It seems spring has arrived early this year. I spent the past week visiting my family in south-central Pennsylvania for spring break and it certainly felt like spring. Instead of the normal cool, rainy weather we have in March, we had temperatures in the 60s and 70s and it was continually sunny every day.
You’d have never guessed that exactly a year ago half the farm was under water due to flooding from torrential rains.
Our mama cows will be calving soon and the cool-season grasses are already off to a good start with the mild weather. This early lush forage growth coupled with calving sets the stage for grass tetany.
If you are unfamiliar with grass tetany, this ailment is caused by a low level of magnesium (Mg) in the plant, which leads a magnesium deficiency to develop in the bovine consuming the forage.
By Jesse Bussard
Year-round grazing is a concept that many around the country only dream of. Yet, researchers Tom Troxel PhD, John Jennings PhD, and Shane Gadberry PhD from the University of Arkansas have proven that when implemented with the proper forage and cattle management strategies, a nearly year-round grazing program is possible in some parts of the US. They elaborated on this impressive system during one of the Grazing and Forage Management Sessions during the Cattlemen’s College event at the 2012 Cattle Industry Convention.
The concept of the 300 Days of Grazing System developed out of a need to eliminate rising input costs for livestock producers. Never in the history of our industry have the costs of inputs such as feed, fuel, and fertilizer increased by such a dramatic amount in such a short period of time. By implementing more efficient pasture, hay, and feeding management producers involved in the program were able to greatly increase savings and decreased harvested forage needs in the herds.
Jennings asked the question “Do you plan and manage for a hay crop?” He stated that if producers can do this they just as easily plan and manage for a pasture crop. The basic steps behind the 300 Days of Grazing System include the following:
- Start with an inventory of your forage base
- What management practices can you add to increase seasonal grazing
- Add complimentary forages to fill in seasonal gaps
- Plan forage/grazing practices ahead for the year.
- Monitor and adjust the forage and livestock over time as conditions change
The research for this grazing system was conducted in 110 demonstrations in 48 counties across the state of Arkansas. These consisted of hay management demos looking at trying to reduce storage and feeding losses, stockpiling both warm and cool season forages, implementing rotational grazing systems, using complementary forages like winter and summer annuals, incorporating legumes, and also whole farm demonstrations. Whole farm demos included both studies conducted on-farm and at University of Arkansas research farms.
With a simple forage management practice of stockpiling forages showed to be a very cost-effective practice. Average savings for stockpiling Bermudagrass compared to feeding hay averaged $12, $42 and $52 per animal unit (AU; AU = 1000 lb cow) in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively. An average savings for stockpiled fescue compared to feeding hay average $42, $54, and $48 per AU in 2008, 2009, and 2010. The greatest savings was seen on a farm that strip-grazed stockpiled fescue/white clover and did not need to apply fertilizer with a savings of $83.50/AU
Overall producers that participated in the program were able to graze anywhere from 275-335 days throughout the year. All of this was accomplished by implementing practical forage management tactics such as overseeding legumes, stockpiling forages, and implementing rotational and strip grazing systems. Total direct reported savings to producers throughout this three year study totaled $191,727. Benefits in increased cow efficiency and a decrease in direct expenses have proven that utilizing more practical, applied forage management concepts allow cattlemen to minimize inputs leading to an optimization of cattle performance and added profits.
by Jesse Bussard
Horses have evolved over the eons into selective grazers, eating mainly grass, and are designed to survive on large quantities of low quality forages. It wasn’t until domestication of the horse somewhere between 2000-4000 BC that this diet changed.
The reason for this change was man. Early civilization found it more convenient to feed grain to their mounts because of it was energy dense, created less waste, and was easier to transport on long trips to battle. Since this sequence of events a grain ration has become commonplace in many equine diets, consisting of low fiber and high starch. This methodology, though convenient for owners and trainers, denies the horse its true biological design.
Scientific research has shown that this predilection to a low fiber high starch diet has negative implications on both equine welfare and behavior. Researchers at the University of Bristol in 2009 determined that diet and stable management play a major role in horse behavior. By allowing the horses to mimic an almost continuous natural grazing behavior similar to that of wild horses, by feeding more hay vs. infrequent and large high starch diets, researchers discovered that the horses displayed generally quieter behavior and fewer stereotypic behaviors like cribbing or weaving. Stereotypic behaviors are virtually unheard of in wild horses. This suggests that by increasing turnout times and social contact with other horses, stereotypical behaviors may be able to be deterred.
A 2010 study by Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine found that when horses were fed pellets, they worked harder to obtain a hay food reward than when they were fed hay. In the study, horses fed hay spent 61.5% of their time eating versus only 10% for horses eating pellets. Horses fed pellets spent 58% of their time standing while horses fed hay spent 37% of their time standing. Horses fed pellets also spent 11.5% of their time sifting through bedding in their stall looking for food compared to only 1.2% for horses fed hay. The researchers determined that the horses fed pellet diets showed a “hunger for hay” while horses fed hay did not. This along with the previous study indicates that a reduction in dietary fiber can have major impacts on equine behavior and physiology.
All this being said, a high fiber, low starch diet may not work for all equines. Racehorses, high performance event horses, or hard keepers may require more calories than a high fiber, low starch diet can provide and will most likely require concentrates. For horses that do perform well on this diet, the benefits are many including an increase in digestive health and a lowered risk of metabolic disorders and laminitis.
So what qualifies a horse for a high fiber, low starch diet? Many horses of different breeds and disciplines may benefit. Many times horses that are easily excitable, hard to handle, obese, insulin resistant, or diagnosed with muscle disorders or hindgut acidosis make good candidates. An important thing to remember when considering change in a horse’s diet is to always consult a veterinarian or experienced equine nutritionist. Always recommend to your customers that abrupt or drastic changes in diet could have negative implications.
In the end, a high fiber, low starch diet isn’t going to work for every horse but we must not forget their true biological nature as grazers. Allowing horses to exhibit their natural grazing behavior through providing hay and increasing turnout time and social contact with other equines will make for happier, healthier horses.