Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358 Fax: (859) 323-1952
Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-2853 Fax: (859) 257-3412
Pastures have greened up and are once again producing lush, high quality forages for grazing. Although it may be tempting to put livestock back on these pastures right away, certain precautions should be taken to protect the livestock and the new forage growth.
In order to keep livestock gains and production from suffering, it can often be beneficial to make the transition from stored feed to the new pasture growth gradually. Making an immediate switch from dry hay to the early spring growth can sometimes negatively affect livestock performance. New growth is highly digestible and has lower fiber content than later growth and dry hay. Consuming this highly digestible feed can cause diarrhea, especially when livestock are quickly switched from a dry hay diet. Supplementing a higher fiber feed such as dry hay as a portion of the diet can reduce this issue by slowing rumen passage rates. Often, livestock are turned out onto pastures that have not grown to the recommended height and ground cover may be fairly sparse. Animals may not be getting a full mouth of feed and if there is increased traveling distance to reach adequate amounts of forage, gains and production may decrease. Increasing travel means less time grazing which can attribute to reduced gains. Mixing dry hay into the diet when shifting to early spring pastures can allow animals to become accustomed to the change in diet and can benefit herd health. Hay can be gradually removed from the diet.
Another important aspect to herd health and performance in early spring grazing is to supply the livestock with adequate minerals. Minerals play a large role in animal health, growth, reproduction, and overall performance. These can either be fed free-choice or can be added to a supplemented feed. Minerals should complement the forages and other feed livestock is consuming. Location of free choice feeders can affect intake. Placing the feeder closer to a water source will increase mineral intake. High salt concentration in a mineral mix will decrease intake. In the early spring, a high magnesium, or high “Mg” mineral should be available to reduce the risk of grass tetany. This supplement should be available to livestock starting in December or January and should continue until spring time when temperatures are consistently above 60F. 20 grams of magnesium need to be consumed daily to effectively prevent grass tetany. Free-choice minerals should contain 12 to 15% magnesium (from magnesium oxide) and cattle need to consume 4 ounces of the mineral. It is important that the livestock have minerals available daily whether minerals are available to them free-choice or being added to a supplemented feed. Consuming the correct minerals in adequate amounts will keep herd health and performance high.
Early spring is a crucial time for forage and pasture management as it will affect the stands production throughout the grazing season. Spring growth should be at least 6 inches before grazing and animals should be removed when plants are grazed down to approximately 3 to 4 inches. Because early spring usually has high amounts of precipitation, it is important to protect forages and soils from possible damage during these wet conditions. Livestock should be rotated at a faster rate or put into a sacrifice or corral area during wet periods to keep damage to a minimum.
Keeping livestock, forages, and soil in good condition in the early spring as pasture production starts to rapidly increase can benefit the performance of all throughout the grazing season. Drastically changing an animal’s diet can have negative effects of the animal’s health and performance. When changing a diet from stored feed to lush, new forage growth, gradually removing the hay from the diet can decrease negative effects. Supplying hay or other stored feed can also be beneficial if the new growth is sparse to keep gains (or milk production) high and to protect pastures from overgrazing at this time. Keeping animals supplied with the minerals needed at all times is crucial to animal performance. Supplying a high “Mg” mineral will protect against grass tetany. It is necessary to allow pastures to establish before heavy grazing. Protecting pastures during periods of extremely wet conditions can help to keep forages stands healthy and productive. Taking steps to keep livestock and pastures in good condition in the early spring will pay off with high production and performance throughout the grazing season.
Beef cattle grazing new spring growth