As we are experiencing our first cold front of the year and we are settling into pumpkin spice and soup season, it is time to evaluate the nutritional needs of our livestock and if they are in need of additional supplementation. Hopefully you prioritize pasture management throughout the year and can rely on forage for the base of your nutrition program. Feeding a forage-based diet, with supplemental energy and protein filling in the nutritional gaps is the best idea. However, even a Florida pasture that sees mostly warm days will not provide all your livestock need as we enter our cool season.
Warm season pastures in Florida such as bahia or bermuda have a growing season that is basically spring through fall, slightly dependent on timing of cooler weather on both ends of the season. The nutrition of these forages in pasture follows the same bell curve as their growing season; highest nutritional value in the middle of the season, summer, and we notice forage quality start to wane as we approach fall and into the end of the growing season around October and November. At times, the climate remains warm enough for the forage to still appear lush and green, but be aware the quality is not that of a warm season pasture in its prime.
Getting ahead of this nutritional demand can be important to your operation in many ways. If you have cattle approaching calving season you want to be sure they maintain an appropriate body condition to withstand their upcoming demands, pre calving. Once a cow loses body condition, particularly when she is about to undergo lactation and the stresses of the upcoming breeding season, it can be very challenging to add the lost pounds back and you risk her fertility success for the next season.
With horses, we often find they too begin to lack body condition through the cool season when additional forage and or feed resources are not added to their diet to make up for the forage decline in fall. A lack of forage in a horse’s diet can lead to a host of issues, as they are anatomically designed to consume roughage all day. Providing forage in the way of hay or hay cubes should likely be started by the month of October if you seasonally supplement forage to account for quality decline in pasture and the overall decline in forage quantity available for grazing.
Caring for livestock can certainly be more demanding in the fall and winter months, but at least we are not dealing with shoveling snow and breaking ice in water troughs each morning! Remember, if you are using supplemental forage and feed during the 120-day cool season, you are still ahead of the operation that supplements each animal year-round. Being a grass and pasture farmer first will always save you money in the long run, don’t forget to put pasture management first so you can recoup some of your winter costs during the growing season.