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Confined feeds aids recovery

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

If producers are considering confinement feeding cow-calf pairs this summer, it is important to select and maintain a feeding area without connection to any surface or ground water, according to a University of Nebraska biological systems engineer.

Jason Gross spoke about selecting and maintaining a site for feeding cow-calf pairs during a recent University of Nebraska webinar. 

He recommended selecting a piece of land with a slope of 0.5 to three percent, so the surface will stay dry and erosion will be minimized. When selecting a site, density, fence, access to water and bunk space are all important factors to consider. 

“Producers may also want to select a feeding area that is by a good road and use fence line or temporary bunks to minimize opening gates,” he said. 

An area where manure and feed litter can be controlled is important for dust and mud management, he noted. 

Ideally, Gross said producers should look for a site next to a forage or range grazing system, so they can easily switch the cattle into grazing as forages or grasses develop. 

Adequate area

Each pair should be allowed a 400 to 800 square foot space, which calculates to about 55 to 110 pairs per acre. The pairs should also be allowed two to three feet of fence line bunk space and a minimum of 20 gallon of water in storage and supply. 

If the cows are being bred in confinement, a bull can service 10 to 25 percent more cows than he can on the range. 

If the cattle are being confined in a portion of the pasture, producers can fence in a feeding area with a water source. 

“The cattle can be allowed access to the pasture or pastures periodically throughout the summer,” Gross said. “The second option is to feed the cattle in multiple places within the pasture.”

Gross said feeding cattle in fenced-in areas on grass can be advantageous because it provides the cattle with long-term feeding, while preventing severe overgrazing of pastures. It will also keep manure and feeding waste in one spot for easier cleanup. 

“If a producer can select a central location that allows the cattle access to multiple pastures or crop fields, it can minimize over-grazing,” Gross said. “It also allows the producer more control over the cow’s diet. Cows are eating what is being fed to them, rather than chasing short grass.”

Gross said because of the drought, most areas will have poorer quality forages this summer until new forages develop. 

“It is important to closely monitor the body condition score of the cows,” he stressed. “If producers can use a feeding area at least part of the time this summer, once the drought is over, the pastures may be more ready for normal grazing.”

“The feeding area will also be already fenced for rehabilitation,” he noted. 

Multiple areas

Producers may want to consider feeding in multiple areas for the short-term, while they wait for forages to develop on the rangeland, Gross said. However, feeding in multiple areas can create problems for the producer if he doesn’t manage these areas carefully. 

“I would make sure to feed in a wide area so the manure is spread out,” Gross said. 

Accumulated manure and hoof action can impact the range by causing compaction issues.

“I would also be careful of what hay I fed in those areas. If hay has been purchased, it may contain weeds or volunteer crops that are not currently growing on the rangeland, or plants that could be poisonous,” he explained. 

If a producer leaves the cattle on a pasture too long, the pasture will become stressed, adding time to how long it will take to rehabilitate once the drought breaks. 

“Overgrazing can take the pasture out of production for some time,” he stressed. 

Rehabilitating feeding areas

Once the drought breaks and a producer is ready to rehabilitate a feeding area, Gross recommends scraping and cleaning the feeding area of manure and feed litter. 

Next, compaction should be removed with deep tillage and areas of erosion repaired. 

Gross said producers can then reseed the area with grass or a cover crop and keep the rehabilitated area fenced out until the grass is well established. 

“Even then, I would graze the area lightly or idle stressed pastures until the plant community is fully recovered,” he said. 

Producers may also want to consider reducing stocking rates on grazing lands until the plants fully recover. 

In the meantime, Gross recommends utilizing a forage-based crop or adding residue grazing into the summer grazing plan.

To learn more about the University of Nebraska’s Biological Systems Engineering Department, visit

Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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