Drought feeding

Drought Feeding Basics

Given the ongoing dry conditions across Eastern Australia, we have many clients considering what options they have with regard to keeping their stock alive until this drought ends.

We recommend that you consider all your options before you commence a drought feeding program. We invite you to contact one of our staff to assist you to run the numbers.

With drought feeding, each producer’s situation is going to be slightly different dependent on the type and class of stock, the number of stock, the amount and quality of paddock feed and what feed reserves they have on hand.

Drought Action Plan

Firstly, as livestock owners, you have a duty of care to your livestock, so it is not an option to do nothing.

You need a drought action plan, which includes the following considerations and steps.

  • What is my current financial position?
  • What is the climate outlook, how long will we have to feed?
  • What are my additional feed requirements?
  • What are the costs of the various feed sources and which are the most cost effective?
  • At this point you may have to review your plan and look at options of selling some stock, sourcing agistment, utilising stock routes, etc.
  • Prepare a cashflow budget to project your likely financial requirements.
  • Ensure that all family members and staff are included in the formation and ongoing management of the drought plan.

Feeding Stock During a Drought

The aim of feeding stock in a drought is to maintain weight in dry stock, and to meet the requirements of late pregnant and lactating stock. Lambs and weaners need to grow sufficiently so that they do not suffer permanent checks. Other targets can be selected (for example, fattening of stock for quick sale) if a producer judges them appropriate. Feed levels can then be adjusted for these aims.

Selecting the types and amounts of feeds to give stock during a drought involves five steps:

  • Calculating total energy and protein requirements of each class of stock.
  • Assessing how much can be met from pasture and or crop residues.
  • Calculating which available and suitable fodder/s are cheapest (which feed?).
  • Calculating the amount and cost of the selected feed.
  • Assessing water requirements
  • Monitoring the individual mobs and adjusting rations up or down.

The two main situations facing producers now are paddocks with dry grass and paddocks with no grass. We will provide some fundamentals for these two scenarios.

Property with Dry Grass:

If you still have grass coverage in the paddock, this is good.  The problem is that generally it will be low in protein.  For stock to make the most of this dry feed, they need to be supplemented with a mix which includes urea, to stimulate the microbes in the rumen by supplying a source of microbial or Non-Protein Nitrogen (NPN).

Remember when supplementing urea: urea can and will kill livestock if it is consumed too quickly, so care must be taken.

Supplements that do include NPN:

  • Anipro – This is a molasses-based supplement with varying amounts of urea, blended by accredited distributors to ensure optimum stock performance.
  • Lick Blocks – generally only used for short periods.
  • Loose Mixes – these mixes can be cost effective and are often custom made for individual nutritional requirements.

Property with No Grass:

When the grass reserves have been depleted, feeding options become more complex and expensive.  Now roughage must be provided in the form of hay or silage, as well as supplementing to provide the appropriate levels of energy and protein.

Total Drought Ration for Sheep

The following table indicates weekly maintenance energy requirements and minimum dietary protein concentrations for different classes of sheep, assuming no paddock feed is available. Check ration adjustments for allowances needed for larger breeds and setting your own rations for more detail. The example rations are in kg per head per week.

Class of Stock Energy MJ/Week Crude Protein %DM Feed Ration Kg/hd/wk
Adult dry sheep (40-60 kg LW)

Medium – Large Frame

42 - 57 6 Wheat or,

Oats or,

Hay (Avg)

3.5 – 4.7

4.0 – 5.7

6.0 – 8.5

Pregnant Ewe Last 4-6 weeks before lambing (40-60 kg LW) 62 - 84 8 Wheat or,

Oats or,

Hay (Avg)

5.0 - 5.5

5.6 – 6.0

7.0 - 10

Ewes with lamb at foot (40 – 60 kg LW) 84 - 120 10 Wheat or,

Oats or,

Hay (Avg)

7.0 – 8.5

9.0 – 10

10 - 14

Lambs Early Weaned <15kg and gain 1-2 kg/wk


35  12 Grain ¾

+ Lupins ¼

+ Hay 10%



Lambs Weaned > 15 kg 35 10 Wheat or,


+ Hay




Source: Drought Feeding and Management of Sheep, DPI Vic 2015

Total Drought Ration for Cattle

The basic feed requirements for maintenance feeding of cattle during drought need to be considered:

  • Cattle normally consume around 3% of their bodyweight per day. During maintenance feeding this may drop back to 2%, but will depend on the quality of the supplemented feed.
  • Protein levels should be maintained at around 10%.
  • Energy will be provided with a combination of grain and hay.


This table provides a guide to the quantities and quality of feed that need to be fed to various classes of cattle when grass levels are very low:

Class of Stock Grain (12 ME) 


Hay (8.5 ME) 


Grain (80%):Hay (20%)


Weaners (200 – 250 kg) 2.5 – 3.0 3.5 – 4.0 2.5 – 3.0
Dry Stock (400 kg) 4.0 6.0 4.5
Breeders, Pregnant (425 kg) 5.0 8.5 6.5

The feed quantities are kg per head per day ‘as fed’.

Source: Primefact 295, full hand feeding of beef cattle, Bill McKiernan, Production Research, Orange 2007

Current issues:

One of the issues facing producers during this drought is that hay is in very short supply and becoming very expensive. Therefore, producers may have to reduce the amount of hay used in their ration and substitute this with grain, which is at a similar price but currently far more accessible. Alternatively, cotton seed is becoming readily available, and while producers need to be aware of some restrictions to its use, it can be an ideal supplement to maximise use of dry feed. More information at:


For further information and discussion, volumes of information is organised and filtered for you at farmtable.com.au. Farm Table is the first national platform that brings together the Australian Agricultural industry’s knowledge and connects farmers in a way never seen before. A good place to start would be at: