Cool Season Livestock Nutrition: Part One - Forage

Cool Season Livestock Nutrition: Part One - Forage

Posted by Matthew Cantrell on 17th Sep 2019

The summer slump is often a stressful time for livestock, fields and producers, but it also means that the milder weather and increased forage of fall are on the horizon. Assessment of the conditions of your animals and pasture, as well as anticipating their needs will inform your management decisions for the coming season. For forage-based operations this means that milk production, weaning stress, breed-back of open females and target weight gains all depend primarily on the nutritional quality of pasture plants, which in turn depend on the mineral and organic profiles of the soil.

Late summer and fall seeding should include a diversity of plant types and species that offer adequate protein, energy and fiber, as well as minerals with high bio-availability to help sustain animals through lean winter months.

High yielding, cool season grasses that provide high quality forage for fall grazing and winter stock piling and also function well as green manures include:

  • Cereal grains (rye, oats, triticale, wheat, etc.)
  • Italian/annual ryegrass
  • Perennial grasses (tall fescue, orchardgrass, perennial ryegrass, etc.)

Legumes provide quality forage and fix nitrogen from the environment, making it available to other plants. Cool season legumes include:

  • Various clovers
  • Hairy vetch
  • Winter Peas

Brassicas are often overlooked but they provide high quality forage, break up compacted soil, and effectively mine minerals that are often inaccessible to other plants. Cool season brassicas include:

  • Rape
  • Kale
  • Radish
  • Turnip

In order to meet the unique needs of your farm, you may want to create your own custom seed mix including some of the species mentioned above. Many seed suppliers offer mixes designed for a range of pasture and animal needs. “ Organic NitroMax CC1” (Albert Lea) is a blend of organic oats, organic field peas and organic Tillage Radish that is designed for maximum green manure production and can be hayed or grazed in the fall. “Ray’s Crazy Fall Mix” (King’s Agriseeds) includes Austrian Winter Peas, Foragemaker 50 Oats, Triticale, Hairy Vetch, Crimson Clover, Marshall Ryegrass, Daikon Radish and Barkant Turnips. This soil-building and grazing mix also attracts wildlife and beneficial insects.

Increasing plant diversity is an essential component in optimizing pasture health and livestock performance, ensuring production goals and performance well through winter.