Many cattle have been sent to pasture early this spring, not because the pasture is ready, but because there is no feed left in the yard. The net effect of this action is that the pasture will generate fewer grazing days. To maintain days on pasture, supplemental feed will be required.

Providing supplemental feed that helps balance the ever-changing nature of growing grass plants has some challenges. Firstly, the feed must be palatable. While lush, spring pasture is low in fiber and would benefit from the inclusion of some long stem grass hay or straw, getting cows to eat it, if there was any available, borders on impossible. Fermentable fiber byproducts such as beet pulp, wheat mill run, dried distiller’s grains, malt sprout’s, oat hulls and soy hulls are all suitable supplements. The advantage to using fermentable fiber is no significant shift in rumen microbial population is required. This means large additions of these products can be made to the diet with minimal adaptation time. The disadvantage is the energy required to remove extra protein from the body.

Using cereal grains like barley, oats, wheat, or corn will provide extra energy from the additional starch provided. This requires a shift in the rumen microbial population, and feed delivery will need to occur daily. To make a substantial contribution to the daily dry matter intake, the amount of grain will exceed the eight pounds that can be safely fed to a 1400 pound cow in a single feeding. Another option would be to provide a combination of rolled grain and fermentable fiber. Blending six pounds of rolled grain with six pounds of oat hulls allows all 12 pounds to be delivered once daily. This amount of supplemental feed will reduce the amount of fresh grass consumed by the cows by about six to eight pounds per day. As the pasture matures and browns off, the protein content gradually gets lower and a portion of the oathulls should be replaced with a protein supplement such as dried distiller’s grains, malt sprouts or millrun.

Creep feeding the calves will displace a portion of the calves pasture consumption. Demands placed on the cows to produce milk are reduced and their pasture consumption also declines. When pasture is in limited supply, starting calves on creep early also sets them up to be weaned early. Once weaned, the amount of pasture eaten by the cow will fall by almost half.

Supplementing pasture is one strategy to maintain a herd when pasture growth is limited. Assistance in considering other management strategies may be obtained by contacting your local Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist or by calling the Agriculture Knowledge Center at 1-866-457-2377.