At the Bibb County Extension office, many of the questions we field are about landscape plants and vegetable gardens. This is exactly what you might expect for an urban county. However, there are still farmers in Bibb and neighboring counties that manage livestock -- cattle in particular.
If you fall into that category, it is likely that your herd is looking a little less healthy than is typical for the winter season. Several of our University of Georgia cattle specialists have brought the topic to our attention -- and I thought it might be worth passing along.
For those of you who dont know much about feeding cattle, here is some background. Id be willing to bet that you know cattle in Middle Georgia typically graze on warm season grasses during the summer months (May to September) and eat stored hay during the winter months. Often during cold weather, supplemental nutrition also is necessary. This might come in the form of granular feed or perhaps even a cool season cover crop (such as clover, wheat, rye, etc.) that the cattle can graze.
This year, producers are dealing with lower quality (lower nutritional value) hay than in other years. During a typical summer, farmers cut, dry and bale warm season grasses -- commonly Bermuda and bahia in Middle Georgia -- to store for the winter months. If you recall, last summer was not a typical summer. We had an unseasonably high amount of rainfall, which lead to a delay harvesting hay. As the warm season grasses mature, their quality declines. The quality also is diminished in hay that is rained on after cutting.
Fast forward to this winter and the problems are becoming evident. Although there is enough hay for feed, the cattle can literally starve to death with a full belly. The poor quality hay is less digestible. As the digestibility decreases, cattle must consume more, which can ultimately increase the risk of impaction in their digestive tracts. Even the usual sources for winter grazing have decreased this winter due to the cold, wet weather. Our UGA Extension specialists offer the following suggestions:
Sample and test your hay and know the ingredients of feeds.
Producers who maintain cows with a body condition score of five or greater will have less problems. Healthier cattle will be better equipped to withstand extreme weather shifts or short-term nutritional deficits.
Avoid additives that are applied to poor quality hay designed to increase intake.
Consider a grain or byproduct-based feed to supplement low quality forage.
Supplemental feeds are recommended instead of liquid feeds or protein blocks to combat issues associated with low quality forages.
Fiber-based energy supplements such as soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, distillers grains, citrus pulp and whole cottonseed are recommended instead of those that contain high levels of starch (ground corn, oats, etc.) and simple sugars (molasses).
If winter grazing is available, then use it, but use it carefully. Limit grazing on winter annuals for only a few hours per day if there isnt enough available to sustain the herd.
Consider taking calves to market at weaning. This will increase return on investment and alleviate nutritional stress on the cow.
Ignoring deficiencies in herd nutrition will lead to bigger problems. To lessen the instance of deaths and stillborn calves, take the necessary precautions now. For more information, visit www.secattleadvisor.com, www.georgiaforages.com or www.ugabeef.com.