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Producers encouraged to start preparing a winter feed plan

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As the number of daylight hours begins to wane and temperatures start their seasonal decline, producers are encouraged to take a look at their forage feeding plan and initiate preparations on their winter feedgrounds to ready for the cold months ahead. 

From ongoing drought conditions in Northeast Kansas to abnormally wet conditions in Southwest Wyoming, producers across the West should plan for this winter in advance. 

Preparing winter feedgrounds

In a Aug. 2 Drovers article written by Elizabeth Cronin, North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Livestock Environmental Management Specialist Mary Keena notes a producer’s management of their winter feedgrounds – be they drylots or a specific area in a field – should begin with manure.

In the spring, many producers use a drag to break up and spread out large volumes of manure in their fields. 

However, if this hasn’t previously been done or producers are using a corral, Keena says, “An easy place to start is pushing up manure in the winter feeding areas. Making stockpiles of manure allows the pen or field surface to dry. It also allows the manure to start heating, reducing total volume and, in turn, deducting total loads hauled when removed.” 

If animals are still present in the area, Cronin explains fly control via manure management is also important. 

“Flies lay their eggs in the top few inches of manure, and the eggs hatch every seven days,” she writes. “By pushing the manure into a pile and turning the piles, one can compost manure and stay ahead of the fly cycle.” 

Manure may also give rise to unwanted weeds.

In Cronin’s article, NDSU Extension Agent Penny Nester explains mowing weeds repetitively can reduce their competitive ability, deplete carbohydrate reserves in their roots and reduce seed production, all while killing annual and biennial weeds and suppressing perennial weeds.

Additionally, Nester says producers may control weeds with the use of herbicides, noting it is best to apply chemical to young weeds because they are able to absorb it more effectively than mature weeds. 

“Herbicide can also be effective to treat actively growing weeds in the weeks following mowing,” writes Cronin. 

“Ideal temperatures for applying most herbicides are between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit,” Cronin continues. “Avoid applying volatile herbicides such as 2,4-D ester, MCPA ester and dicamba during hot weather, especially near susceptible broadleaf crops, shelterbelts or farmsteads.”

Formulating a

winter feed plan

In addition to preparing feedgrounds, producers should also take some time to formulate their winter feeding plan in advance. 

A common suggestion from experts in the field is to begin by body condition scoring cows and sorting them into multiple production groups in order to provide “custom” dietary plans to meet differing nutritional requirements. 

“Body condition scoring cows is the most cost effective management tool producers have. It can help them decide when to strategically improve the nutritional plane to get optimal production and reproduction,” states North Carolina State (NC State) University Ruminant Nutrition Extension Specialist Matt Moore in an article published by NC State Extension on Oct. 16, 2018. 

Moore also encourages producers to pencil out how many days they will likely be feeding and evaluate their forage inventory. 

“Each lactating cow will need about three percent of body weight per day of hay, which includes waste. This means small cows will need about 33 pounds of hay and large cows might need as much as 40 pounds of hay daily,” he explains.

“Knowing how much cows weigh is one factor producers will need to know to calculate an accurate feed budget,” Moore adds. “If they have other livestock, they also need to plan for their hay needs, and can do so by figuring four percent of body weight for sheep or goats and 2.5 percent of body weight for horses.”

After determining how much hay they will need to get through the winter, producers should then inventory their forage supply by counting bales on hand, estimating bale weight and testing nutritional quality. 

“Usually grazed forages will meet the needs of a lactating beef cow with moderate milk production. However, it is very common for hay to be harvested late or under poor drying conditions, resulting in forage not up to the requirements of a typical beef cow,” says Moore.

He notes a mature cow generally requires about 60 percent total digestible nutrient (TDN) and 11 percent protein. However, an average hay crop usually tests near 50 percent TDN and 10 percent protein, meaning the herd will need further supplementation.

Producers may consider purchasing protein tubs, byproduct blends, corn gluten feed or whole cottonseed.

“If a producer comes up significantly short of hay, they will need to do something to balance their budget,” he says. “One strategy would be to sell off some cows or other cattle and use the funds to build hay supply. The other option is to buy hay, and because supply is likely to be short, I strongly recommend doing it before cold weather arrives.”

“I would strongly suggest testing hay before buying a whole lot and also weighing some bales so producers know what they are paying for,” he concludes.

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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