Five Steps To Get Set For Spring

1. Plan Your Kill Targets

As you start to enter Spring and see signs of growth from your animals and grass, it’s good to think about the plan for your weaner kill and how to achieve those targets most efficiently and effectively possible.

There’s some truth to the saying “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” (Benjamin Franklin).

Having clear kill targets keeps you on track to ensure you measure the metrics that matter most to maximise the productivity and profitability of your farming operation.

2. Concentrating On Contracts

Now most companies have a contract of some description out for supply and price until Christmas, which makes it an excellent time to consider what you are able and prefer to do in terms of kill profile.

We all farm in different environments with different feedings regimes, different integrated stock classes and different types of stock; therefore, naturally, our kill profiles will vary. Given there is estimated pricing available (in the form of guaranteed minimum prices), we can all work out margins and profitability of killing deer at certain times.

There are always other factors to take into account too. For example, if I kill weaners in October instead of December due to low profitability through November, what can I replace those mouths with that will produce more income? Does this have a positive or negative flow-on effect on other parts of the business or stock classes?

Whatever we decide to do about killing our venison animals, it’s always good to commit supply to a company.

While we understand there will always be debates on getting the best price on the day and losing flexibility, this allows the processor greater certainty in forwarding selling products, locking in currency exchange and making sure customers don’t run out of product, to name a few things. This ultimately should mean a better return to the processor and, therefore, the farmer. It also means that kill space is guaranteed at times when full capacity is reached.

The non-committal supplier will always be pushed down the list from a loyal supplier who is given preferential and priority space. Building relationships is about give and take. Sometimes there‘s a need to be flexible, i.e., if you have a feed surplus or shortage. Good communication and compromise are essential for situations where we don’t supply the animals we said we would because feed is in surplus. You can’t then expect in fairness to get leverage or special treatment to fit more animals in earlier if you’re short on feed.

We would encourage you to build a close relationship with your processor to try and understand the market and how this might affect schedule prices over the season. This helps build the knowledge of what may happen in the future. Yes, it is a long way away, and no one can be certain. However, the more information you can gather on the subject, the greater chance you have of making a good, informed and better decision for your business.

3. Current Weights: weighing it all up

Scales never lie.

Take some weights or sample weights to establish where your animals are currently. If you do this year on year then you have something to look back on and compare, or benchmark, their progress or seasonal differences.

If you never take any weights, it is impossible to monitor the start and kill weight progress. Yearly comparisons also give you feedback about how factors affect your animals, such as feeding regimes, rotations, genetics, animal health and environment, or a combination of all.

Dairy farmers get feedback daily through the amount of milk going into the vat, so it makes sense for deer farmers to take at least a once-yearly opportunity for feedback on their systems.

With these benchmarks, you’ll be able to make the best and most informed decisions about your animals based on their progress.

4. Future Growth Rates – 3 factors to consider

Factor #1: Quality of feed

The better the quality of feed the animals are receiving, the faster the growth, we all know that. Things to look for, type of grass, AR1 or no endophyte ryegrass, length and growth stage of pasture, legume content and supplement level and quality.

Working out the economics of adding high ME supplements such as grain or nuts to the diet can sometimes be misleading. Sure we budget not to use them to save costs and make a decent margin, but they can be a useful tool if required. They can be used to fill a feed or quality deficit to stay on track for our killing targets.

If we miss these targets, the flow-on effect can be hard to quantify. For example, this may mean that hinds with fawns at foot don’t get fed as well as they should do, therefore, weaning weight and conception rate drop flowing through to next year’s income.

This means whilst it might feel hard to justify spending dollars based on this year’s schedule, we can’t let it impact next year’s production – given we have no clue what the schedule may look like then.

A small amount of high-quality feed can have a significant leverage effect on the overall diet, and therefore have a disproportionate live-weight gain benefit.

Factor #2: Length of feed

Having long enough grass is essential.

We always refer back to base principles of grazing being “Intake = bite size x bite rate x grazing time”. The bigger the bite size, the less pressure on the other factors to compensate. This often means leaving higher residuals and, if possible other livestock integration to help control quality.
Preference for grazing stimulates intake. The more feed is eaten, the more energy can be made available for growth.

Things that affect grazing preference can be the type of grass and endophyte status, legume content, length, freshness (for example, muddy paddocks after rain events or soiled from other stock).

At Melior, we find regular shifts stimulate intake.

Factor #3: Animal Health

Parasite burdens are different on every farming property.

The most reliable way to monitor burdens in the spring is to monitor growth rates and keep an eye on shitty hocks and coughing.

If you have a history of growth rates and aren’t reaching those levels, given that you can eliminate other feeding and environmental factors, chances are a parasite burden.

We now have a new tool in the toolbox, with the new triple active drench registered for use in deer being released shortly. While a triple active is not necessarily required, it should have far better coverage than the other registered single actives.

Responsible use of this drench is vital to secure its long-term efficacy; therefore, monitoring growth rates is the only real way to measure the results of all options.

5. Genetics & Feed Conversion Efficiency

Although an animal may be the same weight now as another animal and therefore consume the same quantity of feed, the growth rate can vary from the genetic effect each day.

If one animal is growing at 150g/day and another is growing at 250g/day while both consume the same amount of feed, we know which one we would rather have!

This genetic effect translates from feed conversion efficiency from genetics through to profit. The animal growing at 250g/day will either be heavier to kill on the same day as the other animal or kill earlier and therefore eat less feed total.

I hope these five steps help you get set for Spring.

To your success.