Poor Pastures Force Decision Making

Poor Pastures Force Decision Making

MU Extension forage specialist advises cattle producers to review fall and winter feeding options now; consider culling of below-average cows.

Feeding hay will come sooner than normal for many graziers this fall. The hot, dry conditions across much of Missouri in recent weeks have left cattle with thin pastures and not much to munch on this fall.

While not opportune, these conditions give cattle producers a chance to look at their herds with a critical eye and evaluate their feeding options. "It's an excellent time to take inventory of your feed supply and think about culling your herd," says Rob Kallenbach, University of Missouri Extension forage specialist, Columbia.

The hot, dry conditions across much of Missouri in recent weeks have left cattle with thin pastures and not much to munch on this fall.

Culling makes sense when faced with feed supply issues. Cows with a history of calving problems, poor teeth or those that remain open can be sold to save hay and money. Culled cattle can garner a pretty penny now at the sale barn thanks to prices holding steady.

"Often when we have to sell out of a drought we're also looking at depressed animal prices, but cull cow prices are really good right now despite all the hardships," Kallenbach notes. "For better culled cows, prices are 70 cents per pound. That's a pretty good price for a 1,300-pound animal."

Once a herd is streamlined, producers should evaluate whether they have enough hay to make it through the winter. If hay reserves run low, producers can supplement it with other feed sources such as distiller's grain and corn gluten feed. Some will dip into lower-quality hay to meet their needs. Kallenbach says ammonification of lower-quality forages gets more use when farmers are trying to stretch hay supplies for cows in good body condition.

"You can take some pretty poor fescue hay or other feedstuffs, cover the stack in plastic and add 60 pounds of anhydrous ammonia per ton to bump up the non-protein nitrogen in the feed and make it more digestible or usable by the animal," he explains.

Other strategies to stretch that hay crop a little further include limiting the amount of time that cows have access to hay racks. "Most producers give their cows 24-hour access to hay, but they can limit that to an eight-hour access period," Kallenbach says. "The herd will eat 90% of what they'd eat otherwise, but you stretch out the hay supply 10%. While that might not sound like a lot, it can get you a little further through the winter."

Kallenbach strongly urges producers to test forage for quality. Hay baled during drought-like conditions can contain high nitrate levels that can poison cattle. Knowing the nutrient levels cattle will get from a hay crop helps you make the right feeding decisions.

For those who recognize that they just don't have enough bales to make it through the winter and need to purchase more hay, the Missouri Department of Agriculture posts a hay directory at www.mda.mo.gov/abd/haydirectory.

Source: MU Cooperative Media Group

TAGS: Forage
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