Meeting energy requirements of a cow herd

Drought conditions continue to stress cattle operations in the Ozarks. Even though some areas have felt some reprieve due to a bit of rain, forage supplies are still short on most operations. During these times, producers who can keep their animals are finding new ways to meet the nutritional demands of their herds.

High-Energy Supplements

When cattle are unable to get the calories they need from forages, they will need to be fed some type of supplement for them to maintain their body condition. Livestock specialists recommend utilizing byproduct feeds that are high in energy. Feeds such as distillers grains, soybean hulls, wheat middlings and corn gluten are all viable alternatives. Corn also serves as a good source of extra energy, but it typically costs more than byproduct feeds. Producers may want to choose a supplement feed according to its price. 

Balancing Rations

County extension agents or other experts can help producers develop a ration balancing program. “If producers are going to keep their animals, they can formulate a diet to meet that animal’s energy requirements with a byproduct feed and low amounts of forage,” Ken Coffey, Ph.D., professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas, said. 

Producers should look at this type of feeding program as a way to provide for the animal’s caloric demands, instead of looking at feed and forage as a percentage of an animal’s diet. For example, distillers grains contain twice the energy content compared to forages. “Their (a cow’s) energy requirement is ultimately so many calories a day, whether you meet that with 10 pounds of distillers grains or 20 pounds of hay or forage, as long as you are meeting those calorie demands you have met their requirements and they actually perform well,” Coffey explained.

However, concentrate feed won’t make cattle feel full. In this type of feeding program, cattle will be and act hungry even though their nutritional demands are being met. 

In addition, research trials conducted by the University of Arkansas found cattle that were given a small amount of forage and had the rest of their nutritional needs met with a supplemental byproduct feed, kept their body condition and maintained production performance. 

Forage management

During drought conditions, cows can burn more calories than they take in by trying to graze short grass. Recent rains have caused some pastures to start to grow again. However, allowing cattle to graze grass that is just beginning to grow can create several problems. If cattle are grazing a low stand of Johnson grass, then they could contract prussic acid poisoning. 

Additionally, grass that is overgrazed or grazed before it reaches four to five inches, impacts its ability to flourish. “We need to let it regrow a little bit, let it get up four or five inches or so and let it build some sugar reserves before we turn out on it and ultimately, we will end up getting more production out of our grass that way,” Coffey stated.

The practice of letting grass in pastures grow before letting cattle graze also benefits the herd. If there isn’t enough grass or very little grass, cattle will spend hours grazing and still not get enough to eat. “When they do that, they will lose weight because they are not getting enough energy in the amount of forage that is out there,” Coffey explained.

During these current weather conditions, livestock experts advise producers take the time to evaluate the needs of their cattle, develop a plan to meet their animals’ daily energy requirements and thoughtfully manage their fields.  


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