Most farmers would have started stockpiling for the winter months, especially forage resources for feeding their cattle. However, calculating how much you need is quite challenging, when you need to consider different variables. Here are certain important aspects that you should be considering while forming your estimates.
While calculating requirements for winter feed, you need to first estimate the standing forage or hay. Secondly, you also have to factor in the quality of the forage to determine the amount that will be consumed. Forages of better quality will have more concentration of required nutrients and hence nutrient needs can be met for such forages; however, cows tend to consume more of higher quality forage.
By the Numbers
High quality forage will ferment fast in the rumen of cattle, which results in a void and the animals need a refill. The result is additional forage intake and more consumption. For instance, forages of low quality will have around 6% crude protein. Such forage is consumed at a rate of 1.5% body weight each day. On the other hand high quality forage will have over 8% crude protein and consumption will be 2% of body weight. This means high quality forage will be quite valuable, since the forage intake will increase with the increased nutrient content.
Going by the example, a pregnant cow will consume around 26 lbs of terrific forage per day. However, while considering winter requirements of big round bales, you also have to factor in wastage. Even though wastage of hay can be difficult to estimate, most farmers have found it to be between 10 to 20%. Therefore, for one cow you are going to need about 30 lbs of grass every day.
Apart from the primary dietary requirement of hay, you also need to consider whether your cattle will require additional protein and minerals. First, you need to figure out if the available protein in the acquired hay will be enough, and you might need to consider supplements for minerals.
To maximize economy and for reducing wastage, you will have to sort your cattle according to feed requirements, and priority groups, such as steers, cows in healthy condition, first calf heifers, and cows in poor condition. Groups that will require more feed and attention will be lactating and rearing cows, and younger heifers. Feeding budget will have to be calculated based on the requirements of each group and you will have to subtract the estimated growth on the pasture, and your existing reserves.
Maximizing pasture growth will be the most efficient way of reducing your feeding budget. For improving pasture growth and height during winter, you could lengthen the grazing rotation by supplementing with fodder. Use of nitrogen fertilizer for improving pasture will also work out economical. The extra pasture that is gained by nitrogen fertilizer will work out to about one third the cost of hay, assuming cost of fertilizer and fodder do not change drastically during winter. The response time for nitrogen fertilizer is about six weeks. Hence, you will have start early to obtain the maximum benefits.