| ||While Karin Lindquist, forage/beef specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, recognizes that producers are anxious to get their cows to pasture this spring, she recommends producers hold off until the right time to increase optimized forage utilization and available grazing days to reduce feed costs. But what can producers do in the interim, especially if feed supplies are dwindling?
As hay may be limited, some producers can incorporate alternate feeds such as pea straw or silage, small grains like oats and barley, or byproducts like wheat middlings or dried distiller’s grains. “Barley and oat grain supplies are currently the cheapest feed alternatives to consider that will help prolong feed supplies” says Lindquist.
Considering forages do not hit their optimal leaf stage/height until mid-May for northern Alberta, and mid to late-April for southern Alberta, producers may need to get a bit more creative: “Producers can utilize crop-residue grazing by sectioning off the field with temporary electric fencing to strip graze, or by stockpiling grazing areas that have not been previously grazed for some time.”
Still, Lindquist heeds farmers to proceed with caution: “Stockpiling can also set back spring growth if there are young plants coming up in the stockpiled or non-grazed stand.” And there are no guarantees when it comes to quality of stockpiled forages. “Quality may be poor if grasses have not retained nutrients throughout the winter, and have been leached with early melting.”
Supplementing cattle with grain or feed pellets will also help reduce grazing pressure and get cattle to consume less stockpiled forage. “Creep feeding calves at 50 to 60 days of age with a 16 per cent protein feed will help alleviate the increased nutritional requirements of lactating cows because it puts less pressure on those cows to eat higher quality feeds for optimum milk production to raise a good-sized, 600 pound calf at weaning” says Lindquist. This also gives cows the opportunity to put on weight if they have fallen short on body condition over the winter.
By deferring grazing in a dry spring, forages have a wider window of opportunity to grow, ultimately providing more feed and nutrients for cattle, with the possibility of regrazing later in the year.