Friday, August 13, 2010

Feed Cattle Hay in Summer When Pastures Limit Performance

Hay should be fed anytime the forage supply is limiting optimum animal performance according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

When hay harvest is underway in the summer, cattlemen typically think the hay shoould only be used in the winter when snow, ice and cold weather arrives. But pastures fall in the "too short for optimum performance" category whenever there are less than three or four inches to graze. That is when hay should be put out according to Cole.

"The per animal hay requirement should be less than in the dead of winter, but could still be around 15 to 20 pounds per day for a cow," said Cole.

Alternative feeds such as the grain by-products, corn gluten feed, dried distillers grains and soybean hulls can help stretch the forages for some classes of cattle. These supplements are especially helpful for stocker steers and heifers and spring

"These cattle may be hand fed daily or every other day for greatest efficiency. Self-fed supplements are convenient, but more costly," said Cole.

Early weaning is an option to explore if the dams are first-calf females or old, thin cows. Calf removal allows the females to get by on less forage and forage of lower quality.

The main concern with early weaning may be the hot weather and dusty pens that could set the calves up for respiratory problems.

These stressors can be partially reduced with fenceline weaning (where the calves remain on pasture just across the fence from their dams).

"If the pasture on the other side of the fence is eaten in to the ground there could be a dust problem. Sprinkling the weaning pen and corral area can help control the dust," said Cole.

Stockpiling fescue should be started now with the spreading of 40 to 60 pounds of nitrogen on good stands of fescue. Move cattle off the pasture until November, if possible, to allow maximum stockpile growth providing rains cooperate.

"A good stand of fescue can produce 250 to 300 pounds of dry matter per inch per acre. If your stockpiling goes well and you get 8 or 10 inches of growth, that's about one ton of total growth for fall-winter grazing."

When grazing begins, use power fencing to strip graze the forage for greater efficiency. The fence can be moved every 3 or 4 days so fresh stockpiled fescue is available.

"Cattle prices have been strong for several months and forecasters see continued strength for both stocker cattle and breeding replacements. With that in mind, investing now in hay, supplement or fertilizer for dry pastures should pay off."