Add protein to low quality forages

With fall on the way, producers are looking for options to stretch their grazing season as late as possible.

In most situations, it’s cheaper to keep cows grazing on the land rather than locking them in corrals and hauling feed. It’s important that producers let the cows work for them, and it will also save them some cash.

Trevor Lennox, a forage development specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said two options available to many producers are to graze crop aftermath, such as stubble and chaff, or use stockpiled perennial forages.

“It’s important to understand the quality of the forage the animals are using in order to provide any required supplements,” he said.

“Once forages lose their green colour in the fall, protein is usually lacking in the diet. When this occurs, providing the cattle with a protein supplement will improve their ability to utilize low-quality forages.”

Lennox said supplements can have additional benefits, such as using them to lure cattle into areas they might normally avoid.

A Montana study found that strategically placing low-moisture blocks in the pastures enticed cattle to travel long distances or climb slopes to eat the supplement.

“An ATV and trailer can be used to allow accurate placement of blocks in rugged terrain,” Lennox said.

For producers who graze perennial forages, it’s important to leave residue on the surface rather than graze the crop to the ground.

“Plant residue plays an important role in nutrient cycling and moisture retention, so maintaining some cover is very beneficial for production in the following year,” Lennox said.

“Many of the tame forages function best when 20 to 30 percent of the year’s growth is left as litter on the soil surface, while native forages function best when 40 to 50 percent of the crop is left behind in any given year.”

With low soil moisture in certain parts of the Prairies, Lennox said some tame pastures did not regenerate well after being grazed earlier in the season. This means some producers are running short of pasture because of poor regrowth.

“Rather than leaving the cattle in a pasture too long and allowing overgrazing to occur, a producer is usually better off to pull the animals off a little earlier instead of ‘grazing a pasture into the ground’ and sacrificing next year’s production,” he said.

Producers should also be aware that perennial forages initiate a lot of their buds for next year’s growth in the fall, and heavy grazing after this time can injure these buds.

“When these growing buds are injured, yield may be compromised,” Lennox said.

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