DAYS are shorter, nights are colder and some farmers make the most of the opportunity to outwinter their livestock to reduce housing and feeding costs.

Although grazing brassicas like kale rape and their hybrid offer a huge opportunity to save on winter feed and housing costs, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) has issued a few simple tips to ensure that livestock stay healthy over the winter months.

HCC is currently investing in proactive animal health planning through its Stoc+ project, part of the wider Red Meat Development Programme, which is supported by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, and funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and Welsh Government.

According to latest veterinary advice, only fit and healthy animals should be considered for winter forage grazing with lean, lame or older stock having higher risk of health issues.

Successful outwintering hinges on regular monitoring of livestock condition and liveweight changes to reap the benefit of the system.

This ensures that feed allocation meets livestock needs at this time of year.

Grazed forage crops like brassicas and short-term grasses have high out-of-season yields with energy and protein levels equivalent to many concentrates.

Brassica crops like kale, rape hybrids and stubble turnips should be grazed with hay or silage available as a source of fibre and brassicas shouldn’t be more than 70 per cent of the diet.

Risk of health issues can be minimised by introducing the stock gradually, using a grass run back and ensuring that the key trace elements iodine, selenium and copper are balanced in the diet through appropriate supplements or boluses.

Heather McCalman, HCC’s programme delivery co-ordinator, advises: “Avoid grazing cattle on brassicas close to calving as there is a higher risk of hypocalcaemia and in late pregnancy, brassica phosphorous and magnesium may not be high enough.

"It is important to ensure that young cattle are at least 200kg and have a fully functioning rumen.

"Strip grazing with a long feed face increases utilisation and keeps costs low and reduces competition between animals.

“All grass wintering is a great way to keep stock on low-cost system that meets their maintenance needs.

"However, it is vital to check that body condition scores remain stable and keep an eye out for any livestock that do not cope well on the regime.

"Adjusting the areas allocated is likely to be needed as the winter progresses and ensuring the grass gets at least its 100 days rest is important for spring growth.”

HCC has further advice available on its website, Feeding the ewe for lifetime production.