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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies
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Spring grass looks good, but comes with concerns

The flush of spring grass is a welcomed sign to beef producers that have been feeding cows for what seems like forever. However, producers preparing to move cows out to pasture need to be aware of two big concerns.

First, Grass tetany is a concern with lush spring grass. This immature grass is very high in moisture and low in mineral content and dry matter (DM). The main culprit of grass tetany is deficiency of magnesium (Mg), this is why a "high-Mg" mineral is recommended. Start feeding the mineral 2-3 weeks before turnout. Calcium can also play a role in the equation as well, thus a calcium deficiency can also contribute. It is important to feed a high Mg mineral and check that Ca levels are adequate too. After you have the right mineral, they must consume it. If cattle are not consuming mineral at 3-4 oz per head per day, the feeder should be moved more in line with daily travel and closer to the water source. If this fails to increase consumption, then direct feeding the mineral with a grain or co-product supplement is needed. Results of grass tetany to the cow can be dramatic: stumbling, staggering, muscle twitching and possible death. All within a very short amount of time.

The next problem is meeting nutrient requirements of cows out on spring grass. Because spring grass is lush and high in water content, it becomes hard to supply adequate nutrition. Mature cow size and milk production have increased in the beef cow population. This means that in cases, cows cannot physically eat enough grass to meet dry matter and nutrient requirements. Research at the University of Illinois shows that cows will rarely consume over 100 lbs. of any feed due to fill and capacity of the rumen. However, a 1400 lb. cow will require 120-150 lbs of spring grass to meet requirement. In some cases when, grass is very immature and wet (<20% DM) the intake would need to be even higher. This means we need to intervene with a mild supplement level.

Producers can supplement cows with a dry feed that supplies ample energy, protein is not the focus. Examples would be soyhull pellets, grass hay, cornstalk bales, or even decent CRP hay. These supplements will provide DM to slow passage rate and some energy to balance out the high protein forage. The modern beef cow has been selected for maximum production traits, if we want maximum production without sacrificing reproduction; we need to be able to meet requirements during breeding season. It is evident that a diet of lush spring grass does not always meet the nutrient demands of lactation and reproduction in today's cow size.

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