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Proper Management of Lush Spring Forage Can Deliver Big Benefits

cowsWith spring comes abundantly verdant pastures – pastures that deliver high levels of protein and energy, according to Ted Perry, Purina Animal Nutrition Beef Nutritionist.

“Protein and energy are highest in spring forage,” Perry said. “It’s nature’s way of letting the cows take care of themselves and erase a lot of problems caused by drought or harsh winters – or less-than-optimum management practices.”

So clearly, you want to utilize as many of those spring grass nutrients as possible to increase body condition in cows who may have gotten thin over the winter – and get them ready for calving and rebreeding.

But, even in spring, producers should be vigilant about providing a balanced mineral supplement, Perry advised.

“You want to make sure the cows are getting enough magnesium in the spring,” he said. “That’s when the forages are often high in protein, energy, phosphorus and potassium, but can be lower in magnesium. That mineral imbalance can cause grass tetany”, he cautioned.

Perry said if a farm is set up to accommodate it, rotation grazing can help you make the most of the nutrients in spring grasses. By moving cows through different pastures, he said producers allow them to get the best nutrients, while protecting the forage. He recommends grazing down to 3-4 inches before moving animals to other pastures where grasses are 8-9 inches high.

Forage analysis can also be helpful in determining mineral needs, Perry explained, but such analyses only paint a “wide brush stroke” and shouldn’t be used as the basis for a total nutritional prescription.

Many variables can affect the results of forage testing, he offered, including time of year and the variety of species in the pasture. And, even when you are diligent in collecting a broad cross-section of samples, you still may not get a completely accurate reading about consumption.

“We did an analysis in the 80s where we compared forages collected with forage consumption,” Perry explained. “We collected forages with a lawnmower, making sure all forages in a given area were represented. Then we compared that with what cows were eating and found the two 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.”

Perry said about 40 percent of cows in the United States never get any supplemental minerals. And minerals are key to a cow’s production efficiency, both in terms of efficiency and milk production. Perry said he finds himself wondering if nationwide figures show that calf crops running at about 85 percent are a result of a 10-15 percent deficit in minerals. In his opinion, there’s little reason to omit these vital nutrients.

“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 cant really measure 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 stated. “And without it, you take the chance that the cow may not produce a $1,000 calf. The minerals assure that she will be as efficient as possible. And, in the drought conditions we’ve had the last couple of years, we need to know everything we can to enhance cow production. Plus, mineral supplements gives us an easy, effective way to deliver fly control and antibiotics to address anaplasmosis.”

Contact your Land O’Lakes Cooperative or local representative today, and be sure to ask about the new Storm Mineral formulations. They can help you select the mineral supplement that is right for you, considering your herd, feeding sources and operation at any given time of year.