How to get the most out of pastures during dry times

Dry conditions across the country means many livestock producers are in a tough spot when it comes to grazing.

When the pastures are dry, what other options are there to feeding cattle?

There are some steps to take to ensure pastures can handle dry conditions in the future, but for many, the need for viable pastureland is more immediate.

Karin Schmid, a beef production specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers says there are three strategies farmers should consider if trying to avoid selling calves early:

1. Manage livestock inventory

Early weaning is a highly effective tool, Schmid says.

She says if farmers have the feed to drylot calves, it has been proven early weaned calves gain great and reduce the stress on the pasture.

"Some data from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln actually shows for every two and a half days that a calf is weaned from a dam they get one more day out of grazing," Schmid says.

She adds producers could also cull some non-productive cattle they were already considering selling at the end of the grazing season. 

2. Manage forages

Creating smaller paddocks can be a long-term solution for a healthy pasture, but Schmid says it can also help in a last-second pinch.

"The cattle use everything that is there and it gives the rest of the pasture more time to rest. It does add labour and some expense in terms of temporary fencing and making sure water sources are available."

3. Alternative feeds

Schmid says laying out straw or corn stoves could also be a solution, however, she warns against feeding crops that may have some hail damage.

"You do want to watch out for nitrates, so you may want to wait for a few days after the hail damage to swath it," Schmid says. "If the nitrates are too high, that will cause health issues in the cattle. You can also get it tested to find out."

She adds that low energy feeds like straw should only be used as a filler as it won't provide the cow with the energy during gestation and lactation.

Cedric MacLeod is executive director for the Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association.

He says it's best to avoid use of mature crops as feed.

"Mature crops don't make the best feed, because of the animals ability to digest it and a lot of the good stuff has gone into the grain," MacLeod says.

Move the cattle to feed

MacLeod says another option farmers across the country are turning to is moving the cattle to feed.

He says that's what's happening in Quebec right now.

"Folks are switching plans to harvest corn with grain and moving it into silage or even grazing that crop," MacLeod says.

Bottom line

Dry grasslands scattered across the country means many livestock producers are seeking the best methods for feeding their cattle. Moving cattle to feed and finding alternative foods are a couple of options for producers to consider.

Article by: Craig Lester