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Extension Agent: Considerations for feeding cattle

Oct. 4, 2011 at 5:04 a.m.


By Sam Womble

Recently, I had a telephone discussion with a producer that asked if I could share some thoughts on feeding cattle. We all know the current condition - dry, lack of standing forage, hay in short supply, the list goes on. Since most producers are dealing with the same challenges, if you elect to feed cattle, here are a few things to consider.

Mineral - Use a complete mineral supplement containing 10-20 percent salt, 12 percent calcium, 12 percent phosphorus, 5 percent magnesium, .9 percent zinc and .2 percent copper.

Protein - Cows will need protein if there is plenty of standing forage but low in quality or if cows are in early lactation. Common forms of protein supplement include meals, cubes, blocks and licks. In most instances, consumption is around one to three pounds/head/day. The main thing to remember here is cost/pound of protein.

Energy - Cows will need energy if grass is low in quantity but still green. This is where hay fits into the equation. Remember that the biggest expense in hay involves waste (10-33 percent). Grain can also be used as an energy supplement. One pound of grain can replace 1.5 to 2 pounds of hay.

Hay - Poor quality hay has less than 7 percent crude protein and less than 50 percent total digestible nutrients. Since the nutritive content of this type hay is so low, supplemental needs are high. Medium quality hay has a CP content of 7-11 percent and a TDN value of 50-57 percent. In most instances, hay of this quality needs little to no supplementation. High quality hay has greater than 12 percent CP and 57 percent TDN. Perhaps the only instance a producer might need to supplement would be if you have extremely high milking cows in low body condition. Typically, a dry pregnant cow requires hay with at least 7 percent crude protein as opposed to a lactating cow where the requirement approaches 12 percent. The only true way to gain an understanding of hay quality is to have your hay tested. There are several benefits for both the producer and the purchaser. As the producer, if you know the nutritive value of your hay crop, you can use that information as a marketing tool. The purchaser on the other hand, can use that information to formulate a supplemental feeding program around.

Protein + Energy - Cows will need protein and energy if grass is dry, brown or nonexistent. Additionally, consider this approach when digestibility is less than 50 percent, cows are thin and during breeding and peak lactation. Serious thought should be given to selling calves and some of the older, poorer cows. Feed options include range cubes, beefmaker type feed (total mixed ration), whole cottonseed, syrup blocks, liquid supplement and hay. Cubes, whole cottonseed and total mixed rations can be fed at two to six pounds/head/day.

Lastly, spend some time evaluating fecal pads. This may sound ironic, but remember that fecal pads are one of the best indicators of nutritional status. High coarse pads indicate protein deficiency if cows are in good body condition. Thin cows with high coarse pads will be deficient in both protein and energy.

For more information on drought feeding management, contact the Victoria County Extension Office at 361-575-4581.

Sam Womble is a Victoria County extension agent - natural resources.

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