determined for each group of cattle.

4. Homemade mixes

Homemade mixes are an alternative that should be considered. A mix suitable for much of Queensland could include:

  • Cracked grain: 57 kg
  • Salt: 30 kg
  • Urea: 8 kg
  • GranAm: 3 kg
  • DCP or Kynofos: 2 kg
  • Bentonite: 3 kg
  • Rumensin 100: 0.05 kg

    Total: 103.05 kg

This mix can also have 2 kg of cement added to set the mix to prevent overeating. It can be fed in open troughs, preferably under cover or open ended so that water can drain away during rain.

Salt is included in this mix to control intake, therefore the amount of salt should be varied to obtain the desired intake. Salt may have to be removed altogether in areas where cattle are "salt hungry".

Each of these crisis feeds generally require some specialised equipment to allow ease of handling and feeding out for large numbers of stock.


Feeding meals rendered from animals such as meatmeal, bloodmeal and fishmeal to cattle is illegal. Penalties of up to $15,000 can be incurred.

Further information