Most producers can’t wait for green grass to appear in the Spring and cattle to be turned out on pastures soon after. The demands for supplemental nutrition and feeding programs go by the wayside and thoughts turn to farming activities, breeding cows, making hay, etc. It is a great time to be in the cattle business as your herd does what it does best, turn forages into lean red meat or breed up for next year’s crop.
Most often, forages can provide ample energy for optimal cow, or stocker performance, especially early in the grazing season. Free-choice mineral and vitamin supplementation is a convenient way to deliver macro and micro nutrients required for optimal cow herd reproduction stocker animal performance. These supplements are critical for providing grazing livestock key nutrients or feed additives that maximize production while on pasture. Delivery of trace minerals, macro minerals or feed additives that can include fly control products or ionophores simply make these types of supplements critical for both cow herd and stocker animal performance. They come in a variety of self-fed forms such as loose granular meals, pressed mineral blocks or low-moisture blocks or tubs.
There are also times, such as those we are experiencing in the Southern part of the U.S., where extremely dry environmental conditions disrupt normal grazing and historical nutrition programs and cause us to look at alternative means in order to avoid what could be small reductions in pregnancy rates or even large losses in animal performance if pasture conditions erode quickly.
Drought conditions can speed up the maturity of forages as well as diminish the quantity or supply of forages that are available for your herd. The ability of pastures to support rapid gains in animal performance goes down as forages mature. In drought conditions, supplemental protein can help maintain animal performance and stretch your pastures as forage quality declines. As drought persists and forage availability becomes limiting, supplemental protein becomes less of a benefit because actual energy in the diet becomes limiting. Diet replacement with supplemental hay will become necessary once pasture conditions have been depleted.
Major decisions need to be made for retaining the core breeding herd. If stocking rates surpass the amount of forage that is available, energy will become limiting and stocker weight gains or cow condition will soon deteriorate. Stocker cattle are some of the more dispensable assets in grazing programs as they are destined for the feed yards. They can simply be moved to the yards sooner rather than later. A cow herd on the other hand is an investment in genetics as well as the base investment from which cow-calf producers draw their annual income. Rather than trying to hold on to the entire breeding herd if drought conditions persist, business decisions need to be made to determine if purchased feeds can support a smaller genetic base as opposed to a complete dispersal. The Southern part of the U.S. is under severe drought conditions and many of these areas have already run out of grass to maintain their herds.
It is hard to believe the differences that exist in the U.S. in terms of pasture and forage conditions from the deep south to the northern plains. Excessive spring moisture conditions in many areas in the midwest and central U.S. have resulted in an abundant supply of forages and tremendous pasture conditions. The situation is reversed for most of Texas, NM, Arizona and other southern states. It may be tempting to skip out on supplemental inputs when forage supplies are abundant, but mineral and vitamin supplements fed at low levels provide critical nutrients that make sure performance is optimized. If you are facing extremely dry conditions, be proactive in your nutrition program by extending your forages and pastures with supplemental protein. If dry conditions persist, have a plan in place to maintain your core breeding herd so you will be prepared to get back into production once moisture returns.