Winter annuals, such as wheat, oats, ryegrass and rye can provide excellent nutrients for grazing cattle. Because these grasses usually contain a high amount of protein and moisture, it makes it difficult for a calf to consume enough grass to take in the necessary amount of dry matter for higher rates of gain.

First, as a calf grows it requires more dry matter intake to support any gain. Second, as rate of gain increases, the allowable roughage content of the daily ration decreases. Third, maintenance energy (Nem) requirement at a given weight remains the same, but energy for gain (Neg) requirement increases as the rate of gain increases. Therefore, to increase gains you must increase dry matter and energy intake.
In order to make the most of winter pastures you can do two things to help meet your calves needs.

  • Provide free choice hay. This provides more dry material, reducing the overall moisture content in the daily ration. Dry roughage will slow down rate of passage, providing more time for effective bacterial action in the rumen and more time for absorption in the intestinal tract.

  • Provide a few pounds of low protein, high starch supplement. This provides extra energy in a more compact form, more dry matter and starch, which is necessary for the rumen bacteria. An increase in the overall yield of bacterial protein will ultimately increase growth and performance.