The free choice system: why your stock know best.
Your stock may know their needs better than you think. Below we look at what a free choice system is, why it works best, and how it improves your flock.
What is it?
A free choice system is basically what the name describes – giving your stock free choice over their nutrient supplements. In a nutshell, you provide stock with multiple sources of different nutrients, instead of one just one block or lick, and they freely choose what they need. There are some guidelines below about how to implement this for best results.
Why is it better?
Even since the 1920s, studies have repeatedly shown that when livestock are provided with a free range of protein, energy and minerals, and are allowed to decide the proportions of each for themselves, they significantly outperform others given only a single pre-mixed ration. This intuition makes sense as different animals will require different combinations of nutrients on any one day. When livestock have access to a protein source, a dry feed source, a phosphorus supplement, and a protozoal retardant (such as Bentobite), each animal can select exactly which combination of nutrients it needs at that time. Individual animals nutritional requirements can vary within the mob depending on various factors, such as: joining, pregnancy, lactation, weaning, seasonal conditions, and stress, to name a few. Each animal is enabled to consume and meet its exact nutritional requirements and therefore improve its health and productivity.
How is it going to benefit me? Won’t I be spending more money?
Firstly, no – instead, the free choice system can save you money and increase efficiency and returns at the same time. Using the indicator system and a range of blocks, rather than trying to force the animal to consume the nutrients they need in a fixed ration, allows each animal to meet their requirements and gives better production for less money. A combination of putting out three or four blocks doesn’t mean that you will use three to four times more supplements. Instead, it means they will go further, as individual blocks will only be consumed as required. Animals can chase different nutrients in specific blocks and meet their needs quicker, rather than chewing through one pre-mix block to get that one nutrient they are after.
The free choice system can also be used to indicate nutrient levels in pastures. For example, if you’ve placed a range of blocks out while stock are grazing pastures and a protein source such as Peak 50 is not being consumed, then you know the pasture is meeting their needs. However, when the livestock start to consume the Peak 50 block, it indicates the pasture is no longer providing enough protein, and more supplements need to be added, or the stock moved.
How do I implement this?
There are several ways to implement this system, but it’s a good idea to get the right range of nutrients. Here is an example from the Olssons range of a free choice system:
- Group 1: A multi-nutrient protein/urea supplement such as Dry Season 10% or Sulfos.
- Group 2: A bypass protein supplement for when animals are pregnant, lactating or weaning, or on dry pastures, such as Peak 50.
- Group 3: A sulphur and phosphorus (mineral) supplement to balance the rumen ecosystem and to stimulate fungal breakdown of coarse fibres, such as Superphos and 12% High Sulphur.
- Group 4: A bentonite supplement to increase the availability of bacterial protein such as Bentobite.
Once you have a system in place, it’s easy to maintain. Just replace the blocks that get consumed and don’t stress about the ones that aren’t consumed; it just means they don’t require them at that time. Leave the uneaten blocks there though. You will find the rate at which blocks are being consumed will vary greatly depending on the stock themselves, the season and the paddock.
For more information, head over to the Olssons website: www.olssons.com.au