June 19, 2012
One thing that distinguishes a successful producer from his peers is the ability to adapt and respond to changes. Changes in weather and forage availability are many times out of our hands, but how we react to those changes can be the difference in profit or loss.
Supplementing cows with alternative feedstuffs during a drought is a common practice. Harvested forages, such as baled hay, can be used to replace available forage for grazing. The most common problem when trying to substitute harvested forage is that cows tend to prefer the palatability of fresh forage. This means that not until the available forage is virtually gone will cows choose the harvested forage. Due to this, feeding harvested forages is likely a last resort and certainly contributes little to "stretching" thin pastures.
In Illinois, many cattlemen are also grain farmers. The availability of corn grain is very high, but grains such as corn are a poor supplement choice for grazing cattle. Starch-based feeds (corn) have been shown to cause negative associative effects when supplemented to a forage based diet. This negative impact on forage digestion decreases the utilization of the forage and its nutrients.
Corn co-products are a valuable tool in the grazer's tool box. Co-products such as Distillers Grains (DGs) and Corn Gluten Feed (CGF) are fiber-based. The starch is removed in the wet and dry milling process and thus when these co-product feeds are fed in forage-based diets they have no negative associative effects. This, along with good protein and energy value, makes DGs and CGF good candidates for supplementing to animals grazing forage.
In a recent conversation with Dr. Dan Shike, Assistant Professor and Beef Cattle Nutritionist with University of Illinois, we discussed supplementing coproducts to grazing cows. In times of low forage availability, cows can benefit from coproduct supplementation. If the goal is to meet nutrient requirements of the cow, a minimal amount of DGs alone can be supplemented. "When small amounts of DGs are supplemented to cows on very poor quality forage, the added protein can increase forage digestion and increase passage rate leading to no reduction in forage intake. Although no changes are seen in forage intake, the cows are likely to gain or better maintain weight" said Dr. Shike. If the goal is to replace grazed forage intake, then mixing the co-product with a cheap forage such as crop residues and feeding the mixture works best. Nuttleman et al. 2010 showed when wet DGs and wheat straw were supplemented it replaced grazed forage intake on nearly a 1:1 basis.
As cattlemen we know cows have the unique ability to convert forages to protein and that cows are meant to work for us as foragers. However, the weather sometimes dictates we need to help those cows out when the grass goes scarce.
For more information on "Utilizing Coproducts in the Grazing Program": http://web.extension.illinois.edu/oardc/downloads/43697.pdf