By Justin Miller
Livestock producers were hit hard by 2021’s fall armyworm invasion. The damage pastures and hayfields sustained left some cattle producers strapped for hay this winter. With limited hay supplies, there are several supplementation strategies Alabama farmers can use.
Choosing A Supplement
There are a few items to consider before choosing a supplement. Kim Mullenix, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System beef systems specialist, said the most important consideration is nutritive value of the forage being fed.
“Conducting a forage analysis provides valuable nutritional information,” Mullenix said. “Without a proper analysis, a producer is simply guessing if their strategy meets the needs of their herd.”
A forage analysis will help producers determine if and how much of a supplement is needed. It can also help identify a supplementation strategy that works for the operation.
Producers will need to consider several items pertaining to the herd. Knowing the age and stage of production of their herd, as well as the herd’s body condition score, is vital when selecting a supplement.
“A cow’s nutritional needs increase as the cow approaches late gestation and calving,” Mullenix said. “Nutritional demands also increase for younger cattle — such as first-calf heifers — and for cattle that are 10-plus years old.”
When it comes to body condition score, producers must determine whether their animals need to maintain or gain body weight. Mullenix said producers should score cattle at key times in the production cycle.
“Producers should score their cattle at weaning, 60 days prior to calving, at calving and prior to breeding,” she said. “At weaning and at 60 days before calving, a supplementation strategy can be adjusted to add daily gain more efficiently.”
There are three common supplementation strategies producers often consider. These include feeding supplements daily, feeding supplements at a reduced frequency or feeding self-limiting supplements.
When feeding supplements daily in the winter, producers commonly use commercial feed blends or byproduct feedstuffs. These feed blends generally contain a combination of energy and protein. Producers can use them to supplement low-to-moderate quality forages.
Providing a supplement at a reduced frequency can be an option from a labor standpoint. Producers will often feed a supplement every other day, or at another defined frequency, to reduce time spent supplementing.
Self-limiting supplements can help control cattle feed consumption to a desired target level. These products generally include salt-limited commodity feed blends, liquid supplements and cooked or pressed tubs.
These strategies can help producers complement and potentially extend hay supply this winter.
Find more information on supplementation strategies by visiting aces.edu.