Stretching Hay Supplies While Being Patient for Pasture Regrowth

You may have run out of hay this winter, but at least you have the know-how to start your own snow-removal business! There’s a plus side to everything, right?

We were actually pretty fortunate, this winter (I mean, besides from the experience gained by the aforementioned snow collection). Though we used more hay than anticipated, I was able to feed some older bales alongside those from the 2012 crop, and we still have some inventory. Quite a few ranchers weren’t so lucky and ended up running out completely.

So, tracked down Murray Feist, ruminant nutrition specialist with the Government of Saskatchewan, to talk about extending feed supplies.

Ideally, all hay should be tested in the fall, to help create an accurate and balanced ration. If you have decided to use up older hay inventory, keep in mind the loss of quality. “[Older hay] won’t have the energy or protein that some of these animals need,” says Feist, “and for animals at this time of the year—whether you’ve calved already or are going into calving—energy and protein requirements will go up. To really offset that, you need to supplement.”

Feist suggests supplementing with a commercial feed product and a cereal grain, for energy. And, for really poor quality hay, consider the addition of a protein tub.

Okay, you’ve got all that and promise to test your hay this fall? Great. But where are you going? To let the cows out? Not so fast!

How much do you like that pasture you’re about to turn your cows on? Has the grass started growing? Do you have a plan for where the herd will be once they’ve run out of grub there?

“Putting [cows] out too early, could set back your pasture,” Feist emphasized, “and that pasture will lose its quality. The more you overgraze, the less energy; the less protein…Try to wait until the pasture is ready to accept animals— you have to actually have some grass available before you turn them out.”

Putting [cows] out too early, could set back your pasture — Murray Feist, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.

In fact, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development encourage growers to delay grazing until there are at least three full leaves on grass plants.  And, if you must graze early, allow significant time for that pasture to rest.

We face a few difficult decisions as ranchers. Our twine knives are dull, and our patience is thin. Still, long-term pasture health is crucial to a sustainable operation.

Which brings me to my next question: What’s your rotational grazing strategy?

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