Cattle graze pastures all year long, but the nutrient composition changes with the seasons. Fall and winter diets are generally low in protein, minerals and vitamins. This change in forage quality usually warrants the need for supplemental feeding.
The grass that just a few weeks ago was lush and full of nutrients will start to turn coarse and fibrous. Crude protein content of the grass decreases and the forage becomes harder for cattle to digest.
Animals consuming diets low in protein lose their appetite, develop a rough appearance, become weak and possess a lowered resistance to disease. Calf weights and reproductive efficiency also are adversely affected if the herd is not maintained on an adequate plane of nutrition.
A seemingly easy answer to this problem is to have the cows consume more forage to make up the needed nutrients. But since the grass is slowly digested, consumption is lowered and the animal receives even less nutrients.
The key to increasing consumption of low quality forage is to add protein to the diet. Protein will assist in increasing the rate of digestion, thereby allowing the cow to graze more. Protein supplements are available in many types and forms such as cubes, cakes and blocks. Each will vary in nutrients composition and you need to be aware of the protein amount.
Protein is required for growth and milk production. Therefore, the requirements for developing heifers and lactating cows are higher than for dry, pregnant cows. Also, an adequate amount of dry matter (energy), minerals and vitamins need to be provided to avoid nutritional deficiencies in your herd.
If you have any questions, contact Clint Perkins with the Smith County Extension Office, 1517 W. Front St. in Tyler, or call 903-590-2980.