Our CRYSTALYX team got together several months ago to plan a list of blog topics for 2019. Not surprisingly, drought was my topic of choice for July. At the time, we agreed that the likelihood of dry conditions throughout various areas of the country would be high that month. Both drought and abnormally wet conditions are normal aspects of the weather cycle, and — especially in the beef cattle business — including a drought management strategy as part of the overall management plan should be standard.
As I write this, however, it’s late June and, in the central plains of the U.S., both my neighbors and my customers are experiencing unseasonably wet conditions. Traditional crops like corn and soybeans are being planted two to three weeks later than they would be during a typical season. Growing degree days are also lagging behind, and the winter wheat harvest is also going to be delayed by at least two to three weeks. The commodity markets are unsurprisingly volatile at this stage. And we’ve all heard the devastating stories about the floods, blizzards and other extreme weather conditions that have been wreaking havoc over the last few months. As such, you won’t be hearing or reading much about drought right now — at least not in the central United States.
As illustrated by the drought monitor, however, there are some moderately to abnormally dry areas across the country, including the far northern plains, the southeastern U.S. and the prairie provinces of Canada.
When drought is widespread, we often discuss numerous strategies for dealing with its effects in relation to beef cattle nutrition.
Key strategies for supplementation during drought conditions include:
- Using supplements, such as CRYSTALYX, to better utilize forage or to improve grazing management.
- Protein supplementation will allow for the better utilization of lower-quality feedstuffs. This is true for both drought-stricken pastures and for alternative feedstuffs that are utilized more frequently in more dry years, such as straw.
- Better grazing distribution will improve pasture management and extend the number of days on or allow you to maintain a higher number of animals on a given pasture.
- Keeping cows in better condition.
- Utilize a creep feed program for calves.
- Increase the nutrient density of diets to conserve forages.
- Utilize ionophores, such as Rumensin® or Bovatec®, in beef diets.
- Early-wean calves.
RELATED: Grazing management: Modifying cow movement
Is that grass really as good as it looks?
If given the choice between wet or dry conditions, I think it’s safe to say most of us would pick wet. Wetter than normal conditions usually leave us with plenty of forage, but that forage will often grow fast and mature quickly. In years when moisture is abundant and grass conditions are good, we do hear that certain performance parameters, such as weaning or yearling weights, may be lower than average. Why is this? It's not because these forages are lower in quality; on the contrary, they are lush and will be higher in moisture and have a faster rate of passage. This essentially means, however, that cattle will need to eat more and, for a time, may be unable to eat enough at a sufficient rate of speed to fully reap the benefits of the nutrients in the forage. While these conditions may not persist for the entire growing season, they may last just long enough to negatively impact performance. Not surprisingly, I’ve heard many ranchers make comments about summer grazing, such as, “Our grass is better once it hardens or cures out in mid-summer.”
Supplementation recommendations and thoughts on lush forage grazing
- Magnesium: One potential problem associated with lush forage is grass tetany, a magnesium deficiency that results from grazing fast-growing, lush grasses. CRYSTALYX offers several supplements that supply additional magnesium, which can help prevent and overcome this risk. Grass tetany becomes much less of a threat as we move into mid-summer, when forages will mature.
- CRYSTALYX Blueprint® products and fly control supplements: CRYSTALYX Blueprint products supply all trace minerals from Bioplex® organic trace minerals and are gaining popularity thanks to producers who continue to cite their excellent results. Results from early research studying this mineral supplementation strategy have also included improved weaning weights with calves. As such, utilizing CRYSTALYX Blueprint mineral products alongside lush and abundant pasture could be a good strategy in a year like 2019. Additionally, utilizing fly control is always a good practice during a wet year, when fly challenges can be heightened. Adequate fly control has also been shown to improve weight gains.
- Utilize a quality calf creep feed program: Many of our CRYSTALYX customers also sell and promote the value of a calf creep feed program; its economic return is great during all types of forage conditions, and this strategy would also make sense in a year with abundant forage.
- The grass won’t stay this way: Don’t overlook using CRYSTALYX in late summer, when grass conditions begin to decline rapidly, especially cool-season varieties. Having lots of grass is a good thing, but it will need some help. Weight gains can often stall out on these types of grasses, which are abundant and appear to be high-quality but are actually on the decline. This holds especially true for stocker cattle. Utilizing a CRYSTALYX protein supplement, such as BGF-30™ or Iono-lyx® B300, among others, can be beneficial for maintaining high-level performance. Sustaining beef cow condition at this time is critical as well, and supplemental nutrition during early pregnancy will provide long-term benefits for the performance of the calf in utero upon its birth.
Whether wet or dry, CRYSTALYX can play a role in resolving your nutritional challenges. Few other supplement programs offer such a wide array of programs and applications. Visit your local dealer today to learn more.