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Drought, Grazing and Cattle: What Are the Warning Signs?

17 March 2015

Pasture condition is paramount for keeping production costs in check - here are some warning signs from an Australian expert.

Supplementing, feed labels, drought feeding and range seasonality are all issues that can help graziers maximise returns from grazing, according to Desiree Jackson a nutritionist with Meat and Livestock Australia's EDGE programme. 


  • Proportion of green leaf relative to dry leaf: the more green feed cattle are able to select, the closer they are to meeting their nutrient requirements.
  • Leaf:stem ratio: when this declines, diet quality will decline quickly. Most of the nutrients are in the leaf component of plants. The stems are largely comprised of indigestible structural carbohydrates that are difficult to digest, and therefore low in energy and protein. Even if you have green stem, it has little nutritional value.


  • Loss of condition: if cattle are showing visible signs of weight loss, they have been on the weight loss track for a while. Using changes in animal condition as an initial indicator of when they become deficient is like shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
  • Depraved appetite or pica: this is when animals consume material such as bones, soil, or other unusual material not consistent with a normal diet. This will occur when cattle are either phosphorus or protein-deficient, and it is important to determine which one it is. Other signs of a nutrient deficiency include licking urine from other animals and grazing species that normally livestock find unpalatable.
  • Rough coat
  • Change in appearance of dung: harder, darker in colour, presence of longer fibres in dung can indicate nutritional deficiencies.

Funded by MLA, Nutrition EDGE is tailored to producer conditions and enterprise management and is designed to equip producers to make decisions to help achieve herd performance targets through improved fertility, weight gains, optimal use of supplements and overall management.

Mrs Jackson will be presenting more aspects of "nutritional know-how" at two producer events later this month in Queensland and Western Australia. 

During the workshop producers will learn about:

  • the nutritional requirements of livestock
  • estimating the feed value of pasture
  • what supplements to use
  • how to read a feed label
  • how to save money on drought feeding
  • making better management decisions for a range of seasonal conditions

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