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Animal Health Notebook
Calves in a corral Alan Newport
Cattle like to graze only the best. When we demand they eat something else, it may take extra effort to get good performance.

Five things to increase animal performance

Pasture performance is important to profit. Here's how to get it.

We are getting into late July as I write this and our pasture is up to your chin and cattle performance is really good. The question is why and how?

Truth is that quality and performance in late July used to be unheard of unless you mowed hay in June and got a bunch of moisture and crabgrass growth in late July or August. This year there will be lots of crabgrass on ground that has been scratched. Crab grass is good stuff but requires lots of moisture and a little tillage in clay soil. Frost melts it down real fast.

Rotational grazing programs have a history of decreasing individual animal performance. The same is true of combining groups into much larger herds. The natural model has several answers to animal performance that are worth studying. They include:

  • Ecosystem and soil and environment
  • Soil mineralization
  • Soil biology & activity
  • Water, mineral, energy and biological soil cycles
  • Cattle adaptation
  • Plant diversity
  • Time of the year (season)
  • Planned, rapid, high-density movement
  • Supplementation

History tells us that large ruminants spent the majority of their time (life) on forage that offered the best nutrition. Limestone-based, highly organic soil was the major key as was moisture and sunshine.

Cattle will always tend to overgraze the best plants if given the opportunity. The natural model successfully prevented overgrazing several ways.

  • Wolves forced high animal densities for protection. They forced movement away from water and shade.
  • Genetic programming made sure calves learned to eat what was available from the fetal stages through maturity.
  • Genetic cleansing assured weak calves, sick cattle, old cattle and lame cattle normally fed the wolves. Grazing animals that failed to fit the model did not produce much offspring.
  • Grasshoppers and bugs helped force ruminants to take their overgrazing elsewhere.
  • Fouling: In nature animals normally dislike grazing in or life close to where they urinated or dunged.
  • Seeking water. Cattle need water in volumes (1 to 3 gallons per 100 lbs of body weight daily.
  • Moving to salt. Most high-moisture areas are low in salt and salt is essential.

There are three times every year that we really need good animal performance. They include:

  • 6 weeks prior to calving
  • 10-12 weeks after calving
  • 12-16 weeks before selling yearlings or harvesting for the table

As we study the natural model and the pasture and the soil it becomes evident or at least should be clear that we should make our decisions based on what the model is telling us. We need the cattle to perform at a decent level year round but we need them to perform at a high level before and after calving and breeding (16-18 weeks) and for about the same time period before sell or harvest. We need at least four months of quality plant growth or quality. There are few if any plants species that are high quality for 120 days.

Animal performance increases with these five things:

  1. High plant diversity and complete growth recovery.
  2. Forage quality w/maturity and immature seeds.
  3. Number of days of similar quality forage.
  4. A little supplementation.
  5. Unnatural and unfamiliar feeds pushes away from health and performance.

The truth is there is not two or three plants that are high quality for 16-18 weeks. But with 100+ plant species in pastures that are managed with boom-and-bust grazing life becomes rewarding. Yes, we can empty feed bags and feed bins, and silos to fill the cracks. The trouble is the lack of success with the material handling business most of us have spent years practicing in the past.

Our cattle need to perform in good health and reproduction to help our operations be profitable. Animal performance is very important. Study and plan plant diversity, pasture recovery, high animal density and rapid movement.

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