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Animal Science and Forages > ASF Blog > Posts > Winter Feeding Considerations for Beef Cattle For Now and Later

‚ÄčAs Alabama continues to experience drought conditions across the state, many cattle producers are thinking about how they can economically feed cattle through the winter months. With limited rainfall, forage production potential is low, which means most producers will rely on stored forage and supplement to meet the nutritional needs of the herd. Initial hay reserves left over from the 2015 season have now been exhausted, and most are feeding this year's crop. Limited rainfall over the spring and summer months in 2016 reduced the number of hay harvests this year. In the best cases, some producers averaged three to four cuttings. However, those in areas of extreme drought may have only been able to harvest one or two cuttings at best. Strategies for managing the nutritional needs for cattle now are going to be based off of these supplies and require some forward thinking into projected conditions for spring 2017. 

Three Things Producers Can Do Today

  1. Estimate the amount of hay available and how many days of feeding this will provide - A good rule of thumb is that a mature cow will consume between 2.0 to 2.5% of her body weight per day in dry matter. This is roughly about how much hay needs to be provided per day per head.
  2. Conduct a forage analysis to determine quality - A forage analysis can provided needed information about the nutritional value of the forage (specifically, energy, protein, and mineral composition). Visit with your Animal Science and Forage regional extension agent about the results to determine if supplementation is needed to help cattle maintain good body condition this winter.
  3. Feed hay in a sacrifice paddock - While it might be tempting to leave the gate open and let cattle graze any remaining stubble in the pasture, this can negatively impact stand health and the potential for recovery once the rain returns. Consider keeping cattle in more of a drylot situation, also known as a sacrific paddock, to minimize damage across the farm. 

Three Things Producers Must Consider Now for Later

  1. Be prepared to address a spring forage production gap - The effects of this year's drought will impact forage production in spring 2017 as perennial grass pastures break dormancy. Depending on the amount of rainfall received this winter, it is likely that there will be both delayed and reduced forage production in March and April, a time where many producers count on the ability to get out of the window for hay feeding. This is because these plants experienced stress both from extreme grazing pressure and lack of water for regrowth in the previous management season. Cattle producers must be prepared to meet the nutritional needs of cattle during this window when forage production may be lacking.
  2. Locate alternative roughages now - If you project that you will run out of hay, now is the time to locate alternative roughage sources. Because many of these byproducts are seasonal in nature (a result of recent row crop harvests), there is a limited supply of these resources and local availability is currently at its peak. More information on alternative feeds can be found in our Timely Information sheet on alternative feeding strategies for beef cattle during drought. 
  3. Be prepared to address some hard questions. - The cost of feeding hay and supplement through the winter is a significant input cost. In a time of depressed cattle markets, consider if the cost benefit of carrying animals through the winter is worth the potential return. Watch the body condition of the herd closely throughout the winter. Develop a culling strategy and be prepared to implement it now and later. 



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