It’s time to review cattle ration, forage (The Vet’s Voice)
(Editor’s note: Matthew Weeman is owner of Bayside Bovine Veterinary Services.)
As with many things on your operation, it’s important to periodically step back and re-evaluate the cattle ration.
This year in particular, a lot of producers are frustrated by the fact that their cattle are thinner than usual. The deworming protocol has not changed, the minerals have not changed, the pasture and the management style are all consistent, so what happened?
While every operation is different, one consistent struggle this year in our region is forage quality. We had rain when we didn’t need it, and we didn’t get enough of it when we did. This caused forages to grow under stress, which led to increased maturity as producers struggled to find an opportunity to harvest. The result of this is decreased forage quality, which may not be readily apparent by just looking at the bale.
Producers are encouraged to obtain a forage analysis to really understand what it is they are feeding. At a minimum, it is critical to watch the cattle and see how they are responding. If the cattle seem thin they probably are, and just because they have a bale of hay in front of them at all times does not mean we’ve done what we need to do. Cattle require balanced nutrients to thrive, and the effects of an imbalance can be delayed and manifest themselves in different ways. Cattle not receiving enough energy will lose weight, are likely to succumb to illnesses such as pneumonia they would ordinarily be resistant to, and will eventually go down and be unable to stand.
Hay that is moldy, has heat damage or is generally less digestible may cause cattle to develop that characteristic “hay belly”. Cattle with rough coats and minimal fat covering over the withers and hips with a huge round center aren’t getting the nutrients they require. Work with your veterinarian, Extension agents and nutritionist to fill the gap. It is not possible to look at hay and learn much about it its nutrient availability; if analyzing the ration is not something that can be done, increase the amount of grain being supplemented to fill the gap.
There are many reasons cattle may be thin but not all of them stem from parasites or other metabolic problems and many cattle around our region at this time are too thin and it’s because they aren’t getting the nutrition they need from the hay. Feeding grain is expensive, but, thin cattle are going to give birth to underweight calves, and underweight calves often fail to thrive. Additionally, there are increasing numbers of cattle going down this year due to malnutrition and few things are more costly to the cattle producer than the loss of cattle nearing the end of gestation.
It may be true that the cattle have never required grain before this year and while it may be frustrating to accept that this year is different, it does no good to turn a blind eye to the thin cows in the pasture simply because we don’t want to accept the expense of adding grain to the ration. Cattle need to gain weight throughout the winter season and if yours are not, there is a problem — one that needs a resolution before it costs more than five pounds of grain.
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P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925