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Barnyard Basics: Make sure cows have adequate nutrition on a dry year – Post Register

Posted: August 15, 2021 at 1:45 am


Cows need different nutritional levels at different stages of gestation. As the fetus grows larger, the cows nutrient needs increase. If a cow is lactating, feeding her calf, she needs a much higher level of protein and energy than when she is pregnant.

Janna Block (Livestock Systems Specialist, Hettinger Research Extension Center, North Dakota State University) says this year with drought conditions may be more challenging to get cows through winter and feed them adequately.

People in our area have been putting up every scrap of forage they can find, to make hay, and some will be using alternatives the cattle are not used to eating. Some people have asked about harvesting cattails for hay; sloughs have dried up and the cattails might make a bale. Weve also had questions about flax and canola and small grains being put up for hay instead of harvested. A lot of poor-doing wheat crops are being put up for hay, she said.

Depending on the stage of maturity when a cereal crop is cut, it might make good hay but if its too mature it will be a bit of grain and straw mainly straw if the grain didnt fill out.

About 65% of the alfalfa in the U.S. is suffering from drought. Alfalfa may not be available in some areas and a lot of what is put up was already tapped for export markets or going to dairies. Beef producers will have to find something else, she said.

Some regions have had a little rain and people in those areas may be able to get through the grazing season and keep cows on pasture but may not have an extended grazing season this year.

Some stockmen are regretting that they left cows out grazing so late last fall because there wasnt any residue forage this spring and no forage base going into this years drought. It was a mild winter so they didnt bring cattle in to feed hay, and then the grass didnt grow very well this spring, Block said.

Some people fed up everything they had because it was a slow, cold spring and pastures were slow growing. Hay production this year has been short.

Even with some late-season rains, hay supply in some regions is only about 25% to 50% of normal. Some hay fields didnt grow enough to cut. Hay prices are high; were looking at $175 a ton for grass hay, and $250 and higher for alfalfa. People with large herds will have a hard time making that pencil out, and well see a lot of cows sent to market.

On a dry year, feed testing and nutrient analysis becomes very important. There are many factors that influence quality.

When looking at native grass pastures there is no formula for how the nutrient quality might be affected. It depends on when the drought occurred during the growing season, how long it lasts and how severe it is. All these things can affect quality, said Block. My best advice to ranchers is to make sure you know exactly what youve got, in terms of nutrient quality, and carefully monitor body condition of the cows. Many people are considering early weaning.

Weaning is a good time to evaluate body condition of the cow. Once the calf is weaned (removing the requirements for lactation) this is the best time to improve the body condition of cows, with least cost. If you wait until late gestation and their requirements are increasing, it will be harder.

If cows are out at pasture, we tell people to check their manure. If its firm and dry, those cows are not getting enough protein. They could utilize the dry forage better if they had a protein supplement, and might not lose as much weight, she said.

Some of the small grains like sorghum sudan and canola, and other alternative forages might help fill the gap, but many of these are nitrate accumulators, especially in a drought. Its imperative to check these for nitrate levels as well as nutrients before you feed them to pregnant cows.

We dont want cows to abort, and this can be a common consequence of nitrate toxicity; it shuts off the oxygen supply to the developing fetus. Those cows will abort at various times during gestation if they are consuming too much nitrate in the forage, said Block.

Oat hay or straw (and sometimes barley) may also have high nitrates under certain growing conditions.

Take a look at your forage and feed resources and make a plan for how to use them best, especially for the heifers and young cows. They are still growing and its harder to meet their needs for growth and lactation.

They also dont have as much rumen capacity as mature cows, and need a higher plane of nutrition, with higher-quality feed. This is why it is important to do feed tests and get a nutrient analysis and be able to make a plan for the different age groups, said Block.

Do an inventory on the feed youd need for replacement heifers and for the young cows, the bulls and the main cow herd.

We should group cattle by age and stage of production, figuring out how to use our feed most effectively. It can be challenging if you only have a certain number of pens or pastures. This year may require more adjustments and innovation, Block said.

You might be able to split pastures with temporary electric fencing, to be able to feed certain groups a higher quality forage or feed them separately.

If you have thin cows, weaning early is probably one of the best options to consider, to make sure cows have time to recover before colder weather (when feed requirements increase) and late gestation (when requirements for pregnancy are greatest), Block said.

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Barnyard Basics: Make sure cows have adequate nutrition on a dry year - Post Register

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