Managing cattle in stock containment areas
A stock containment area (SCA) can be a very useful strategy for managing cattle in dry seasonal conditions. SCAs are proving to be particularly useful tools in the management of stock nutrition and maintaining a level of ground cover.
A SCA is a carefully selected, fenced section of the property which is set up to periodically hold, feed and water livestock. Protection of soils and pasture resources during adverse seasonal conditions, drought or other emergencies is the primary use of a SCA. However, they can be used as part of general farm management to manage seasonal challenges or general husbandry tasks, such as weaning.
There are a few basics that need to be followed, to maximise the success of a SCA, starting with site selection. Choose a site that can be retained as a permanent structure, somewhere that is centrally located or that is near infrastructure such as laneways and yards. This will help to drought-proof the farm in the future and allow you to utilise the SCA at different times of the year. The site should also be well drained (on a slight slope) and have access to a good quality, clean and reliable water supply.
Site selection is important to minimise pugging and impacts on waterways. It is preferable that water is provided to stock through troughs, rather than selecting a site that includes dams or natural waterways. The site also needs to be capable of handling moisture once the season breaks. Cattle may need to continue being held in the SCA until they can be released back onto pasture, at the appropriate grazing and leaf stage.
It is worth ensuring that your current or potential operations do not require a planning permit under planning reforms including land use definitions, that came into effect in September 2018. A SCA fits with the grazing animal production land use definition and includes emergency, seasonal and supplementary feeding as well as the incidental penning, feeding and housing of animals for weaning or other husbandry purposes. However, an intensive animal production permit may be required for land used for animal production where the animals’ feed is imported from outside the immediate building, enclosure, paddock or pen. Cattle feedlots are a specific type of intensive beef production system with all feed being provided to cattle in pens. Cattle feedlots are defined in, and must comply with, the Victorian Code for Cattle Feedlots (1995) as well as any planning requirements through the responsible authority being local government
Additionally, any fixed feeding infrastructure will require a planning permit for building and works if it is located within 100 meters of a dwelling in separate ownership, residential zones, the Urban Growth Zone, waterways, wetlands or a designated floodplain (as defined by the Water Act 1996 and its amendments).
Producer planning guidelines for beef farm developments can also be obtained from your local Agriculture Victoria office or by contacting the author.
Once you have selected a site and you have all necessary permit requirements sorted, the next component is to think about the design of the area. The SCA should have good reliable fencing, noting that cattle are likely to push up against or rub on fences and posts. The area should be a minimum of 10–15 square metres per head for cattle.
The pen should be limited to manageable numbers, with a maximum desirable number for optimum welfare and husbandry being 160 cattle per pen. Different classes of cattle should be in separate pens, to make management easier and ensure that cattle are getting appropriate feed
The overall layout of the area should also be considered to allow ease of access and feeding, watering and cleaning troughs which should be done daily. Suggested layouts can be found in chapter 8 of the beef cattle drought book along with other tips like placing water troughs at the opposite end of the pen to feed trough and consider placing feeding infrastructure near the edge of the pen to make feeding from outside of the pen possible.
Feeding and nutrition
The Drought Feeding and Management Book for beef cattle is a great resource to help you determine cattle nutritional requirements and formulate appropriate feeding options. They are available electronically on the Feeding Livestock website along with a range of handy tools and calculators to help manage feeding you cattle. It is important to understand the nutritional requirements for each group of animals to ensure they are fed adequately to meet the necessary maintenance and production levels. The most important nutritional limitations to production are generally energy, protein and fibre, although don’t forget mineral or vitamin deficiencies can also have an effect.
While feeding to maintain dry stock is the easiest form of feeding, feeding to maintain production and growth of young cattle is important for the lifetime production of that animal. Feeding cattle in a SCA is a commitment and before cattle enter a SCA it would be advisable to assess your personal and business capabilities to feed and monitor stock daily for an extended period. Some factors to include are staff availability, supplementary feed on-hand, financial status of the business to secure additional feed, and availability of feed. An assessment of the business and staff may help to identify which stock are given priority feeding in the SCA, be it breeding stock to maintain the herd or sale stock to provide a cashflow to the business.
Animal health concerns
The management of animal health issues is vital to the success of a SCA. Most health issues are preventable with good management. All animals should be up to date with a 7 in 1 vaccination and drench schedules. Vaccination should occur on entry and worm burdens should be regularly monitored. Good management of the feeding process and any change in feed, along with an awareness of the signs and symptoms of acidosis (grain poisoning), salmonella and coccidiosis will help mitigate the health issues commonly seen in SCA’s. Cattle should be inspected at least daily and if signs and symptoms of disease become evident in the mob, always seek veterinary advice. Chapter 9 of the beef cattle drought book has descriptions of many of the main animal health issues see in dry periods and SCA’s.
Additional links for management of SCA: