Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist
Last week's rain showers give some Oklahoma producers hope that wheat pasture may be available in late November or early December. Wheat pasture (if adequate rainfall produces growth) can be used as a supplement for pregnant replacement heifers. Using wheat pasture judiciously makes sense for pregnant heifers for two reasons. Pregnant heifers consuming full feed of wheat pasture will gain at about 3 pounds per head per day. If they are on the wheat too long, the heifers can become very fat and cause calving difficulty. Also the wheat pasture can be used for gain of stocker cattle or weaned replacement heifers more efficiently.
In the early 1990s, a two-year study was conducted with bred replacement heifers on three different wintering diets. Group 1 was placed on wheat pasture full time from the first week of December until the first week of February. Group 2 heifers were given access to a self-feeder with a growing ration that was developed to mimic the growth of the wheat pasture heifers. Group 3 heifers were wintered on native range and fed 3 pounds per day of 40 percent protein cube. At the beginning of calving (Feb. 7) and until spring all heifers were on native range and fed the 40 percent protein supplement.
Birth weights (wheat heifers = 75.2 pounds; self fed heifers = 78.3 pounds; and native range heifers = 76.3 pounds) were similar for all groups of heifers. In the first year, when nearly half of the wheat heifers were in a body condition score of 7, more calf loss was noted in this group. Some heifers were noted to experience apparent uterine fatigue, a condition where during labor the heifer strains for a short time then gives up. If wheat pasture is used for bred heifers, use it as a protein supplement by allowing the heifers access to the wheat pasture on at least alternate days. Some producers report that one day on wheat pasture and two days on native or bermuda will work better. This encourages the heifers to go rustle in the warm-season pasture for the second day, rather than just stand by the gate waiting to be turned back in to the wheat. It is important to note that an adequate amount of standing forage or dry hay must be available during the "off" days. Whatever method is used to grow the pregnant replacement heifers, plan to have them in good body condition (BCS = 6) by calving so that they will grow into fully developed productive cows.
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