By Chris Clark, IBC Extension beef specialist

Prolonged winter weather has limited forage growth for many Midwest cattle producers this spring. Especially for pastures that were over-grazed last season or affected by drought last season, available forage may be limited for some time. Beyond the delayed grass growth, some paddocks have probably been abused this spring as calving areas, feeding areas, or sacrifice areas, reducing the overall grass acreage available for grazing.

This lack of forage may force producers to offer supplementation to cows on pasture, at least until the grass has a chance to grow well. Nutritional requirements are significantly greater during lactation and this supplementation may be critical for spring-calving cows in peak lactation.

A positive plane of nutrition is very important to support lactation and growth of the nursing calf. Additionally, a positive plane of nutrition is extremely important to support return to estrus and successful breeding. Estrus and initiation of pregnancy is often one of the first physiologic processes affected by lack of adequate nutrition. Cows that lack adequate body condition and cows that are losing weight may not cycle and settle well, thus reducing pregnancy rate and calf crop for next year.

Additionally, supplementation may reduce the pressure on the pastures thus allowing them to catch up a bit. Even in a typical year, excessive early grazing pressure can have a negative impact on overall forage production for the season. In many cases, some lesser grazing pressure and/or extended rest may be required to allow pastures to thrive. Producers should think strategically about how and where to feed supplemental feedstuffs to minimize further damage to pasture, as is sometimes seen in feeding areas and other high traffic areas.

Hay can be used as supplement to grazing but for many, hay supplies are running low. Corn coproducts like distillers grains can work well to supplement and stretch hay supplies. Coproducts are low-starch feeds that are very compatible with forage-based diets. Other feeds such as soybean hulls, corn, and corn silage also can be used for supplementation. Whatever feed is used, supplements must be fed appropriately to optimize rumen function, digestibility and animal health. Producers may want to work with nutritionists, extension professionals or other advisors to supplement at appropriate inclusion rates.

Weather permitting, full-fledged grazing season is almost here. By supplementing just a little longer producers may be able to improve the productivity of their cattle and their pastures.

Source: Iowa State University