Traditionally, when cow-herd supplementation is discussed we focus on meeting the protein needs of the cow, with goal of maximizing forage intake by supplementing protein, the most limiting nutrient in the available forages. However, this year drought has severely limited the supply of both grazed and harvested forages in many regions. In this scenario both energy and protein are limiting cow performance and therefore, supplements should be evaluated on both their energy and protein contributions to the nutrition program. When evaluating potential feedstuffs as supplements consider both the cost per unit of energy (TDN, net energy maintenance or metabolizable energy) and of crude protein.
The major concern regarding energy supplementation in a non-drought situation, when forage supply is adequate is the “substitution effect”; essentially the energy supplement (starch or grain-based) reduces grazed forage intake which compromises overall energy balance. Under non-drought conditions, fiber-based as opposed to starch-based energy sources are recommended. However, in a drought situation when forage supply is critically low, meeting the energy requirements of the cow using the most economical feedstuffs available (cost per unit of energy basis) is our first priority and the source of supplemental energy (fiber vs. starch) is of less importance.
If a commercially blended supplement is used (e.g. range cubes), consider the inclusion of an ionophore. The use of ionophores (Rumensin and Bovatec) has become a standard practice in growing cattle diets. Rumensin is the only product approved for use in mature beef cows and must be delivered in at least 1.0 pounds of feed per day. Research conducted with cows indicates that cows fed 200 mg/d of monensin (Rumensin) required 5 to 10 percent less feed to maintain the same weight and body condition as cows that did not receive Rumensin.
During a drought situation, non-traditional grazing opportunities often present themselves. The high price of forages often makes baling look attractive, However, in almost every, if not every situation, grazing forages presents a lower cost alternative to haying. There are a number of different opportunities that may be available (grazing re-growth in wheat stubble, failed corn, milo, soybeans, etc). However, some of these grazing opportunities may carry risk (nitrates). If you have questions regarding any of these non-traditional grazing opportunities consult your local K-State Extension professional.
If pastures are commonly rotated during the grazing season, another option that some producers may want to consider is to re-graze pastures previously grazed once forage has become dormant. The objective is to encourage cattle to graze under-utilized areas of pastures that were not previously utilized efficiently by the cattle. Consider mineral placement or placing supplements in these areas to encourage grazing behavior. Pastures must be evaluated frequently to assess the amount of available forage, and over-grazing should be avoided to minimize long-term effects on the pasture.
Most producers will be relying heavily on harvested forages this fall and winter. Forage prices have increased considerably this year and as forage prices go up the economic value associated with hay waste also increases. One of the easiest ways to reduce hay waste is to feed hay more frequently in smaller amounts (i.e. delivering hay daily versus one time per week). This concept applies regardless of whether hay is rolled out on the ground or fed in feeders.
There is no easy way to manage through a drought. Some of the key elements to successfully managing a cattle operation through a drought are managing number of head per day, evaluating both short and long term outcomes associated with decisions and not being afraid to think outside the box. Thankfully drought is not the norm and resides outside the box.
Source: Justin Waggoner, beef systems specialist