Question: “I raise registered longhorns with 50 mature cows in multiple pastures with specific bulls. Have never fed alfalfa. Given drought in central Texas my grass hay bales are getting low. Have 20 bales of alfalfa (4x4x8) that I would rate as excellent. How do I feed efficiently? How often do I feed? How much should each mature cow receive? I supplement a liquid feed, free choice as well. Forage on our ranch is minimal with no rain in the summer and fall. Your response is greatly appreciated. Thanks. Hal”
Shane Gadberry, PhD, Extension beef specialist, University of Arkansas Answer from Shane Gadberry, PhD, Extension beef specialist, University of Arkansas
Contact your county Extension office and see about having the alfalfa tested for nutrient composition. If you know the TDN (energy content of the hay) you have the potential to manage feeding more specifically to the nutrient requirements of your cows.
Arkansas publishes a publication MP391-- Nutrient Requirements Tables for beef cattle that indicates the protein (CP), energy (TDN) and estimated intakes at maintenance for beef cattle in various stages of production. Brahman influence have about a 10 percent lesser maintenance requirement than Bos taurus so take this and body condition into consideration.
If you know the TDN of the hay, and an estimate of how much TDN is required by the cows, you have the option to limit feed, since with these large squares you can feed partial bales. For example, if you have 50 cows that need 15 pounds of TDN each and your alfalfa is 65 percent TDN on a dry-matter basis, then you need to feed about 1,282 pounds, assuming the hay is 90 percent dry matter in this example. This is slightly less than what we would predict cows to eat if offered alfalfa hay free choice at 65 percent TDN, so we would want to feed in a manner that all cows would be able to eat at the same time.
This concept does not work for lower TDN hays because cattle can't eat enough to meet their TDN requirement.
If your cattle are not accustomed to alfalfa, you shouldn't give them all they want to eat if they are hungry, and maybe transition them to alfalfa if possible to minimize any chances of causing bloat.
You should also factor in the intake and composition of your liquid feed. If there is plenty of TDN in the hay you may not need the liquid feed because these are best suited for low protein diets and alfalfa hay exceeds the CP requirement for beef cows when consumed as a large percentage of the diet.