Top 10 Ways to Beat Dormant Grass
- Top 10 Ways to Beat Dormant Grass
By Will Winter, DVM
Mid to late fall is typically when grasses go from lush, green and growing to virtually empty hull of their former self. This is called going dormant. After the glorious summer and early fall, what remains in the edible (above-ground) parts of the plant varies from species to species. When grasses go dormant, the nutritional value, particularly in the energy department, which consists of sugars, fructans, starches and other non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), tends to go into a free fall. This means for the task of fattening cattle; it’s going to be rough going until spring.
Here are my top 10 best strategies for succeeding with winter dormant forages:
- Learn to capture the full energy of summer grasses with proper dry hay and baleage.
- Learn how to stockpile and graze perennial grasses in winter. Always keep reserve hay or baleage in case of a bad winter such as heavy snow or mud.
- Protect your animals from the ravages of winter weather with shelter, adequate water, and adequate high-quality forages.
- Calve, wean, and move animals in harmony with nature.
- Buy or breed the genetics that will be able to digest and utilize stored grass forages.
- Summer graze and re-mineralize properly to fully develop rumen function and good digestion. (further explained below)
- Avoid short-weaning young animals in late fall or winter. Cattle younger than 10 months do not have much digestive power.
- Select replacement heifers from cows that can maintain their weight in the winter while pregnant and while nursing a calf.
- Graze all through spring, summer and fall to protect improved grasses and desirable native grasses that will stockpile well.
There is the sharp drop-off of all nutrients in any sort of winter forage, whether it is stockpiled grasses, hay or baleage. This means that for successful wintering, we must give the livestock some help. First, critical minerals must be provided throughout the winter. Unfortunately, it’s common that pregnant animals are given the worst forages, which makes sense in the short-term financial aspect, but may be dangerous in that the developing fetus will suffer if there is not enough of everything essential. Expensive genetics from both the dam and the sire will not manifest if the “epigenetics” are missing!
Equally critical are the fat-soluble vitamins, these are pretty much guaranteed to be deficient in the winter. There are nice supplies of vitamins and minerals in the body, but there might not be enough to survive a long winter depravation. This includes the big ones such as Vitamins A, D3, and E. A good vitamin-mineral supplement should have very high levels in every ounce.
By far, the most important “limiting factor” in winter feeding is ENERGY. As it turns out, energy is the most missing ingredient in stockpiled or dead grasses. Energy makes fat and makes milk. University studies have proven that for grain-eating animals, Apple Cider Vinegar enhances the dissolving of the protamine shell that encases the stored balls of starch and releases them for digestion. When it comes to grassfed livestock the ruminants are the only food animals that can break down cellulose and hemicellulose into units of pure sugar. This means that formerly inaccessible fiber, which would otherwise appear in the manure is now available to be fully assimilated. In a nutshell, ACV stimulates the wood-chopping rumen bacteria, called cellulosic microbes, to break down more cellulose into sugar. Live (fermented and unpasteurized) ACV is also loaded with digestive enzymes (which are reused thousands of times) as well as massive loads of probiotic (rumen-healing) microbes. It only takes one gallon per cow per month (4 oz/day) to be fully effective.
Cane Molasses -This pure natural sugar is an obvious way to enhance winter gain and forage utilization. It also seems to harmonize with ACV creating even more fantastic results. Lassahol is a patented formula that turns molasses into an alcoholic compound that is approximately 10x as effective as the original molasses.
Omega-Min -This winter feed can be used year-round if needed but is particularly designed to stimulate gain in the winter. Since it contains flax meal, it is not sanctioned for use in Thousand Hills or other grassfed finishing programs but is still acceptable for use with the cow herd. It is loaded with residual flax oil (which improves Omega 3 fatty acid production up to the levels seen with 100% grassfed rations, this is the only commonly known grain that will do this). Typically, cattle are offered about a pound a day. It also contains critical minerals and vitamins.