Feeding Options and Considerations

Image of cattle eating at feedlot

Producers generally have two options for meeting the nutrient requirements of cattle on drought affected pasture and ranges. The first is to provide supplemental feed to ensure the cowherd has adequate energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals. The second is to reduce the nutrient requirements of the cow to a point where they can be met with available forage. General cowherd drought supplementation recommendations:

  • Minerals - Complete mineral supplement containing 10-20% salt, 12% calcium, 12% phosphorus, 5% magnesium, 0.4% zinc (4000ppm), and 0.2% copper (2000ppm). Any special mineral supplementation needs in your specific area should continue to be met.

  • Protein - Lactating cows- 0.9-1.2 pounds of supplemental crude protein. Dry cows- 0.5-0.75 pounds of supplemental crude protein.

  • Energy - Up to 0.2% of cow body weight of supplemental grain per head per day. Excess supplemental grain can reduce forage intake and digestibility, resulting in less energy available to the animal from available forage. Some grain supplements may need to be processed to obtain full utilization.

If pasture conditions are extremely poor, producers may consider feeding cows in dry lot. This may be more cost effective than supplementation if large amounts of supplement must be transported and fed to cows daily. In addition, it may allow pastures a much needed rest period to begin recovering from drought. One of the simplest ways to reduce cow nutrient requirements is to wean the calf. This practice can cut nutrient requirement by one-third to one-half depending on milk production of the cow. Producers may consider early weaning only a portion of the herd. In this case, logical candidate for early weaning are cows nursing their first and second calves. These animals have nutrient requirements for growth in addition to maintenance and lactation. Section 4 below discusses the advantages and disadvantages of this option. When deciding on an alternative feeding program, there are several options to consider. The goal is to re-breed cows while maintaining calving intervals, maintain pounds of calf produced per cow, and minimize feed cost per pound of calf sold.