Low supplies of hay make feeding cattle a challenge. Elizabeth Picking, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist in southwestern Missouri, sees the effects of severe drought in her area – dwindling hay supplies, poor-quality hay, high prices and ponds going dry.
Under these conditions, cattle producers need to be more efficient with feed, Picking says. This involves testing forages and calculating the cost of energy and protein to get the best value and results.
Most county extension centers have hay sampling probes that producers can borrow for taking hay samples to test quality or nitrate content. Some offices have moisture and temperature probes for avoiding fires caused by hay that is too wet. Producers should send samples to a laboratory certified by the National Hay Testing Association.
Consider weaning older calves when short on feed, supplementing feed during critical periods and culling nonproducers, Picking says.
Reviewing forage quality and dry matter intake during growth and reproductive stage helps producers determine needs. Also, an understanding of protein and energy for spring and fall calving helps.
Cows need energy-producing supplement when hay supplies are low. Picking suggests a review of crude protein and total digestible nutrient percentages.
Producers can stretch hay supplies by substituting 1 pound of grain to replace 2-3 pounds of hay, she says. Cattle need at least 0.5% of their body weight in dry matter of forage per day. Cattle will initially appear gaunt and hungry but will adapt within two to three weeks.
One alternative is tubs of supplemental protein and minerals. They vary widely in price, contents and daily consumption and come in a cooked and block forms. The moisture-dense blocks are usually cheaper than cooked tubs, but they may be more expensive per unit of nutrient. Blocks are easier to handle than cooked tubs, weighing 30-35 pounds rather than 100-500 pounds. They are best suited for small herds, Picking says.
Producers can also use salt to limit feed intake. Cattle can eat about 0.1 pound of salt per 100 pounds of body weight per day. Mix with commodity feed to limit intake if using a free choice feeder. Cattle can overeat, so it is essential to take care to limit supplies. Salt increases water needs, and this can be a problem when ponds run dry.
Another option is adding liquid feed on low-quality hay. This improves palatability, reduces dustiness and gives cows extra protein and energy. Picking says limit urea to no more than half of the daily protein source.
Stockpiled fescue can be fed when endophyte levels are lower in January and February. Graze stockpiled Bermuda grass early in winter, Picking says.
The MU Extension publication "Drought-Related Issues in Forage, Silage and Baleage" is available online. More information on forages is available from the Alliance for Grassland Renewal. The alliance includes partners from university, government, industry and nonprofit groups.
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