I, like many of you, am cautiously celebrating the end of winter—baby calves turning didoes in the field and watching the green grass grow and flourish. As nice as it is now, we are preparing for summer to ensure that not only will our cows hopefully have enough pasture but that it will stretch all the way to fall.
We all know the importance of a momma’s nutritional status throughout rebreeding and pregnancy. With the development of the growing calf, and not to mention the little one at her side also depending on her, it becomes quite a strain. Obviously, stockpiling grasses is the preferred choice, but we need to be mindful of what the cows’ needs are during these times, in addition to the heat stress that always seems to find us in summer months.
Avoiding the summer pasture slump is something that requires planning and consideration as warmer months are on the horizon. Typically forages below a seven percent protein, which is typical for late summer grass stands, will leave cows short of the nutrition they require to maintain themselves while still caring for their little dependents.
If pastures are not adequately managed, protein deficiency may become a herd health challenge with symptoms including reduced intake and forage digestibility, reduced growth rate, weight loss, inadequate intake of other nutrients, delayed or irregular estrus, poor conception rate and reduced milk production.
A beef cow in lactation will consume approximately three to four percent of her body weight in forages daily. As an example, a 1,300-pound mature cow consumes about 45 pounds of forage per day. Typically, we like to graze until forage reaches three to four inches, then its time for a move. Doing so will maintain the integrity of your grass stand allowing it to rebound. Grazing it too low can cause more harm than good, think of it in comparison to when mowing the lawn; when we cut the grass too short in the yard, then direct sunlight with extreme heat hits and what happens? We have a brown lawn that never quite looks right. This is exactly what we do not want in the pasture.
Upon evaluation of our pastures, we can make an informed decision on how we need to protect our investment of cows carrying calves and grass stands. By working together, we can develop a plan that best suits the needs for supplementation in order to get the cows where we need them to be at calving while also ensuring pastures produce up to their potential.