Allen M. Gahler, OSU Extension Educator, AgNR, Sandusky County (originally published in Ohio Farmer on-line)

Well, winter has come and gone, and despite the many scares that mother nature provided, and the warnings well ahead of time that the local weather reports around the state gave with each storm that approached, many of us chose not to rush out to the store to get bread and milk prior to the storm. And miraculously, we survived! Hopefully, all of your livestock survived all the cold snaps and snow storms as well. And if they did, you likely have yourself to thank for proper planning and nutrition that was provided for them.

So now that we are moving into the growing season and will soon be, or maybe already are, grazing in some areas, all of those concerns about what to feed our livestock and when are over until next winter approaches, right?!

Progressive beef, dairy, goat, and sheep producers are constantly searching for the most economical way feed their herds, and sometimes matching nutritional requirements with available forages is a challenge, even during the growing season.

Many weather forecasters have been saying for the last few weeks that we will continue to experience the effects of La Nina this spring and summer, which they are indicating could mean short and intense heavy rainfalls throughout the season, with extended periods of hot and dry in between. With that in mind, it may be one of those years when properly matching available forages with the nutritional needs of different classes of livestock and different contemporary groups within a species could become a significant challenge. While this challenge may not present itself this spring or even into early summer, a mid or late summer dry period could create a need to rest pastures and find alternative feeds. While we may not have the luxury of warnings from the weatherman as we do for winter storms that tell us when to go stock up on that bread and milk, we still have to be prepared ahead of time, and we better know what that bread and milk is for our livestock.

Oats and turnips, photo on August 26

In many cases, those emergency feeds are stored hay, but most producers know the value of that hay, and cringe at the thought of feeding it during the summer months. Several other stored feeds can also fit the bill if necessary, but most producers, at least the ones who want to remain profitable, will have a plan in place to be grazing alternative areas or alternative forages during such times. Many do not have the luxury of just moving to a spare pasture, but there are several annual forages that can be used to meet the challenge and keep livestock grazing nearly year round, allowing us to use those stored feeds during the summer and graze alternative forages in the fall and winter. Below is a quick summary and reference to some of those options that can be utilized if we start that planning process now. Then if we do not have those dry periods and we can make it through the growing season without feeding any stored feeds, we may just be able to graze well past our normal window, and we can leave the “bread and milk” on the store shelves for someone else!

Plan and Prepare: Know how many animal units you have, what their seasonal nutrient requirements are, and calculate how much additional forage you will need beyond current pasture, both for winter needs and in an emergency dry time. Find a lab to test forages and know their procedures and turnaround time. Check fences and water supplies in advance.

Oats and turnips, 7 weeks later in mid-October

Know your options: Oats, cereal rye, annual ryegrass, turnips, rape, kale, crop residues, stockpiled grass, unharvested hay fields. Locate a source for seed and compare seed and fertilizer costs, as well as grazing vs baling costs.

Be Timely: Planting dates, fertilizer application, and grazing/baling dates will have a major impact on tonnage and quality, and weather can impact both significantly, so have equipment and supplies ready. Visit with your local extension office to develop these plans and timing, as well as seeding rates, fertility needs, etc.

Be Flexible: Mother Nature and the markets can change even the best devised plan – your bottom line is the ultimate goal, so know what affects it.

Needed to be Successful:

  • A well organized plan
  • A source of seed
  • Weed control strategy
  • A source of Nitrogen and a Nutrient management plan
  • Willingness to rotate fence and/or make hay in the fall
  • Mother nature on your team
  • Record keeping ability to learn what works
  • Willingness to ask questions!

Don’t be left out in the heat this summer or the cold next winter without a good plan to keep the livestock fed! Make plans now to have happy, profitable livestock no matter what mother nature throws out way.

Source: Ohio Beef Cattle Letter