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A tale of two pastures: Managing your beef cow herd in periods of high moisture or drought

Many beef cow producers have experienced ample moisture this summer, and their pasture conditions and availability are likely very good to excellent. Unfortunately, others have experienced drought conditions, with pastures drying up and forage supplies diminished. This summer has truly provided a tale of two pastures throughout the U.S. and Canada. So, how can we adapt our cow herd management for either scenario to help maintain consistent financial returns?

Ample moisture

In the first situation, many farmers and ranchers would agree that plenty of timely rain makes life pretty great, as cows can essentially be placed on autopilot during the summer grazing period. While this is true for the most part, there are a few areas that need attention. A good summer mineral program can help improve performance on pastures, especially one that includes fly control. Providing fly control with a CRYSTALYX® mineral supplement provides a weatherproof form of delivery that can stand up to any moisture conditions, including high rainfall. Placing highly palatable CRYSTALYX barrels on high ground and well-drained soils can keep cattle from grazing sensitive lowlands/riparian areas and out of the mud and muck that can foster the prevalence and spread of foot rot. Use the palatable power of CRYSTALYX to help manage where your cattle spend their time grazing while simultaneously providing key macro and micro minerals and vitamins that help maintain health and timely reproduction. Good fly control is an added bonus, as it helps maintain calf gains.

Although ample moisture can boost winter hay production, rain can ultimately have a significant negative impact on forage quality. Forages that are exposed to rain once swathed can see a decrease in the dry matter harvested, in addition to leaching or loss of important nutrients. These losses can occur because of a number of factors, depending upon how much moisture you receive and how long moisture conditions persist before drying out, in addition to leaf loss associated with extra raking, etc. Putting up hay while it’s still too wet increases the risk of molds and mycotoxins while supporting microbial activity that can metabolize forage-soluble carbohydrates and reduce energy content. It is easy to see why it may be difficult to get your hay harvested without having rain impact both quality and yield in a negative way. Make sure you are organizing your forages based on forage testing and utilizing their results when designing your winter nutrition program. The right CRYSTALYX supplement can help you meet nutrient deficiencies and, more importantly, can also increase the amount of energy and other nutrients you extract from rain-damaged forages. Don’t forget about haying conditions when feeding stored forages this fall and winter.

Drought conditions

At the other end of the spectrum is full-on drought conditions — surely the most stressful and challenging of the two. The uncertainty of how long a finite source of pasture grazing will last can be very difficult to deal with, especially if it is unfolding during the summer grazing period. There are detailed drought management plans that can account for family and ranch goals, animal inventories, forage inventories, winter feed supplies, alternative feed supplies/availability and financial constraints and obligations, as well as public land requirements, among others. Depending upon the severity of the drought, some or all of these areas may be implemented. 

As water becomes limited to grasslands, both the production potential and forage quality is negatively impacted. Protein supplementation with CRYSTALYX barrels can help manage pastures and increase forage utilization in two ways. First, additional protein will help support animal growth and reproductive performance as forage quality diminishes. This is accomplished by improving rumen fermentation and helping the microbes extract more energy from lower quality forages that would otherwise go unutilized. Secondly, by taking advantage of the portability of the barrels, you can place CRYSTALYX supplements in areas of the pasture with remaining forage where cattle have possibly preferred not to graze. This will help maintain a more uniform utilization of your plant communities and prevent over-grazing in these preferred locations, typically closer to water. Pasturelands can then recover more quickly once seasonal rains return to the landscape, supporting established stocking rates.

It should be noted that CRYSTALYX Brand Supplements are a supplement to forage and, as a supplement with very precisely regulated intake, they are designed to be fed when forages are available and not when they become limited in supply. This means that dry pastures with plenty of forage available are a very good fit for CRYSTALYX supplements. Once forage availability has become depleted, or if pastures are overgrazed and can no longer meet cow intake requirements, additional feed supplies will need to be fed to prevent loss in body condition and cow performance.   

CRYSTALYX can help you to better manage your cow herd through all possible moisture conditions over the summer months and reduce potential negative impact on your winter-feeding supplies. Contact your local CRYSTALYX dealer for assistance with product selection and barrel management techniques that will provide you Results by the Barrel®.