Make the move to pastures cautiously

By Mike Rankin, Managing Editor

After some tough months of feeding hay on a regular basis, the thought of moving cattle to lush, green pastures seems enticing; however, realize that this a drastic change in an animal’s diet.

The spring pasture time period can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there are usually ample acres of fast-growing forage; on the other, that extremely high-quality forage contains a lot of water, which sometimes makes it hard for cattle to consume enough dry matter to meet nutritional needs.

An immediate transition from dry hay to the early spring growth can easily affect livestock performance, but not in a good way. This highly digestible new growth has a lower fiber content than more mature growth and dry hay.

According to beef nutrition experts at the University of Kentucky, consuming highly digestible green forage can cause diarrhea, especially when livestock are quickly switched from a dry hay diet. It’s better to transition cows onto pastures by supplementing a high-fiber feed such as dry hay as a portion of the diet. This can benefit the animal by slowing rumen passage rates.

Smaller bites

When pastures are green but short, cattle have a more difficult time getting a full mouth of feed. Cattle expend additional energy moving around the pasture to consume adequate amounts of forage, reducing gains and body condition scores. This can also impact future reproductive efficiency.

Mixing dry hay into the diet during the pasture transition period will benefit overall herd health and performance. As pasture grasses continue to mature and cattle become accustomed to the fresh forage, hay can be gradually removed from the diet.

Early spring is also a time when pastures must be set up for the upcoming grazing season. Many experts suggest that the forage height be at least 6 inches before opening the pasture gate, and then animals need to be moved when plants are grazed down to approximately 3 to 4 inches.

With high amounts of precipitation in the spring, protect forages and soils from possible damage during wet conditions. Rotating livestock faster will minimize severe pugging and will keep more acres in a vegetative state for a longer period of time. Paddock moves and rotations need to occur much more quickly in the spring than during the summer.

Supply minerals

Mineral supplementation is needed for optimal animal health, growth, reproduction, and overall performance. This can be accomplished by feeding free-choice or adding minerals to a supplemented feed. Mineral nutrition should complement the forages and other feeds that the livestock are consuming.

The location of free choice feeders can affect intake. Placing the feeder closer to a water source will enhance mineral intake. High salt concentration in a mineral mix will reduce intake.

In the early spring, a high magnesium mineral is needed to reduce the risk of grass tetany. A “high-mag” mineral mix is usually fed until temperatures are consistently above 60°F. Twenty grams of magnesium per animal is required daily to effectively prevent grass tetany.

Feed a free-choice mineral mix that contains 12% to 15% magnesium (from magnesium oxide). Cattle will need to consume about 4 ounces of the mineral mix per head to receive their daily requirement of magnesium.