Phos­pho­rus sup­ple­ments study shows big prom­ise

Field trial shows strong weight, health ben­e­fits

Central and North Rural Weekly - - CATTLE NUTRITION - KIRILI LAMB kirili.lamb@ru­ral­

A HEALTHY 268 per cent re­turn on in­vest­ment, and a 120-kilo­gram live weight dif­fer­en­tial. These are some mighty num­bers.

Many soils of north­ern Aus­tralia are typ­i­cally de­fi­cient in phos­pho­rus, im­pact­ing weight gain and fer­til­ity.

Phos­pho­rus feed sup­ple­ments to counter this are not a new thing, but for the first time the ben­e­fits of wet sea­son sup­ple­men­ta­tion of heifers and calves are be­ing quan­ti­fied, pro­duc­ing some en­tic­ing data from a four-year trial at the Vic­to­ria River re­search sta­tion, also known as Kid­man Springs, south-west of Kather­ine.

Tim Schatz, prin­ci­pal live­stock re­search of­fi­cer with North­ern Ter­ri­tory Depart­ment of Pri­mary Industries and Re­sources, pre­sented re­sults from the study, ex­plor­ing the ef­fects of phos­pho­rus sup­ple­men­ta­tion on brah­man fe­males at a field day held at Kid­man Springs this month.

Mr Schatz said the study had been able to suc­cess­fully quan­tify the pro­duc­tion and eco­nomic ben­e­fits of wet sea­son phos­pho­rus sup­ple­ments.

“Now we are start­ing to put some fig­ures on the cost-ben­e­fit of phos­pho­rus sup­ple­men­ta­tion, and we can tell pro­duc­ers how many ex­tra kilo­grams of calves get weaned, what the im­prove­ment in preg­nancy rates are, and how many more heifers die when you don’t sup­ple­ment them. It’s tak­ing a lot of the guess­work out of it,” Mr Schatz said.

The study saw wet sea­son phos­pho­rus sup­ple­ments de­liv­ered via min­eral loose lick to a P+ group but not to the P- group since 2014, with both groups pas­tured in acutely phos­pho­rus de­fi­cient pad­docks, and swap­ping pad­docks each year.

The re­sults of the study, show­ing dra­mat­i­cally im­proved body con­di­tion in phos­pho­rus-sup­ple­mented heifers, could have some sig­nif­i­cant out­comes for the qual­ity of the North­ern Aus­tralia herd.

Mr Schatz said be­ing able to see that im­pres­sive hard data on re­turn on in­vest­ment, rather than sim­ply re­ly­ing on anec­do­tal re­ports, would hope­fully lead to in­creased use of the sup­ple­ments by North­ern Aus­tralian beef cat­tle pro­duc­ers in ar­eas where phos­pho­rus lev­els are typ­i­cally low.

“It’s mas­sive, re­ally: when you see a 120kg dif­fer­ence in live weight be­tween heifers when they wean their calves: be­cause live weight is a big de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in whether they will get back in calf again,” he said.

“You see these big dif­fer­ences in preg­nancy and wean­ing rates, and then it all flows through into the kilo­grams of calves that you wean from each treat­ment,

the dif­fer­ences are mas­sive.

“The calves are sig­nif­i­cantly heav­ier, so that’s more prof­its for pro­duc­ers.”

The strong re­sults from the study have ex­ceeded the re­searchers’ ex­pec­ta­tions.

“We didn’t ex­pect the re­sult to be as big as it has been,” Mr Schatz said. “I ex­pected a dif­fer­ence, but when you see the un-sup­ple­mented ones com­pared to the sup­ple­mented ones when you go to wean the calves, the dif­fer­ence in body con­di­tion, it just slaps you in the face it’s so big.”

While grass is plen­ti­ful and high in pro­tein dur­ing the wet sea­son, phos­pho­rus is lim­it­ing. How­ever, the wet sea­son tends to pre­sent some lo­gis­ti­cal dra­mas for pro­duc­ers, such as get­ting bogged, or swollen creeks cut­ting ac­cess.

Com­bine that with a lack of data around the real re­turn on in­vest­ment of mak­ing sure the sup­ple­ment is de­liv­ered, and it’s un­der­stand­ably dis­cour­aged many pro­duc­ers from us­ing the prod­uct dur­ing the wet sea­son.

“Lots of pro­duc­ers, when they re­alise the ben­e­fit, are find­ing ways to get the sup­ple­ment out, whether it’s by putting dumps of it out there in the dry sea­son to feed out dur­ing the wet, or putting bulk bags out at the start of the wet,” he said.

An im­por­tant first step was to prop­erly as­sess whether sta­tion soils were in fact phos­pho­rus de­fi­cient, as the sup­ple­ment would not de­liver ben­e­fits if phos­pho­rus lev­els on prop­erty were al­ready ad­e­quate.

Cat­tle blood tests for in­or­ganic phos­pho­rus are cur­rently the most ac­cu­rate way to de­ter­mine phos­pho­rus lev­els on site.

“In re­ally broad terms, if you know the coun­try type, and if the soils are typ­i­cally low in phos­pho­rus, and if you look at the cat­tle and your first calf heifers are re­ally skinny when you wean the calves, and have brit­tle bones, then you’re al­most cer­tain to ben­e­fit from some phos­pho­rus

❝ The calves are sig­nif­i­cantly heav­ier, so that’s more prof­its for pro­duc­ers.

— Tim Schatz

sup­ple­men­ta­tion,” he said.

The study will soon en­ter a fol­low-on phase, at Kather­ine Re­search Sta­tion, look­ing at gen­er­a­tional ef­fects of phos­pho­rus up­take.

“We are won­der­ing what the in utero, or carry-over ef­fects are, from be­ing born from moth­ers that have low phos­pho­rus sta­tus,” he said.

“We are start­ing a trial shortly where we are go­ing to put the calves from both treat­ment [P+ and P-] into a pen feeding trial and com­pare their per­for­mance.”


EX­CEL­LENT RE­SULTS: Tim Schatz, Prin­ci­pal Live­stock Re­search Of­fi­cer with NTDPIR.


P- test group, first calf heifers in Fe­bru­ary 2017.


AREA OF NEED: Phos­pho­rus lev­els.


P+ Test group, first calf heifers Fe­bru­ary 2017.

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