How You Feed Your Cattle in the Winter May Improve Overall Soil Fertility
For years, the beef industry has been forced to reduce input costs due to small profit margins. Further, significant variations in financial returns means that management decisions vary greatly from year to year.
Each year, management decisions are dictated by what happened the previous year. When cuts need to be made, pasture inputs are usually the first on the chopping block. This stems in part from the fact that lime and fertilizer must be paid for upfront. Further, since yields are not measured on a regular basis, the impact of low fertility is not always known right away.
It isn’t until weed populations and other undesirable plants become established that reduced soil nutrient levels are recognized. Since desirable forage availability is key to maximizing dry matter intake and, in turn, animal performance, this presents a real problem and the economic returns have a negative impact on an operation.
So what can be done? Experts say that the way conserved forages are fed throughout the winter months could hold the answer.
Hay provides nutrients and, in many cases, the potassium and phosphorus levels are greater than the needs of beef cows. These excess nutrients are excreted in feces and urine. Researchers have observed higher crude protein in forages collected near feeding zones compared to other areas. In fact, soil data in these area show that nitrate-nitrogen levels were up to four times greater in these areas. Therefore, by spreading animals across the land to be fed, the level of these nutrients in soil may be boosted
Of course, mud can be an issue so it may be necessary to feed cows on a hard-surface pad of some type and collect the manure. This manure and hay lost from feeding can then be spread across fields as weather permits. A feeding pad does not need to be elaborate or expensive, either. Routine scraping and manure and hay collection is necessary, however, as is the need for a manure spreader to maximize the utilization of nutrients.
When it comes to your operation’s net income, you can never be too careful. By managing winter hay feeding to capture the value of manure and hay losses, you can help improve soil fertility and forage production for the coming season.