With drier than desirable conditions across several pockets in the U.S., livestock producers have been challenged as they depend on those forages for their cattle to graze during the summer months. However, one BioZyme expert says there are several options for producers looking to survive the drought.
“There is not one right answer,” said Kevin Glaubius, Director of Nutrition for BioZyme. “It is best to take action as early as possible and plan ahead before you are completely out of feed.”
Know what You Have
Take inventory of the available feed you have as soon as you know the drought has arrived and has set in to stay. Take an honest assessment of the feed you have on hand, especially if you know that your summer grass is going to be limited.
Don’t forget to consider alternative resources like crop residues post-harvest, if there is even enough to harvest due to the dry conditions. Do you have a neighbor that farms, but doesn’t have livestock? Inquire with your neighbor about grazing those crop residues as well or grazing the crop that can’t be harvested. Keep in mind, the extra resources you might need if grazing fields. Is the field fenced? Is there a water source available or will you need to haul water? It will be more cost effective to graze the resources available to you rather than buying and transporting feed to your operation.
Once you know the quantity and variety of feed you have available, be sure to have it analyzed for nutrient content. Know what is available of each feed you have tested.
Stretch Your Resources
Once you have had your available feed resources tested, develop the best feeding plan for your resources. Glaubius said that when feeding cows in a dry-lot situation, only three rations are really necessary: 12 percent protein with high energy for lactating cows; 9 percent protein with a moderate level amount of energy for cows in late gestation; and 7-8 percent protein with lower energy for cows in earlier gestation that are in good body condition. Often, producers are offering excessive supplements when the forages already have 15-16 percent protein, and that results in wasted hay. Offer less hay and lower your DMI to make your resources stretch further, but consider supplementing energy in these situations like corn or soyhulls.
In grazing situations, intake typically drops as the protein levels drop, which is why it is important to supplement protein when the forage quality is low. Even though the quality is lower, the cattle will still eat what is available to them since they are hungry.
“One of the cheapest ways to get more energy into your cows is with Amaferm, a natural prebiotic that maximizes digestibility,” Glaubius said. He added there are several ways to include Amaferm into the cow’s diet, including but not limited to VitaFerm Protein Tubs, Concept•Aid, VitaFerm HEAT, and the VitaFerm Cow-Calf Mineral.
Another way to stretch your resources is to early wean your calves. Sure, it might be rough on those 200-300-pound calves at first, but with a good nutritional plan, those calves will bounce right back. And the cows, will be more productive in the future.
“I highly recommend early weaning for calves when the pastures are so short,” Glaubius said. “It reduces the nutritional requirements on the cow during the drought, and prevents her from losing more weight that must be put back on prior to calving.”
To Cull or Not to Cull
One of the first reactions producers experience in drought is taking cattle to the local sale barn. But it is important to make the right decisions when culling part of your herd. Cull those lower performing cows with weaker genetics first. One measurement tool for this is if you do decide to early wean, cull those cows with the lightest weight calves. They will likely be the harder doing, thinner cows too. And culling and selling right after weaning is smart since cull cow value continues to decrease the longer the drought lasts. During weaning, preg check your cows, and cull any open cows as soon as possible to save feed resources and increase sale price.
Moving Agriculture Forward
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