Coping with dwindling summer pastures


Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Suggestions for cattle producers who are dealing with adverse pasture conditions this year.

“Growing conditions are all over the map this year with some Alberta cattle producers dealing with too much rain and some with too little,” says Andrea Hanson livestock extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“For those producers coping with summer pasture that is going backwards quickly, there are ways to manage what forage you have left. For some, it may even be that the forage in the pasture is holding up but the water source has dried up or is questionable and hauling water is too difficult.”

If pastures are affected, it is likely the crops in the area are affected as well.

“You may want to consider whether some of the crops’ quality and kernel weight will be sufficient to take it as grain or whether cutting it early and using it for livestock feed would make more sense,” she explains.

“If your operation does not grow grain crops, speak to your neighbours, as they may be considering alternative measures and could be open to crop sharing. Also, be aware of nitrate issues, as annual crops that are stressed can be high in nitrates.”

She adds that another effective way to manage forage is by managing cattle, as weaning early reduces the amount of feed, energy and protein required by the cow. It allows her to increase or maintain her body condition, which is vitally important for her fertility.

“However, early weaning does involve planning on your part. The younger the weaning age of the calf, the higher the energy and protein levels will need to be fed. Calves older than 120 days can be backgrounded on pasture and have comparable performance to normally weaned calves – 200 days – as long as there is plenty of high quality forage available.”

She adds that a three-year Alberta Beef Industry Development fund project evaluated three stages of weaning to determine its effect on cow and calf performance and to the bottom line.

“What it found was that early weaning is a great tool for stretching pasture resources and reducing the cow’s nutritional requirements while adding body condition to the cow going into winter. As long as properly planned, there are little to no detrimental effects on the calf.”

“Plan out your feed supply sooner than later so you can start to shop around for what you need. You can stretch your feed supply by using crop residues and straw but you need to know what you are feeding.”

“Test your feed types to know what you are working with so you are not guessing what nutrients the feed contains. While there is a cost to testing, there is a much greater cost to over or underfeeding your cattle.”

Hanson adds that it is important to be tough when it comes to culling and to get those cows pregnancy checked.

“Feed costs are the number one expense in cattle operations and those cows that are not pregnant only eat into your profits. Having a more diligent culling program will free up that extra feed for those cows who are pulling their weight and will add to your future profitability.”


To connect with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-FARM (3276)


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