Maximize Winter Grazing

Maximize Winter Grazing

Meeting cow herd nutritional requirements takes on many different forms depending on forage availability, location and management, and can be especially challenging with winter grazing situations. During winter months, spring calving cows are positioned with precise nutrient requirements in order to grow and develop a healthy fetus, as well as maintain body condition of 5.5 to 6 during ever changing weather conditions

Winter Forage Options in the Midwest

Corn Stalks

Where there is fencing available around a corn field, there will be cattle grazing post-harvest. Grazing crop residue is a low-cost forage source for cows and can be of surprising quality. Early in the grazing period, the residue can average around 70% TDN and 8% protein. As the grazing period continues, the average TDN decreases to 40% and the protein to 5%. This is caused by cattle selecting the higher quality feedstuffs within the crop residue first (i.e. corn, leaves, husks) and also from a leaching of nutrients from the residue over time. As cows continue to graze, other forms of supplementation may be needed to provide the necessary nutrients in order to maintain proper body condition.

Stock-piled forage

Stock-piled forage is another excellent winter grazing option that can be accomplished by leaving a pasture ungrazed through the summer months or by grazing through part of the growing season and allowing for regrowth through the fall. Ungrazed pastures can present producers with the most pounds of dry matter per acre, but may have a higher fiber content because they will be more mature. Regrowth pastures may be of higher quality, however, depending on the conditions of the late growing season, may not have as much dry matter per acre.

Regardless of the method for stock-piling forage, both present producers with excellent grazing for gestating cows. It’s recommended to sample stock-piled forages to get an accurate assessment of quality and determine if additional supplementation is needed.

Body Condition and Nutritional Status

While cattle are grazing dormant pastures or crop residue, monitoring the herd’s body condition is a simple tool to gauge the nutrition provided by the available forage. This body condition scoring (BCS) can be accomplished by picking a few head and checking their score at least once a month. It’s a good idea to pick cows of various ages to score from the herd. If over time their condition score is declining, the nutritional value of the available forage may be declining as well.

As the grazing period progresses, it will become necessary to add supplemental protein to the diet to keep the rumen microbes functioning at peak efficiency. When total protein in the diet is below 7%, the ability of the rumen microbes to ferment (digest) forage starts to become impaired. This means the cattle get less value out of the forage they are consuming. A simple way to reverse this inefficiency is to supplement with protein.

Supplementing protein

When protein is limited in the total diet, the rumen microbes aren’t able to do their job as effectively because the forage digesting microbes in the rumen utilize nitrogen as an energy source. Simply by supplementing protein, nitrogen is added back into the rumen and the microbes are better able to digest the forages the cattle are consuming, essentially getting more with eat bite of forage and helping cows maintain condition.

Protein supplementation takes on many forms. What then rumen needs is simple and backed by research. Kansas State University found that daily protein supplementation improved forage intake and digestion versus supplementing just two times per week. Additionally, less than two pounds per head per day of a high protein supplement increased digestibility and intake of low quality forage.


Kent offers easy-to-feed protein supplements in the form of cubes, compressed blocks, and low moisture blocks. Each product type provides high quality supplemental protein to help overcome nutritional challenges presented by grazing crop residues or dormant forages. Each supplement form presents its own advantages and challenges, so producers should evaluate which product best suits their situation.

To learn more about the protein supplements Kent offers, please contact your Kent dealer or give us a call at 866-647-1212.

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