Kern Hendrix, Department of Animal Sciences
Keith Johnson, Department of Agronomy
While there was an abundance of spring moisture, high temperatures and "spotty" showers during mid-summer have limited forage production in some areas of Indiana.
If in an area where pasture forage is becoming scarce, the following may be some alternatives for consideration.
Provide Supplemental Forage. Dry matter intake declines when forage height becomes less than three inches. The result is reduced weight gain, lowered milk production and loss of body condition. Fortunately, by late July, early August, most spring-calving cows should already be pregnant, thus conception rate should not be affected. Providing hay or silage is likely the first course of action followed by most producers.
Where possible, limit the grazable area while feeding supplemental forage to allow other pasture areas to rebound more quickly, especially, once moisture becomes more plentiful.
Creep Feed Nursing Calves. By mid to late summer, spring born calves are relying heavily upon grazable forage to meet their nutrient needs. When forage growth is limited it is very likely that neither energy nor protein needs are being met for optimal calf growth by pasture and milk. If either forage quality and/or quantity are limited, creep feeding of nursing calves should be considered. Creep feeding will prevent losses in calf gains and in weaning weight. In addition, creep-fed calves will require and consume less forage and milk, thereby reducing stress on the cow and the pasture.
A recommended creep mix is 85% cracked corn and 15% of a 40% protein supplement or soybean meal. Oats could be substituted for part of the corn, especially the first few days when starting calves on creep. If the mix contains more than one-third oats, the level of protein supplement or soybean meal could be reduced to 10 to 12% of the mix. Other ingredients for consideration include pelleted soybean hulls or dry corn gluten feed (dcgf). Recommended inclusion rates are 1/4 to 1/3 of the mix. Since dcgf contains approximately 20% crude protein, little or no additional protein may be needed.
Early Wean Calves. In cases of severe feed shortage, early weaning is a viable option, especially for cows that are in a weight and body condition loss situation. Early weaning lowers the cow's nutrient needs by 1/3 to 1/2, thus allowing her to maintain or gain body weight and condition on less, as well as lower quality feed. Calves, however, will require a high quality grain mix and forage to maintain adequate growth. The grain mix mentioned previously for creep feeding can be used for early weaning. Limit consumption to 1.5% of calf weight (i.e. 400 lbs = 6 lbs of mix) and free-choice feed a high quality grass-legume hay.
Rotational Graze. One of the advantages of rotational grazing as compared to continuous grazing is more efficient use of the forages in the pasture. If paddock number is three or greater, and moisture is not limiting in the spring, one-third to one-fourth of the land area can be made as hay in the spring for winter or emergency use situations. A rotational grazing system also permits an earlier start in the season and extends grazing later in the fall. While the timing of this drought may limit much advantage of switching to a rotational grazing system this year, it is worthy of consideration for future years.
Graze Hay Fields. Re-growth on many hay fields has been limited by the dry weather and might be best used as pasture if the field is fenced or can be easily fenced, and water provided without too much difficulty. Use bloat-prevention strategies if the forages (alfalfa, red clover, white clover, etc.) can cause bloat.
Fall Calving Herds. It is likely that body flesh condition is still adequate on most fall-calving cows. However, nutrient needs are rapidly increasing as cows are approaching calving in September and October. Watch closely that cows do maintain at least a body condition score of five at and after calving. Also, it is critical that fall-calving cows not go into the breeding and winter periods in thin body condition. Supplemental energy and protein will be needed if fall pasture re-growth is less than normal and if cows are being fed lower quality forage.
Separate the Herd. Separate young cows and those with lower body condition. These cows should be provided with higher quality pasture or other forage and fed additional concentrate feed so they can regain body condition.
Drylot the Cow Herd. This would be a drastic measure for most producers and would likely be done only after early weaning has occurred. This measure would provide a rest period for pastures and allows for re-growth when moisture becomes available. If calves have been weaned, feed for dry cows can be limited only to that needed for maintenance. Also, lower quality forages can be effectively utilized in this situation. It is possible, with some adaptation, to feed as little forage as one-half of one percent of the cow's body weight (six pounds of dry forage for a 1200-pound cow). The remainder of the cow's nutrient requirements would then be provided with a grain supplement. It is not advisable to attempt all-concentrate feeding for brood cows.
If cattle are fed hay in a drylot, it would be advised to let the pasture re-grow to a height of 8-10 inches before grazing is allowed. If re-growth is quick to happen because of a return to abundant moisture, then consider fencing off approximately 25 percent of the pasture and stockpile the growth in this paddock for grazing in November and December.
Stocker Cattle. Weight gain could easily decline below economical levels when forage supply and quality is limiting. Most of the options previously discussed for cow-calf operations also apply to stocker cattle. The option to sell or move directly to the feedlot should be considered in severe situations. Also, concentrate supplementation will aid in maintaining growth on stocker cattle. As a rule, concentrate feeding should be provided in the range of 1.0% of animal body weight. Soybean hulls work well as an energy supplement for high forage diets and may be more cost effective than corn. A blend of two-thirds soyhulls and one-third corn has been successful for supplementing short forage situations. Also, wet or dry corn gluten feed should be considered as energy and protein supplements.
Reduce Cattle Numbers. The most likely order in which cattle should be sold is open cows, yearling steers and/or non-replacement heifers, and lower quality or older cows. Heavy culling into quality animals in the main breeding herd should only be done in critical circumstances. Reducing numbers of less productive animals will stretch limited forage supplies for the more productive animals. This approach will also generate revenue for debt reduction or to purchase feed and supplies.
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