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Pastured cattle diet considerations

 
Amos Burkey
Posts: 101
Location: Nebraska
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I am getting ready to add some type of cattle to my farm (probably in the next 12 months). I plan to use a paddock system, though I have not determined my breed of choice yet. Julius Ruechel has provided some great information and food for thought on this. Locally, I have scottish highlander, long horn, and piedmontese available. Plus all the usual breeds. I am starting to add some diverstity to my pasture (alfalfa, clover). It is currently mostly brome grass.

What food items (plant varieties, seeds, etc) should I consider to maximize the cattles health and growth? What are the nutrients that I should be concerned with?

Thanks.
 
Julius Ruechel
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Hi Amos,

What food items (plant varieties, seeds, etc) should I consider to maximize the cattles health and growth?

It depends on what your goals are for your pasture rotation - essentially you want to put together a mix of plants that will spread out growth and nutrient quality through the entire time that you would like to be grazing. Every plant species has different times of the year when it grows strongly, or goes dormant because of heat or cold. Additionally, some plants are more resistant to nutrient leaching than others during the dormant/winter season.

Once you know exactly what your ideal grazing season is, go to your seed supplier and/or local agricultural extension agent and get them to help you put together a complete package - often they already have a pasture mix available of both regular and wild species for exactly that purpose (if you are reseeding from scratch) - which you can tweak with a few additions. They will also take account of your soil type and moisture conditions when you put together your mix.

So, include early spring growth varieties, varieties that grow aggressively in summer, varieties that grow late in the fall - all so you can spread growth over the full growing season, instead of creating a single big growth flush in the middle. This is directly the opposite of choosing plants for a hayfield, in which you want maximum growth all at once so you can maximize your hay harvest. That is why hayfields are harder to manage with grazing - late start, big volume in middle of growing season which often goes to seed because the cattle can't keep up, and then poor regrowth in the fall right when you most need extra growth to extend your grazing season as long as possible.

Furthermore, if you plan on trying to extend your grazing season into the winter, then you want to include a few plant varieties that are tall and strong to stand up through the snow, AND that are fairly resistant to nutrient leaching through rain and snow and frost. For example, Altai Wild Rye is one that is included in many pasture mixes for this purpose in SOME regions, but it may or may not be the best choice for your region - again that is why it is important to discuss this with your local agronomists rather than going with a recommendation off the internet which may or may not thrive in your climate and soil type. If, however, you do not plan on setting up a winter grazing program, then you don't need to include these. Again, using Altai Wild Rye as an example, the cattle tend to ignore and leave behind this grass species during the summer months - too coarse and not as palatable, but then seek it out in the winter because it retains its nutrients well, and because the inclement winter weather helps soften it up a bit.

What are the nutrients that I should be concerned with?

The only reliable way to get a sense of your nutrient profile in your soils is to get a soil analysis done - and then fertilize according to the recommendations. This in turn will increase the nutrient content of your pasture grasses - which you should be able to see in your monthly pasture forage analyses (one of the prerequisites to prepare your cattle and your pastures for winter grazing. ).

Hope that helps,
 
Amos Burkey
Posts: 101
Location: Nebraska
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Thanks for the reply Julius. I see that I have quite a bit to do to prepare for some cattle. I will contact the extension service and a couple local seed dealers to get a plan started. My friend, who is an agronomist, should be able to help me get some soil samples sent in, as well.

Julius, if your website has any indication to the amount of knowledge shared in your book, it should be great. Thank you for sharing so much. It is appreciated!
 
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