Dry conditions mean lower pasture production and difficult decisions ahead for producers. One option to consider is providing supplemental feed to stretch a pasture’s use. Can this management strategy save your pasture during a drought?
Cattle on drought impacted pasture face the double hit of low amounts of available forage as plants stop growth, and low quality as plants pull back nutrients in an effort to make it through tough times. In these conditions where plants have essentially gone dormant, a little excess grazing than what is normal can be tolerated
At some point however, over grazing will take a toll on pasture health, allowing weedy species room to establish and dropping production levels for several years following. To avoid this, providing supplemental feed to animals on pasture is an option many producers may consider.
A cow’s rumen is similar to a large fermentation vat where microbes process whatever the animal consumes. For low quality diets, like drought impacted grass, this processing is slowed down by a lack of available protein. The rumen stays full longer and the cow eats less. Supplementing animals with a protein source, whether through cubes, lick tubs, or distillers grains, provides more protein to the diet and speeds up digestion. While this will improve animal performance, the animal will eat more than before, causing the pastures to be overgrazed faster.
To properly provide a supplemental feed source and stretch pasture grass, animals need a mixture that will provide protein and fill. Research done by Dr. Karla Wilke and others at UNL has shown mixing low quality forages or crop residues with a protein source like wet distillers grains is a viable option for most herds to at least replace some of the grass consumption in a cow’s diet.