More tips on pasture and feeding in times of drought

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By Gary Sliworsky
OMAFRA Rep.

Following last week’s article, this week’s is part two with the last of ten tips for pasture and feeding in dry conditions.
7. Feeding poorer quality feed will decrease an animal’s performance as the animal can not maintain itself or grow. Other symptoms may manifest themselves with breeding females (espe cially heifers) through reduced growth, weak calves born, lower quality colostrum, and a tendency to slow re-breeding. Sometimes we are forced to feed very low quality feed. Make sure you know how much the livestock are eating, and then combine this information with feed analysis to ensure they are meeting nutrient and performance requirements.
8. One alternative available to producers is to include straw in the ration. Good quality straw is a surprisingly good energy source for ruminants. With percent Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) values in the mid-40’s, straw can be much more than just a filler, providing a significant proportion of energy needs. However, straw is low in protein (only 4 percent to 5 percent) so the ration must include an adequate source of protein, along with the appropriate mineral mix and salt. Oat straw is more palatable than barley straw, while barley straw is more palatable than wheat straw. Since oat straw is also the highest in energy content, it is the best choice for cow rations, followed by barley straw. The best candidates for straw feeding are mature dry cows in good body condition, up to six weeks away from calving. These animals have the lowest nutritional requirements of any in the herd. Save your best forages for bred heifers and young cows pregnant with their second calf, as well as for post-calving rations. Thin cows should be grouped with the bred heifer group to enable them to consume enough nutrients for successful calving and re-breeding.
9. Look for alternate grazing areas, on your farm and in your community. Select fields that have been down for a few years as your first choice. In some parts of the province there are fields that have not been cropped or pastured for a number of years; investigate the possibility of utilizing some of these for extra forage. There will be a cost for fencing, but that will need to be balanced against the value of the extra pasture that you will achieve. Temporary electric fence can be easily erected to make use of an area that has not traditionally been pastured.
10. The benefits of a nitrogen application this fall don’t stop with producing extra fall forage and improved weed control. Dr. Bob Sheard, when he was at the University of Guelph, also found that fall applications of nitrogen were important to get grasses to overwinter and grow quickly in the following spring. Grasses fertilized in the fall accumulate more nitrogenous food reserves which are used to support life in the winter and to start growth in the spring. An extra two weeks of productive pasture in the spring can be obtained from nitrogen applied from September to late October. If winter feed stocks are tight that extra two weeks is a major benefit! The fertility management you choose to follow this fall will have a major impact on the 2013 grazing season. Even if we have another dry year your pastures will be ready to provide as much feed as possible.