Hot temperatures and very little moisture appear to be in the forecast for most of the Nebraska Panhandle for the remainder of the summer. The drought of 2012 and reduced precipitation in 2013 have resulted in very little growth in the native warm season grasses in these pastures, says Karla H. Jenkins, University of Nebraska-Lincoln range management specialists in Scottsbluff.
Blue grama and buffalograss are two of the warm season staples of the Panhandle. Unfortunately, they tend to also be shallow rooted and with limited water availability they will have significantly reduced forage growth, she says. The native cool season grasses such as western wheat and needle-and-thread as well as introduced species such as crested wheatgrass are now mature and will not contribute much to forage quality from now through the summer.
Research near Sidney has indicated pastures containing predominately crested wheatgrass with some blue grama and buffalograss were as low as 45% total digestible nutrients and 5% crude protein in August in previous years.
For producers who calve in late April through early June, Jenkins says, this may create a problem for the breeding season. The decreasing plane of nutrition from forage available combined with the demands of lactation and growth on young cows and heifers may cause a decrease in conception rates.
Research has shown that adequate nutrition is especially important for heifers and young cows just prior to and during the breeding season to achieve acceptable pregnancy rates. Protein supplementation just prior to and during the breeding season when forage quality is low has resulted in increased pregnancy rates for these classes of cattle.
As little as 1-2.5 pounds of 27% protein cubes may be all that is necessary to significantly improve conception rates.
Rick Funston at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte has presented a webinar that is available at beef.unl.edu, entitled "Cost Effective Replacement Heifer Development." It shares highlights of the benefits of strategic supplementation.
For additional recommendations on pasture management, supplementation, and breeding programs, visit beef.unl.edu.