Its time for beef producers to look to the future and that inventory of stockpiled winter nutrients! It is time to be prepared for winter. That is right I said its time to be prepared, not time to start preparing.  By this time of year cattlemen should have a plan in place to feed their herd through the winter. For many that means they have stored hay, or stockpiled forages. When we think of having hay reserves or stockpiled forage, we often consider the tonnage. Do we have enough yield to get through the winter? While it is important to consider dry matter intake requirements of your herd, it is also important to make sure we are strategically making the best use of our forages to meet nutrient requirements, mainly protein and energy.  So, how have you done stockpiling nutrients?  

Hay Reserves

It is always important to have stored hay as an emergency reserve. We need to ensure cattle get fed even when winter’s blizzards have covered our pastures.  Does your stored hay meet your cattle’s requirements? Does it account for the extra need for energy under cold temperatures and wind chills? A 1200lb gestating beef cow will require 7.1% crude protein and 50% total digestible nutrients (TDN) on a dry basis. This is a reasonable goal for the quality of stored hay, however, as the temperature drops and wind picks up, the TDN will need to be adjusted by 1% for each degree temperature drop below the estimated lower critical temperature of 18°F. Meaning if the lows reach -10°F she will require 77% TDN.

Cover Crops and Crop Residues

Producers who plan to use cover crops for late fall grazing and early spring grazing should already have these planted by now.  Consider sampling these forages as cattle graze them to ensure they do not require supplementation.  The same consideration should be taken for cattle grazing crop residues, consider that cornstalks can be as low as 3% crude protein. It will be important when grazing these types of residual forages to ensure an economical supplement strategy is in place to ensure these cattle are getting the protein, energy, and micronutrients they require. 

Pastures and Windrows

Finally, pastures and windrows are often used as stockpiled feed for winter nutrients. It is crucial to test these forages as well. Often forages that have been left standing to mature will have high fiber content impeding intake and therefore animals do not meet their pounds per day requirements for protein or energy. Windrowed forages are typically more protected from the elements and can be harvested to optimize quality. Understanding the nutritional value of these forages as well as their characteristics that affect how they are utilized by the animal is key. Observing body condition scores should also play a key role in assuring nutrient requirements are met.

So, take an inventory of your forages and supplemental feeds available. This will help you plan to feed out stockpiled forages in the most strategic way. Cow requirements increase as she progresses from early to late gestation and on to lactation in early spring.  Take that into consideration when building your feeding plan. Knowing the nutrients and characteristics of your forages will always help make the best possible feeding decisions. Let’s make the best use of our stockpiled winter nutrients.

About the author

Rebecca earned her M.S. in Animal Nutrition from the University of Wyoming with a collaborative project with the US Meat Animal Research Center. She is an active member of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists. With a passion for producer education she is a regular contributor to Progressive Forage Magazine. Currently, she serves as the Immediate Past President of the NIRS Forage and Feed Testing Consortium (NIRSC).

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