As the drought continues, grass in our pastures is rapidly disappearing, and if you are one that adheres to the old range management practice of “take half and leave half” when referring to grass, it looks like you will have to take more than half before it starts to rain again — that is, if you plan to maintain your cattle herd.
To make things easier, slow down the rotation on pastures. It is harder on pastures, but maybe one will catch a shower and get some regrowth. If you have very little or no grass and have decided to feed your cattle, pen them up in a trap or one pasture and feed them there in troughs and hay them in rings (or unroll the bales completely).
Feeding in troughs and rings reduces feed waste and loss due to trampling and defecating by up to 20 percent. Make cattle clean up unrolled hay and move rings between hay feedings. Test your hay to determine quality and feed supplements accordingly.
As you evaluate your cattle herd, selling nursing calves, very old or very young commercial cows can stretch your feeding resources and dollar by one-third or more. In a drought, cattle will be deficient in all nutrients (energy, protein, vitamins, minerals and water). Water is the first limiting nutrient in many pastures.
Cattle will require about one gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight (plus five or more gallons if they are lactating) of good quality water. Water from ponds and dirt tanks will have significantly reduced quality (increased salt or mineral content) as they dry up. In addition, there could be toxic algae blooms or poisonous plants growing near them. If possible these should be fenced off. Check water daily.
The next two nutrients of importance are protein and energy. Cattle eat to satisfy gut fill and this is associated with their energy intake. Cattle can eat about 2 to 2.5 percent of their body weight (24 to 30 pounds) for a 1,200-pound cow. When forages are dry, this limits their intake to less than 2 percent, causing them to lose condition (weight).
Supplementing these dry forages with 0.4 pound protein (from any source) can improve the digestibility of these forages and improve intake. Cattle usually require about two pounds of crude protein per day. Most dry grass is averaging 5 percent CP, so only about half of their protein is being supplied by grazing. The rest will need to be supplemented. Grain can be fed in small amounts daily to stretch or substitute for low hay supply or quality (one pound = 2.5 pounds of hay).
Cattle should be supplied vitamins (either injectable or fed) and a good mineral mix, especially phosphorous (8 to 12 percent) and salt. Some feeds have minerals and vitamins in them and these can be good sources if consumption is at the recommended level. Cattle should be monitored for dust pneumonia, external parasites, consumption of toxic plants and other non-feed items (bones, plastic bags, etc).
In the south and west, ranchers are burning prickly pear as a supplement, but even the quality of the pear is much lower than in previous years. Cattle fed pear need a good protein supplement, plus salt, to keep from forming fiber balls.
available for ranchers
As the worst one-year drought in Texas history continues to scorch the state and deplete critical hay supplies, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples recently announced several updates to the Texas Department of Agriculture's Hay Hotline.
The service, which connects ranchers who need hay with those who have it, is now being updated to include prices and sources for donated hay. The Hay Hotline also now connects ranchers with transportation services to deliver hay and available grazing lands.
"Right now there is no pasture, no hay and no end in sight," Staples said. "The need for hay is dire and getting more desperate each day. Through the recent improvements made to the Hay Hotline, we hope to connect more ranchers with hay producers across the nation who have much-needed forage. It's critical to do what we can to preserve the cattle herd for which Texas is known and on which American consumers rely."
Staples sent a letter to all commissioners, secretaries and directors of agriculture in other states requesting assistance in locating hay donations for Texas ranchers. The letter also requests that available grazing land or hay be listed on the Texas Hay Hotline.
These hay transportation waivers have become critically important during the current record-setting drought. According to AgriLife Extension, agriculture losses due to this year's drought have already reached $5.2 billion and are now the costliest in state history for Texas farmers and ranchers. State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon recently declared this year's dry spell the "most severe one-year drought on record," while the National Weather Service is calling it the second-worst drought in Texas history.
The Hay Hotline can be accessed by visiting www.TexasAgriculture.gov/hayhotline or by calling (877) 429-1998.
Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces?County. Readers may contact him at (361) 767-5217.