TTU ag professor offers winter feeding, culling tips for cattle farmers

Just because it’s officially fall and the most oppressive summer conditions are behind us for another year, it doesn’t mean livestock populations are now safe from the effects of the hot, dry weather.

Those extreme conditions could have serious nutritional repercussions throughout the winter, creating a livestock feed crisis, warns Sam Winfree, an agriculture professor at Tennessee Tech University.

“Who can remember another time when the combination of heat, dry weather, expensive fuel and fertilizer and increasing grain prices have combined to pressure the beef cattle market?” he said.

To help ease the situation, Winfree recommends a combination of culling some females from beef cattle herds and providing supplementary nutritional options to the remaining cows.

“The best option is to feed adequate levels of medium to good quality grass or grass-legume hay, but if the hay supply was abundant, winter feeding problems wouldn’t exist,” he said.

Farmers should already be feeding their beef cattle a specially formulated mix of high quality loose minerals. “These products seem expensive, but the long-term benefit of higher pregnancy rates and higher milk production are sure to offset the extra cost,” Winfree said.

Now is also the time to start cattle on high magnesium supplements if farmers plan to graze their cows on small grain pastures during the winter.

“Small grain winter pastures may relieve some of the feeding stress, but winter annuals must be established early to expect any grazing yield, and caution should be taken that cattle are not magnesium deficient when turned onto small grain pastures,” he said. “Frothy bloat — along with other metabolic disorders — may occur if cattle are not gradually introduced to fresh, green small grain pastures.”

Winfree also recommends that farmers who use small grain pastures adopt practices of rotation or strip grazing, instead of turning an entire herd onto the field and allowing free-range grazing.

Other options for nutritional supplements include yellow corn and protein tubs containing a mixture of molasses and urea.

The protein tubs, however, can be an expensive option, which cattle tend to over-consume “when hay and other roughage is in short supply,” Winfree said.

“Urea is toxic when consumed in moderate quantities, so the protein tubs are best used to supplement an adequate supply of low quality forage — not to provide gut fill or substantial calories,” he said.

“Feeding a few pounds of yellow corn grain per head, per day — even at $4 per bushel or higher — will provide usable energy cheaper than feeding marginal hay at $150 per ton,” he said.

Plus, 100 pounds of corn grain will provide about 90,000 calories — nearly double the caloric value of an equal amount of grass hay.

Regardless of the combination of wintertime nutritional supplements farmers choose for their cattle, Winfree said, effective parasite control in cattle and calves now will improve feed efficiency and herd performance later.

He suggests that beef cattle farmers consult their herd veterinarians for parasite control recommendations.

“Culling the cow herd by selling some females may offer relief during a feed crisis and may be a reasonable option, even if cow prices are lower now than one would desire,” Winfree continued.

That’s because during periods of declining cattle prices and increasing costs, only the most productive cows in the herd will be profitable.

Winfree offers farmers nine tips for selecting which cows to cull:

• Those that are open, meaning they have not been bred;
• Ones with chronic pink eye, cancer eye, blindness or other eye problems;
• Cows with bad attitudes and are difficult to catch and manage;
• Those with arthritis, joint pain and other disorders that make it difficult for them to get up and down, causing them to lag behind the rest of the herd;
• Ones with lump jaw, infected gums and other oral infections;
• Cows with previous mastitis;
• Those that are difficult or delayed breeders or have experienced rectal or vaginal prolapses or uterine infections;
• Ones that are generally poor producers;
• And cows that are too big or too narrow.

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