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Extension Agent: Preparing your cowherd for winter

By By Peter J. McGuill
Sept. 17, 2013 at 4:17 a.m.


The current daytime high temperatures are still in the mid-90s, and the air conditioner is begging for some relief. This doesn't seem like the best time to get ready for winter, does it?

Preparing for those cold and, hopefully, moist conditions requires a few months of effort now to make it through to spring with a healthy cow herd that is in good condition to birth and raise a healthy calf crop in 2014.

It is to be expected that cattle are going to shed a few pounds during the winter and drop at least one body condition score. With this in mind, now is a good time to evaluate your cowherd and adjust your feeding regimen to get them ready. Waiting to do this until the first cool front blows through may be too late.

The drought that we are only recently getting some relief from has taken its toll on cattle, and many are still struggling to reach a preferred body condition level. These thin cattle will need added attention to get them ready for winter.

There is no doubt that the recent rains that many received will provide some relief, however, supplemental feeding may still be required to bring them to a level of condition that is acceptable.

Utilizing cool season annual grasses looks to be a more promising endeavor this year than in 2012. We finally have some soil moisture, and a few more rains through the fall is all many will need to grow a good winter pasture. Oats, ryegrass and wheat are all good options, depending on your soil type, and legumes can be put in that discussion as another option to provide forage through the winter.

Annual ryegrass, a high-yielding, nutritious grass, is the most widely grown cool-season annual forage in the southern and southeastern U.S. It is adapted to most soils and tolerant of wet, poorly drained soils. Ryegrass is very responsive to N fertilization, with the peak growth occurring during the spring. Ryegrass produces forage that is high in nutritive value and, thus, provides excellent animal performance.

Oats and wheat are equally beneficial choices. These seeded annuals prefer a well-drained soil and tend to perform better than ryegrass in sandier soils and under drier conditions.

These grasses are more prone to develop leaf diseases under wet conditions as compared to rye but will outperform ryegrass if we don't continue to receive beneficial rainfall.

Regardless of your decision to plant winter forages, the health and nutritional wellbeing of your cowherd going into the cooler months should be addressed now, while you still have time to fix any deficiencies that they may have.

Peter J. McGuill is the Victoria County extension agent - ag and natural resources. Contact him at 361-575-4581 or pjmcguill@ag.tamu.edu.

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