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Prepping Livestock for Winter Feed

MABI-2840_1If you’ve been measuring your pasture growth, you have likely noticed that it doesn’t seem to be growing back as quickly.  That means that, depending on how you manage at your place, soon your livestock may be eating stored forages. Help them make the transition by remembering that changing from high-quality pasture to lower-quality stored feeds is much like changing silos.  If the change is made too quickly, milk production or growth rate drops until the livestock and the rumen microbes become accustomed to the new feed.  The rumen microbes are especially sensitive to sudden changes, because it takes time to shift their numbers and types to those that are more adapted to higher quality forage.

Strategies for transitioning in the fall will be similar to spring – except things will happen in reverse.  Stored forages should be introduced or increased.  Depending upon what the “final” winter feeding is going to look like, protein forages such as haylage, baleage, and dry hay should be increased first.  Next protein from grain or concentrate should be introduced or increased (depending on the kind and class of livestock), because the animals will be decreasing their intake of protein from pasture.  For dairies feeding a TMR, the easiest way to make the transition is to mix for 5 to10 more cows (depending on herd size) each day as they are beginning to look for more anyway.  When the TMR is being fed at a rate that is more than 50% of the full ration, begin increasing protein levels by 1 pound every 3 days.  When the TMR is above 70% of normal, protein and NFC levels should be checked to make sure they are in balance, and at this time the TMR may need to be reformulated.

At some point, consideration needs to be given to whether animals should be kept in the barn at night, perhaps once the temperatures begin to fall below 35 degrees (unless the plan is to outwinter).  Eventually the amount of time the animals spend on pasture will be minimal, especially after a frost has killed the grass and there is little to no new growth.  At this point the plan for the winter ration should be in place, because the majority of intake will be from stored forages.

It just takes a little bit of thought and a change in your own routine to help your livestock prepare for what’s ahead.

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Karen Hoffman
Karen Hoffman
Karen has a B.S. in Animal Science from Cornell with an emphasis on dairy cattle management and nutrition and an MS from Penn State where her thesis project investigated various grain feeding strategies to high producing dairy cows on a rotational grazing system. She spent 6 years with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chenango County, NY as a dairy management educator for 6 years. She now serves as Resource Conservationist - Animal Science for the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service, where she has been for 15+ years. Karen's expertise is feeding management that keeps costs of production low. She also troubleshoots nutrition and management problems when needed, and provides educational presentations on grazing and feeding. She is co-author of the publications “Prescribed Grazing and Feeding Management for Lactating Dairy Cows” and NOFA-NY’s “Transitioning to Organic Dairy Self-Assessment Workbook” and “The Organic Dairy Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for the Transition and Beyond”. She also writes for Graze magazine addressing feeding questions, and participates in grazing research projects with Universities and USDA-Agricultural Research Service. Karen and her family run a grass-based farm Chenango County, NY raising polled Dorset sheep, heritage breed turkeys, laying hens, and a registered Holstein calf. She has a small number of milking Holsteins on a friend’s grass-based dairy farm as well.

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