Editorial From RDUSA Board of Directors

At the last Board of Directors meeting a discussion led to the suggestion of helping new and inexperienced breeders (and also experienced breeders) with any problems or questions they may have.  So we would like to hear from you.  What problems would you like help with, what questions would you like answered and also what specific topics would you like covered on the website blog page?  Please let us know in the comment section.  We hope to find breeders to answer your questions and hope to offer contrasting opinions on topics of your choice so you will have different viewpoints to choose from.  And as always we welcome your comments.

Lush Spring Grass

There are fewer sights more appealing to cattle people than watching a group of ruby red cattle grazing the lush, green grass of Spring.  But coming out of winter and grazing green grass can upset the digestive systems of ruminants and lead to scours.  Most people think that the only reason for this is the high moisture content of spring grass, but there is more to consider.  Cattle can handle forage with high moisture content to a certain point, but a higher level will cause digestion problems.

A second point to consider is that cattle also need the proper balance of protein and energy in their feed in order to ruminant efficiently.  The new growth shoots of forage is very high in protein, especially in the spring season.  This excessive amount of protein compared to the energy that is available upsets the digestive system of ruminants.  As everyone knows cattle have millions and millions of microbes in the rumen that help break down the tough fibers in the forage and other feed they consume.  These microbes transition to the proper strains and are much more efficient when the rumen has a neutral PH (PH of 7.0).  When protein is too high for the energy available the rumen becomes alkaline (PH higher that 7.0) and the more protein the higher the PH and the more digestive problems.  If the PH becomes too high it can lead to more serious problems, one being a terrible off flavor in the meat of animals being finished for slaughter.

The opposite can also be a problem.  If the energy is too excessive for the protein that is available in the feed, the rumen will become acid (PH is less than 7.0).  This will cause a change in the strains of microbes in the rumen and of course upset the digestive process.  If the rumen becomes too acid it can lead to even more serious problems such as acidosis.  This can happen with cattle being fed grain, which is high energy.

What to do?

Supplementing the cattle with dry matter, such as hay, can overcome the high moisture problem.  A dry matter, high fiber supplement can “dilute” the high protein levels in spring grass.  Supplementing with an energy source can also help balance the protein and energy levels.  Some people like to use beet pulp for an energy supplement.  Of course grain can be used, but doing so is not allowed if you are marketing grass fed cattle.

The Economics

If you are working with a cow/calf operation you must constantly be aware of costs in order to make a fair profit.  The best fit here would be to have some stocked piled forage that you did not use in the winter.  This forage will have dormant grass mixed in that will be low in moisture and high in fiber and will be a low cost supplement.  Another supplement that can be used is very cheap hay.

Of course the two low cost options mentioned above have very little nutrition and might not meet the needs of growing and higher value cattle such as stockers and finishing cattle.  Here you might need higher quality hay or an energy supplement.  Beet pulp is very expensive in my part of the country and you may have to get out the calculator to make sure that beet pulp and/or other supplements do not eat up all your profits.

Another option is to only top graze the new forage.  This way the cattle are only consuming the upper leaves which collect more sunlight and therefore more photosynthesis is taking place.  These top leave tips will have higher energy levels because of photosynthesis.

Of course the best option is to have hardy cattle that can adapt to their environment quickly and find ways to balance their diet themselves.

Submitted by Roy

Disclaimer: The above information contains the view points and opinions of the writer and is not necessarily the views of RDUSA.