Most producers are well-aware of the very dry conditions across the Oklahoma.
On Dec. 16, the Oklahoma Mesonet forecast above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for the month of January. Traditionally, January is our driest month of the year; however, heading into that time period with a rainfall deficit makes it even more concerning. Most of western Oklahoma hasn’t seen 0.25 inches of rainfall in at least 40 days with the state’s western fringe counties and the Panhandle being without measurable rain (less than 0.10 in.) for more than 50 days. To say this is concerning is an understatement.
This time of year, most producers rely on dormant native and bermuda grass plus a protein supplement to get cows through a typical winter. Based on data collected across the state, standing dormant grass will typically run around 5% crude protein (CP) and 55% digestibility (TDN).
In this situation, protein being our most limiting nutrient, gestating cows would need approximately half a pound of supplemental protein. This amount of protein could be met by feeding 5 pounds of 20% cubes or 2.7 pounds of a 37% protein cube every other day. Unfortunately, the drought paired with our grass conditions has made this feeding strategy obsolete in some situations.
With the extended dry period, grass has decreased in quality much faster than normal. Reports in the counties I cover say that cows are losing body condition faster than normal due to reductions in standing forage quality. I have not taken grass samples, but can assume, based on reports that dormant grass quality has fallen below the values I have listed above.
We are now in a situation where just supplementing protein will not cut it, especially with most spring-calving cows headed into their last trimester of gestation. Cows will need some additional volume in their diet plus a good source of protein.
Remember, it is always easier and more cost-effective to maintain body condition than to try to regain condition. For your reference, a body condition score of 5 is needed in cows and score of 6 for heifers at calving. Feeding a moderate quality hay (7-9 % CP, 55-60% TDN) in addition to a protein supplement that complements that hay will help maintain body condition. There is not a silver bullet amount of hay to feed in this situation as we want cows to continue to graze if there is grass available.
Real knowledge of forage quality is essential to having success with this strategy — guessing from last year’s test will not work. When using this strategy, I would encourage producers to closely watch cows and document body conditions. If condition is still not where desired, increase the feeding level.
In a climate of high feed prices, knowing the accuracy of your cake or cube feeder will increase feeding efficiency. For this reason, OSU Extension is offering cube and cake feeder calibration clinics in counties across western Oklahoma. At these clinics, OSU extension educators will be on hand to test the accuracy of feeders and help producers determine feeding strategies, if needed. Feeders should be evaluated on a yearly basis and when different types of supplements are fed. Keep an eye out for clinics to be held by OSU Extension during the months of January and February. Contact your local county OSU Extension office for questions about supplementation or feeder calibration.