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Cattle Nutrient Needs During Drought Can Be Met in Different Ways

Cattle Nutrient Needs During Drought Can Be Met in Different Ways

Cattle Nutrient Needs During Drought Can Be Met in Different Ways

"Hay is an option, but it's not the only option." John Johns, UK beef cattle specialist


Energy is the nutrient needed in greatest quantity by cattle. This is particularly true during a drought. Producers can satisfy their herd's energy needs in different ways.

"The type of feed used by producers to give cattle energy is not as important as making sure they get it," said John Johns, Extension beef cattle specialist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "Producers often use forages, such as hay, because it's grown on their farm. But when drought hurts forage production, farmers can successfully turn to other options."

According to Johns, producers looking to buy hay should be aware that grains or certain commodity feeds have high energy content, and often are cheaper than hay per-unit-of-nutrient.

"Hay is an option, but it's not the only option," said Johns. "In fact, good managers may find they can save money and get the same or better results with other types of feed."

In recent trials conducted at The Ohio State University, one set of beef cows was fed corn and another set was fed round-bale hay free- choice. Both sets received pasture during grazing season. Results showed that corn-fed cows weaned heavier calves than hay-fed cows. Conception rates also were slightly better with corn. Based on feed prices, the cost of wintering cows fed corn was half the cost of wintering cows fed hay.

"We're not saying don't feed hay," said Johns. "We're simply saying that producers should investigate their feeding options carefully before committing, because savings could be significant."

Johns said some producers may want to use drought-damaged corn crops for silage. Although this is a viable alternative, he said drought silage is different from normal silage and must be managed and fed differently.

"Drought-stressed corn silage contains less energy than normal silage but is still adequate for dry or lactating cows," Johns said. "But producers should be aware that growing cattle will likely gain 10 to 30 percent less on drought silage."

Johns recommends that producers refer to the UK Cooperative Extension publication ID-86, "Using Drought Stressed Corn," available through their county Extension office. He also cautions producers who are considering grazing drought-stressed corn or drought-stressed soybeans.

"Nitrates may be high in drought corn, and this could lead to toxicity," he said. "With soybeans, research has shown that cattle grazing immature beans can bloat and possibly die. Feeding an ionophore in a free-choice mineral or block will reduce this possibility."

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