Consider Alternatives for Herd Nutrition During Early Drought

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You’ve just turned your calendar page over to the first of May, the date when many cow-calf producers are ready to turn their cows out on nice green pastures. The problem is this year, an earlier than expected dry season leaves producers without the green pastures they usually rely on. And last year’s drought leaves little hay to feed, putting producers in a rut.

“This early drought has caught many producers off guard,” said Kevin Glaubius, Director of Nutrition for BioZyme® Inc. “And hay is becoming harder and harder to find, at least here in Missouri. I talked to one guy who paid $90 a bale on a Monday, and on Thursday paid $135 a bale for the same hay. With prices like those, it might be smarter to start feeding a little grain.”

Spring-calving cows with month-old calves in April are in their highest requirement period for both energy and protein in May. They are likely a month or two into nursing their new calf and getting ready to be bred back. A lack of nutrients now is critical not only to their reproductive performance, but also to their calf’s performance.  A nutrient deficiency could delay the cow’s cycle, meaning they breed back later. Lowered milk production now can decrease weaning weights of their current calf crop meaning fewer pounds to wean this fall.

What producers choose to do now for the next 3-4 weeks may have a significant impact on both the cow’s reproductive performance and that of her calf’s. The most important consideration according to Glaubius is to work with your nutritionist ensure that the cow gets adequate energy and protein.

He suggests three considerations for producers.

First, is to delay turnout on grass and continue to feed hay. This is going to be the most expensive option, as hay is scarce, and therefore expensive, in many parts of the country.

Second, Glaubius suggests supplementing the hay with grain. Since this is just a short-term solution until the pastures are ready, producers need to keep forage in the diet for good health. He said about 6 pounds of grain will replace 12 pounds of forage, making it a more economically feasible option.

He reminds producers they can stretch their hay and make it last longer if they fork it to their cattle twice a day instead of feeding to them free-choice. This will help them save some hay for late summer or early fall, when they may see the need for hay sooner than anticipated again. When you roll out a bale of hay for cows as much as 20-30% can go to waste.

The third, and potentially best option, is to turn the cows out to pasture and supplement them with some grain. Glaubius recommends adding about 6 pounds of a grain-mix to the cows’ diet each day to take some pressure from the pasture. As the weather warms and the grass grows, decrease to 4 pounds of grain, and hopefully by the end of May, the grass will be growing like anticipated, and keeping up with cows so you can discontinue grain altogether.

“We normally don’t recommend feeding grain, but it may be a year that it pays for 21-30 days, until our forage can get back into production,” Glaubius said.

Be sure to work with a nutritionist to decide what to put in the grain mix. Corn, oats and soybean hull pellets and corn gluten pellets carry better energy than forage. But the nutritionist will know what is best for your geographic area and for your herd.

A final recommendation is to add a quality VitaFerm® supplement with Amaferm® to the herd. Amaferm is a natural prebiotic designed to maximize the nutritional value of the feed. Amaferm helps increase digestibility and maximize absorption of the available feedstuffs, which should allow for some extra time on grass this summer, so producers are not scrambling this fall.