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December 14, 2007

Web site helps cattle producers manage short forage supply

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Indiana livestock producers have a new resource available to help them get through the winter on low forage resources.

Purdue University Cooperative Extension specialists teamed up across disciplines to create the "Managing the Forage Shortage" Web site, available at http://www.forageshortage.com.

"The goal of the Web site is to minimize the impact of this year's low forage supply," said Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist. "If we can keep our livestock healthy through the winter, the impact will be confined to increased feed expenses, and we will not have the negative aspects of poor animal performance in 2008 and lingering into 2009."

The site features videos, news articles, publications, alternative feed profiles and contact information for local hay auctions. It also offers tips for rejuvenating forages after a difficult growing season, how to sample baled hay and crop residues, as well as advice for determining the body condition score of animals.

"Depending on your location in the state, we are looking at a one-third to two-thirds shorter than normal forage supply," Johnson said. "Not only do we have less hay, but some of the hay we have is not quality hay, and that's something producers need to be aware of."

The short forage supply is due to the late spring freeze and the dry conditions in many parts of the state this past growing season.

"We can't stress enough that producers need to check their inventory," said Ron Lemenager, Purdue Extension beef specialist. "To find out that you don't have enough forage in January is too late."

Lemenager also emphasizes that producers need to be smart with the resources they have.

"If a producer has low-quality forages like cornstalks, mature hay or old hay that has been stored for a period of time, they should consider using those low-quality forages when the nutrient requirements are the lowest for cows," Lemenager said. "For spring-calving cow herds, that time is now.

"It's best to save the higher quality forages, the better quality hays and even some silages for when nutrient requirements are the highest. For most spring-calving herds that will be in the January to April time frame, which coincides with late gestation and early lactation. Folks that have fall-calving herds need to be feeding the highest quality forages now."

For fall-calving herds, Lemenager also recommends early weaning the calves to reduce the nutrient requirement of the fall-calving cows and using the higher quality resources like corn, grains and supplements to feed the calf.

He said it's a better alternative to pay a little more on feed now to keep the cows in good condition than to skimp on feeds and pay for it until 2009.

"My real concern is that if we don't feed these cows right now, we are going to have the potential for a significant drop in reproductive efficiency," Lemenager said. "If we go into the calving season with thin cows, colostrum quality (the quality of first milk for the calves) will be reduced, which will have a subsequent risk on calf health and growth.

"It's very likely that if we have thin cows that these cows are going to give up during the calving process, and we could end up with more dystocias (slow or difficult deliveries) and weak calves and maybe even a higher calf mortality because the cow didn't provide enough nutrients to the developing fetus."

That's just the beginning of the effects if producers don't feed their cows properly this winter, he said.

"After calving, I think we could very easily see a delayed return to estrus and lower conception rates, which would mean we will probably have lighter calves and fewer of them come this fall (2008) at weaning time," Lemenager said. "Then, if these cows fail to conceive during the 2008 breeding season, we could have a reduced number of calves weaned in the 2009 tax year."

For questions about forage-related issues, contact Johnson at (765) 494-4800, johnsonk@purdue.edu. For questions and more information about beef nutrition and management, contact Lemenager at (765) 494-4817, rpl@purdue.edu.

Writer:  Julie Douglas, (765) 496-1050, douglajk@purdue.edu

Sources: Ron Lemenager, (765) 494-4817, rpl@purdue.edu

Keith Johnson, (765) 494-4800, johnsonk@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes, forbes@purdue.edu
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