Winter feeding (Animal Science Update)
(Editor’s note: Michael Westendorf is with the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University.)
Now is a good time to think ahead about winter feed supplies.
If you are facing limited supplies of hay, pasture, and/or corn silage, there are options to consider.
Proper forage supplies provide an excellent source of nutrients, fiber for proper rumen fermentation, and energy and protein for optimal growth and performance.
It is difficult to achieve the highest levels of production without adequate forage supplies.
Preparing for short forage supplies will require planning, innovation, and good management to be successful.
Budgeting Feed Supplies
• Inventory animals to be fed;
• Determine nutrient requirements;
• Inventory available feed supplies; and
• Analyze for feed quality
Animal Inventory: When budgeting feed supplies, it is first important to determine which animals need to be fed.
Separating into different management groups based on life stage and production level is a good place to start.
The following groups can be identified: 1.) Gestating animals before lambing, kidding, calving, etc.; 2.) Lactating animals; 3.) Calves/kids/lambs; 4.) Replacements; 5.) Growing animals to be sold for meat; 6) Bred young stock; and 7.) Males if used for breeding on the farm. Since requirements vary for each group, each group should be managed individually.
Determine Nutrient Requirements. Lactating animals are the single most important group to be fed.
Calves can receive mother’s milk and commercial starter or grain as they grow.
Replacements and animals raised for market can receive diets higher in concentrates provided adequate fiber is available.
Bred replacements are still growing and need energy and protein in addition to high quality forage.
Gestating animals can fed be a lower quality forage, provided animals receive adequate energy and protein without getting over-conditioned prior to giving birth.
Bulls can be fed the general herd grain mix provided access is limited and some forage is available.
For more information about nutrient requirements for animals, resources found at https://articles.extension.org/main/communities may be useful.
Inventory available feed supplies. Available forage supplies should be inventoried.
This can be used to determine needs for purchased feed and forage.
Forage Quantity and Quality: The final step is determining the availability and quality of forage.
As forage quality declines, the need for concentrate supplementation will increase. Forage testing and balancing diets to meet nutrient requirements is the key to being able to use available forage supplies, particularly when forage quality is poor.
There are commercial laboratories nearby which can test feedstuffs for nutrient content.
Local Cooperative Extension offices or commercial feed suppliers should be able to help.
Managing Forage Supplies: When forage availability is limited and quality is poor, farmers still have options. They may:
• Purchase extra forage. It is likely that there will be available forage, particularly hay, which may be purchased. A forage testing program is important when purchasing forage;
• Increase concentrate feeding. It is possible to balance poor forage quality with increasing grain in the diet. Maintaining adequate fiber minimums in the diet is important. When fiber levels are too low in the diet, there may be digestive disorders when feeding ruminant animals. Adequate forage fiber is essential to stimulate proper rumen fermentation and eliminate digestive disorders;
• Stockpiling fall forage growth is a possibility for extending forage resources. When cool-season grass pastures are available, animals can be removed from pastures at the end of summer and forage can be allowed to regrow and store and stockpile growth until later in the fall. This will provide some available forage for grazing in late fall (October to December);
• Fall cover crops can be planted. Brassicas (kale, turnips), small grains, legumes and cool season grasses can make a good blend. These should not be seeded after late summer. Please contact your local Cooperative Extension Agent for information; and
•Purchase by-product feeds having replacement forage value. There are numerous by-product feeds available which may be substituted for forage. Many of these are excellent sources of fiber and are highly digestible.
Below is a list of several by-products which may substitute for forages: apple pomace (dehydrated), beet pulp (dehydrated), brewer’s grains, corn cobs, cottonseed hulls, soybean hulls, whole cottonseed. wheat middling’s, wheat straw.
These all may be fed, especially when included as part of a complete ration. When brewer’s grain or apple pomace or any byproduct is fed wet, they may pose storage problems and result in depressions in feed intake.
Combinations of by-products may be used to replace forage in a total mixed ration.
An example of a replacement forage for dairy cows would be: cottonseed hulls 600 pounds. soybean hulls 800 pounds, ground corn 500 pounds, soybean meal 100 pounds.
This mix would have the following nutrient content when compared to alfalfa hay or corn silage. (Net Energy for Lactation per pound of feed; ADF = Acid Detergent Fiber; NDF = Neutral Detergent Fiber; CP = Crude Protein.; (Calculated from NRC, 1989):
• Replacement Feed: 0.72 Net Energy; 43-percent ADF; 57-percent NDF; 11.1-percent crude protein;
• Alfalfa Hay: 0.61 Net Energy; 31-percent ADF; 42-percent NDF; 18-percent crude protein; and
• Corn Silage: 0.73 Net Energy; 28-percent ADF; 51-percent NDF; 8.1-percent crude protein.
The above example illustrates how a replacement forage would compare with either corn silage or alfalfa hay.
In addition to declining energy and protein values, nutrient loss of vitamins and minerals will be a problem, especially with poor quality hay.
Ensure that there are adequate vitamins provided in a premix, particularly vitamins A, D, and E.
In addition, trace minerals such as cobalt, iron, copper, manganese, potassium, selenium, sulfur, and zinc, will provide raw materials to ensure the immune system is operating at peak efficiency.
Copper toxicity is a risk whenever supplementing copper to sheep, contact your veterinarian if you think copper supplementation is needed.
A general vitamin/mineral premix should be adequate to meet requirements.
A year of poor forage production will require better planning and management.
Time spent calculating needs and supplies will be far more profitable than time spent buying whatever is available at the last minute.
It will be essential to plan, test available feeds for nutrient content, buy to meet needs, and balance for all nutrients.
(Writer’s note: This article was adapted from New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Publication 749: Feeding the Dairy Herd When Forage Supplies are Limited. https://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/publication.php?pid=FS749.)
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