Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
OSU Animal Science
Unusually hot, dry summer weather has eroded pasture conditions and greatly reduced the hay crop in the Southern, Central and Western regions of Oklahoma. Consequently, cattlemen are seriously evaluating summer and fall grazing and feeding alternatives. Cow/calf producers who face this scenario should be considering management alternatives that will ensure that cows do not go into the winter in thin body condition. Following are a few reminders and suggestions to consider in dealing with the drought. Numbers in parentheses indicate OSU publications for further detail. These publications are available at your county extension office or may be obtained via email at
1. If selling cattle (stockers or cows) is inevitable, don’t put it off. Delaying the sale of at least part of the cattle inventory will further reduce forage supply for remaining cattle and potentially expose you to greater market risk if the drought persists.
2. Wean calves early (OSU Fact Sheets 3264 and CR-3278). Weaning will greatly reduce the cow’s energy requirement and help maintain body condition. Better quality pasture should be reserved for the calves. Remember that calves weighing less than 400 pounds and grazing moderate to lower quality pasture will require energy and protein supplementation to maintain 1.5 to 2 lb. per day gains. Consider placing calves on a concentrate-feeding program (OSU Fact Sheets E-900 and CR-3025). This will further reduce pressure on the cow herd forage supply. These young calves require only 4 to 5 pounds of a well-balanced concentrate ration per pound of weight gain. Fortunately, grain and feed commodity prices are reasonable, making supplementation and concentrate feeding an economical alternative.
3. Ammoniate low quality roughage (OSU Fact Sheet 2243). Ammonization tremendously improves intake and digestibility of low quality roughage. Ammoniated wheat straw has about the same nutritional value as average quality prairie hay. Cost is around $15 per ton of roughage. There are some precautions to be aware of, so be sure to get a copy of the fact sheet and consult your local Extension Agricultural Educator, Steve Kraich, at 580-338-7300.
4. Consider limit feeding a concentrate diet to cows (Fact Sheet 3028). If hay is expensive, and grain prices are moderate to low, a limit fed concentrate diet can be less expensive and as effective as feeding hay and supplement. This technique does require greater management skill, but can save money and spare overextended pastures in a year like this one.
5. Start feeding hay and/or energy supplement before pastures become too short. This will stretch pasture forages, reduce the incidence of overgrazing and insure that cows do not become thin before winter. Lower quality hay could be fed now and pastures grazed during late fall and early winter (assuming we get some moisture to stimulate fall regrowth).
6. Consider stockpiling forage for fall and winter grazing (Fact Sheets 2570 – 2870). Fifty pounds of nitrogen applied to bermuda or fescue pasture in August generates around one ton of additional forage per acre, depending on fall precipitation.
7. Strip graze or rotationally graze pastures to improve utilization. This practice will increase total grazing days because harvest efficiency is improved (Fact Sheets 2567 -2870).
8. Provide an ionophore (such as Bovatec Ò or Rumensin Ò through a concentrate supplement, salt or mineral mix. Ionophores stretch forage supply by improving forage nutrient utilization by as much as 10%. The benefit is not as positive in low quality forage diets unless a supplement is provided.
9. Make certain that cattle are parasite free (Fact Sheet E-944). A high parasite load will compound nutritional stress.
More detailed information regarding these management practices are available at local county extension offices. Management adjustments now can save on feed costs in the long run. The winter months are the most expensive time to put body condition on cows and it is nearly impossible to accomplish after calving and before spring grass is available. Therefore, producers should monitor cow herd body condition on a weekly basis and make needed adjustments to maintain body condition score of 5 or better.