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Managing cattle on wheat pasture requires a few key considerations for maximum gain and optimum results. (Journal photo by Lacey Newlin.)

Wheat planting is now on the mind for many growers and for some farmers and ranchers, that also leads to cattle on wheat pasture. According to Marty New, Oklahoma State University Extension southwest area livestock specialist, there is a set of concerns every cattle raiser needs to be cognizant of while grazing cattle on wheat pasture.

“First you have to determine whether you’re going to be in a graze-out situation, dual purpose or grain only, and that plays a huge role in how you manage your feeding situation,” New said. “Wheat pasture is an excellent, palatable forage source and cattle love it because it’s so lush and green and rapidly digested in the rumen. As we increase forage quantity, we usually see an increase in intake and with that we can see performance potential of up to 2.5 pounds per day and potentially more under ideal situations.”

When wheat forage is compared to other feedstuffs, it is an excellent source of protein, in that respect it is greater than alfalfa, corn and corn silage. New said wheat can usually maintain 20% protein or greater throughout the grazing season, so cattle requirements can be met regardless of weight class and they can gain up to 2.5 pounds per day.“However, if we added an additional column to bump it up to 3 pounds per day, a 300-pound calf would be right at 19.9% crude protein, so that wheat still measures in there,” New said. “If we bumped the gain up to 3 pounds on a five-weight steer, his requirement would be right at 14.4% crude protein.”

On an energy basis, wheat is higher than alfalfa, and little less than rolled corn, but comparable to corn silage. However, when compared to alfalfa and corn, they are 80 and 90% dry matter, while wheat is only 25%.

New said when predicting gains on dry matter intake the calculated is usually based on 2.8% of the body weight. He said a six-weight steer needs to consume about 16.8 pounds of dry matter a day with a predicted gain of 2.85 pounds per day.

“However, that is in an ideal situation and there are a lot of different scenarios that can impact gain and energy requirements,” New explained. “When we start looking at those impacts, the biggest things we cannot control are the impacts on the forage and the cattle. When we add a cold rain and mud to the scenario, that increases the cattle’s energy requirements and makes them burn more energy just trying to maintain their body temperature and that also has an impact on the wheat forage as well.”

New also said to keep compensatory gain in mind, which is a faster than normal rate of gain after a period of feed restriction. Additionally, cattlemen must be aware of the growing conditions of the wheat, how long before cattle can be turned out on the pasture, the stocking rate and how much wheat is available when cattle are turned out.

Mineral minded

As far as the mineral content of wheat versus the cattle requirements, one of the biggest issues is falling below the requirements of calcium for most cattle on wheat; this can be addressed with a mineral to increase the calcium. Additionally, adding minerals can serve as a carrier for ionophores.

“When we start talking about minerals, always remember you can’t manage what you can’t measure and measuring the intake of mineral is very important,” New said. “It give us the opportunity to manage our investment, monitor consumption and gives us the consumption that we’re seeing on a weekly basis to help us move forward in our system.”

One of the greatest concerns of grazing wheat pasture throughout the year is bloat. New said there is a correlation in the percent protein and neutral detergent fiber in bloat free pastures. NDF refers to structural components of the plant, specifically the cell wall and it is a predictor of voluntary intake because it provides bulk. In general, low NDF values are desired because NDF increases as forages mature. Dry matter is usually much less in bloat pastures and protein values are usually increased.

New said a question he often gets is if calves need a protein supplement like cottonseed meal, soybean meal, corn gluten meal or even alfalfa hay to increase wheat pasture gain, and the answer is no. However, energy supplementation like corn grain, soybean hulls or sorghum can increase head per acre, performance efficiency and the conversion factor.

When considering feeding grain on wheat pasture, first take stock of available labor and the cost. The pros of feeding grain are improved gain predictability and stability. Additionally, New said for wheat pasture supplementation to work, cattlemen need to increase stocking rates. Every year is unique and managing cattle on wheat pasture boils down to experience and going with the flow.

“There’s a variety of feedstuffs that work and every year is going to be different,” he said. “Adjust your stocking rates as you go, utilize all the forage that you have and follow what is the economic benefit for you.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at 620-227-1871 or lnewlin@hpj.com.

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