The Importance of Open Winter Feeding


The cold months are approaching but for some of Northern Ag territory the pasture is open and the weather has been mild.

A moderate winter, like the beginning of 2019-20, can be a relief to ranchers as cattle continue to graze pastures cutting back on feed costs and leaving a little extra hay in the stack for next year. Even though the pocketbook gets some relief, cows may not have the nutrients available on the range to get them through their pregnancy or a cold spell.

“Just because there is still some pasture available out there, it’s very low quality,” Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Dr. Megan Van Emon explained. “Unless you’ve stock piled that pasture, cows aren’t able to eat everything they want every day. You’re probably looking at needing a little supplementation not only for the protein needs but for the energy demand as well.”

Van Emon suggests looking at the body-score condition of the herd now. A score of five or six should be able to carry cows through the colder months but as weather changes, more supplementation may be needed.

Protein is one of the most important nutrients this time of year and can be distributed in a number of ways; hay, lick tubs, cake, blocks, etc. Van Emon said calculating the price per nutrient, especially for protein, can be helpful and cost effective to help meet herd requirements.

“For some it’s going to be easier to roll out those lick tubs, lick blocks or a cake feeder, however you want to feed it, and for some it’s going out and rolling out a good quality bale of hay as well,” Dr. Van Emon said. “You can factor in labor costs and the costs for price per nutrient to figure out which supplement is going to work best for you on your operation.”

Dr. Van Emon encourages producers to be cautious when grazing on dormant pastures or forages. She even suggests if ranchers have some surplus hay it would not hurt to roll a bale out because if drought sets in and timely rains do not fall, it could be detrimental if the pasture is over grazed.

If the winter of 2020-21 is anything like 2019-20, it could be a dry one. Feeding in an open winter can provide the herd with the nutritional needs to stay healthy and have a successful calving season. Being aware of what is available for cattle and the land to continue producing will be key as the winter months pass by.


Leif Bakken – Northern Ag Network – 2020

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