Help Cows Make The Most From Our Forages

The Grazier's Art

Free-choice mineral program, together with keen observation of condition and manure consistency, can improve performance and profits.

Published on: January 23, 2014

Our forages are a great source of fiber, carbohydrates, protein, hormones, enzymes, minerals and growth factors needed by our cattle to produce, reproduce and be healthy.

However, when we decide how and when we allow them to graze we impact their health and body condition. If we are managing correctly, at the same time we are striving to improve the soil on which they are grazing by the animal impact they generate and by the effect of their saliva on the forage, which induces up to 40% higher subsequent production than mechanical harvest.

We must find a compromise between high production per acre and high production per animal while at the same time making sure our animals are healthy.

This is made more difficult when grazing stockpiled forages -- we are basically rationing them out so we expect our cattle to harvest most of it under an appropriate grazing plan. That means lower nutritional quality.

I have talked in previous blogs about how to graze cattle for better digestion. Now I will explain about the mineral part of what our cattle eat. Even though it is a very small portion of the total, it affects the health and wellbeing of our cattle.

Some areas are blessed with enough minerals in their forages and some are deficient or have excesses that create imbalances in many other minerals. Remember that minerals are interactive.

One option that has worked for me to address this situation is the free-choice, cafeteria-style mineral in which the cattle have access to many individual minerals and can get what they need. Their needs change constantly, depending on the weather, the forages' physiological stage, the animals' production or reproduction stage, color of their coats, sickness and more. 

You may notice when in a pasture rotation the cows get to certain pastures that are deficient in say potassium and they start consuming more potassium. When they have a protein excess they typically start to eat the alkaline neutralizer.

I have had them start to eat an excess of trace mineral C, which contains the trace elements generally deficient in dry grass when we had a problem in the protein supplement, which may be caused by aflatoxins.

By observing what the cattle are consuming from a cafeteria-style mineral program, plus their gut fill, coat and body condition, and the consistency of the manure, we can have a good idea of what is happening nutrition-wise.

This is very important to achieving that balance of nutrition and land improvement. If we only concentrate on improving our soils through the correct grazing we will not have healthy cattle. We may lose money and that is not necessary. With the right management we can and should have high stocking rates and healthy, productive cattle.

I have found a free-choice mineral program is a convenient and useful addition to an intensively managed grazing program that benefits both land and cattle.