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Getting the Most Benefit from Your Spring Forage

Cattle8We all look forward to spring, when the trees bud, the birds sing and the grasses are that beautiful, rich green. It’s a time when nature can help undo some of the damage that bad weather, low-quality forage—and yes, even less than perfect management techniques—may have inflicted on your herd.

Spring pastures deliver the maximum levels of protein and energy, according to Ted Perry, Purina Animal NutritionBeef Nutritionist. While spring grasses are loaded with nutrients, a balanced mineral supplement should always be offered, he explained.

“In the spring, you want to make sure the cows are getting enough magnesium,” Perry said. “Spring forages are high in protein, energy, phosphorus and potassium, but they can be lower in magnesium. This mineral imbalance can cause grass tetany.”

When preparing cows for calving and rebreeding, there are clear benefits from utilizing as many of those spring grass nutrients as possible to increase body condition, especially in cows that have become thin over the winter. Rotational grazing is one method that helps us take advantage of the nutrients in spring grasses. If a farm is set up to accommodate this practice, moving cows through different pastures, he recommends allowing them to graze down to 3-4 inches before moving them to other pastures where grasses are 8-9 inches high.

Forage analysis can also be helpful in determining mineral needs, Perry explained, but they only paint a “wide brush stroke”. You can’t rely on such analyses alone to prescribe exactly what’s needed.

Many variables affect the results of forage testing,including different species in the pasture and different times of the year. And, even when a broad cross-section of samples is diligently collected, you still may not get an accurate picture of consumption.“

In a study we conducted in the 80s, we used a lawnmower to collect samples which represented all the forages in a given area,” Perry offered. “Then, we compared those with what the cows were eating. We found the two samples to be very different. Cows are selective about what they eat, so forage analysis tells you what’s out there in total, but not necessarily what the cows are eating.”

Approximately 40 percent of cows in the United States never get any supplemental minerals, according to Perry. And, minerals are key to a cow’s production efficiency, both in terms of feed efficiency and milk production.

“Minerals help make all of a cow’s biological systems work better and more efficiently,” he stated. “We know that when cows receive adequate minerals, their rumen function,feed efficiency, and reproduction all improve. You can’t really measure milk production in beef cattle operations, but we know milk production drops in dairy cows when they do not receive adequate minerals. So, we can presume a similar correlation in beef cattle.”

“The cost of a mineral program is minimal—only $35-40 of the $400-500 it will cost you to keep the cow,” he added. “Without it, you take the chance that the cow will not produce a $1,000 calf. The minerals assure she will be as efficient as possible. And, in the drought conditions we’ve had the last couple of years, we need to do everything we can to enhance cow production. Mineral supplements with the appropriate additives also give us an easy, economical way to deliver fly control and antibiotics to prevent anaplasmosis.”

Purina Animal Nutrition offers more than 100 different formulations of minerals that target different seasons, different forage and pasture types and different weather patterns. The Wind & Rain® Storm® minerals have been specially formulated for consistent, predictable intake and also resist losses due to wind, rain and even storms.

Talk to us all the mineral supplement options available to you and how we can help you choose the mineral program that’s right for your operation at any given time of year.