Extension and Ag Research News


Stretch Forage Resources Until Pasture Turnout

Producers may need to think outside of their traditional feeding strategy.

Many livestock producers went into winter with little to no hay surplus due to the 2017 drought.

Plus, prolonged winter conditions have delayed pasture turnout, and producers are short on hay and other feedstuffs.

The delay in spring weather has resulted in a delay in grazing readiness. By mid-April in 2017, brome grass pastures were ready to be grazed, while this year, many areas still are covered in snow.

“Grazing readiness for most domesticated pasture is at the three-leaf stage, whereas grazing readiness for most native range grasses is the 3 1/2-leaf stage,” says Miranda Meehan, the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “Early spring grazing, especially following a drought, can be costly in terms of total forage production during the entire grazing season.”

The shortage of forage, in combination with the delay in grazing readiness, has many livestock producers looking for strategies to continue to provide feed for their livestock.

“At times like this, it may be necessary for producers to think outside of their traditional feeding strategy,” says John Dhuyvetter, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s North Central Research Extension Center near Minot. “Utilizing alternative feeds such as distillers grains, wheat midds or corn are cost-effective methods of stretching hay supplies.”

In mixed rations containing silage, corn stalks or cereal straw could replace hay with the addition of a protein/energy supplement such as distillers grains. In cows being fed hay to appetite, the hay can be limited to about 70 percent of their intake, the specialists say. Then the cows can be provided with a grain or grain byproduct supplement at 5 to 10 pounds daily. Actual feeding rates and feed choice will depend on availability, feeding equipment and nutritional needs.

“If feed resources are not completely exhausted, producers may want to consider feeding on pasture or hayland to get cows out of muddy lots and reduce the risk of disease issues in newborn calves,” advises Janna Kincheloe, Extension livestock systems specialist at NDSU’s Hettinger Research Extension Center. “However, this strategy will put additional stress on pasture or hay land.”

If producers must initiate grazing earlier than normal, the specialists recommend grazing domesticated pastures such as crested wheatgrass before early to mid-May, when they typically reach grazing readiness. This prevents damage to native rangeland and still allows producers to turn cattle out on pasture.

Stocking rates should be moderate if livestock are turned out early with no supplemental feed because grass growth will not be able to keep up with the traditional stocking rate at this time.

Selective culling can help reduce feed needs, according to Dhuyvetter. Culling targets include cows that are old, have poor disposition or physical structure, and that lost calves or had a difficult time giving birth this spring.

Kincheloe suggests that if heifers have been retained for replacements, producers should consider whether adequate grazing will be available for cow-calf pairs and replacements. Producers may have to develop heifers in a dry lot rather than allow them to graze. A number of feedlots are willing to custom feed heifers. Some of these feedlots specialize in heifer development and offer artificial insemination breeding services.

Most likely, heifers still on the farm already have been selected from others sold as feeders, so sorting the heifers again may be necessary to select only those most likely to breed on time with the least feed inputs.

The specialists recommend producers evaluate their calving records and look for heifers that were born in the first 30 days of last year’s calving season out of dams with no calving difficulty or other issues as the ones to keep. If heifers have been wintered on a high-roughage ration, the fleshy, heavier heifers will be more likely to breed earlier.

“The importance of records is magnified in times when tough culling decisions need to be made,” Dhuyvetter says. “Good calving and production records can help producers pinpoint cows that could be culled and make the best decisions for retaining replacements.”

NDSU Agriculture Communication = April 19, 2018

Source:Miranda Meehan, 701-231-7683, miranda.meehan@ndsu.edu
Source:Janna Kincheloe, 701-567-4323, janna.kincheloe@ndsu.edu
Source:John Dhuyvetter, 701-857-7682, john.dhuyvetter@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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