While pastures are greening up, producers should remember there are still nutritional gaps

Spring is an exciting time of year on the farm, but it can also be a time of delicate management to ensure livestock are receiving proper nutrition while not jumping the gun on turning livestock out to pasture on delicate spring growth.

The 2018 drought created a host of management problems for producers, the effects of which are still being felt as producers in the Ozarks try to bridge the nutritional gap between running out of hay and when forage in drought-damaged pastures will be hardy enough to sustain warm-season grazing.

The first step toward bridging the nutritional gap is understanding how much feed a herd actually needs to guarantee maximum efficiency without wasting money or time.

“I would encourage producers to first take a look at how much feed they need. I would plan for 30 more days of supplement, although with the wet winter and rapidly rising temperatures, we could see the grass come on quickly,” Dr. Eric Bailey, livestock nutritionist with the University of Missouri Extension said.

He advised that the next question to answer would be “is there any hay left?” If so, he recommended 5 to 6 pounds of supplemented feed per day, every day and said that should be enough for both spring and fall calving cows. He also advised that if there is little to no hay left, producers should double that recommendation.

Once the amount of feed or byproducts needed is determined, there are options for ensuring cattle receive the nutrition they need to maintain optimum performance.

“The most common is to use a mixed ration that contains a roughage substitute and formulated to meet nutrient needs of the animal,” Dr. Shane Gadberry, professor of ruminant nutrition at the University of Arkansas, said.

“Cattle producers often rely on ingredients like cotton byproducts for roughage substitution. Feeds like poultry bedding waste or rice mill feed are used as fillers to add volume to the diet and mixed with corn, soybean hulls or other byproducts to correct nutritional deficiencies. Poultry bedding waste can be high in crude protein but low in energy. This gets a lot of producers into trouble if they don’t add corn or soybean hulls to the diet when feeding poultry bedding waste. Rice mill feed is low in both protein and energy. When trying to fill forage gaps, working with a livestock nutritionists is critical to accomplish goals.”

Another option to bridge the gap while pastures are getting established or reestablished is to feed a high concentrate diet to the herd.

“An example would be instead of feeding gestating cows all they can eat of a total mixed ration, which will result in each cow eating 25 pounds or more of feed, the cows are restricted to a diet that provides the same nutrient supply in 15 pounds of feed. Each cow is consuming 10 pounds less but getting the same total nutrient supply,” Gadberry said. This method, along with limiting access to the hay producers are currently working with can keep cows in good shape while reducing waste.

“A few years ago, during drought, researchers here in Arkansas studied feeding cows about 12 pounds of soybean hulls and limiting the number of hours cows had access to hay. This is practical for those that aren’t equipped to mixed feed and have hay to stretch. The study helped non-lactating cows maintain performance, but we also learned cows can eat a lot of hay within an hour. Other research has shown hay waste can really go up with more than three hours access.”

The cost of adding byproducts or other feedstuffs to a nutritional program will vary based on type of supplement and the amount required (it’s worth it to keep cattle in good condition), but producers should bear in mind that it is always cheaper to buy in bulk.

“The cost of these supplements is reasonable, but there is a markup associated with taking small quantities,” Bailey said. He added that producers are “likely looking at least at $40 per ton increase for taking smaller quantities rather than taking an entire semi load.”

Bailey strongly encouraged producers to take the time and investment to bridge the nutritional gap for their herds, expressing concern that simply turning cattle out to pick at and forage for whatever green shoots they can find will have disastrous results for performance during spring pregnancy checks. Keeping up good body condition is necessary for cattle health, producer profits and long-term success.


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