River Ranch cowboys bring home cattle from a fall meadow, a process which takes three days to complete, to feed for the winter months. Photographer Racquel Russell said the cows fared well from the summer fires, but that the biggest challenge has been that all fall and past summer feed was burnt. Raquel Russell photo

RANCH MUSINGS: Winter pasture thoughts as we shift into the season

I have been thinking about some specific things as we go into winter on the ranch

I have been thinking about some specific things as we go into winter on the ranch.

Many of us are short of hay so we are looking or have looked at our options and have priced them out.

Over the years there have been some “protein lick tubs” developed and local BC Livestock co-op, Beaver Valley Feeds in Williams Lake and the Co-op in Quesnel all carry the product.

These tubs feed the bugs (bacteria) in the rumen of the livestock which in turn digest the tougher part of the “roughage” we have on hand, hay or standing pasture.

Simply put, we need to know there is a balance of carbohydrates for energy (body function and keeping warm) and protein which is necessary for growth and important functions like nurturing the fetus in the mother cow.

Short of testing the pasture and hay, one can get general guidance about what is in the feeds you provide to the animals.

For instance, our local knowledge about grazing cattle on natural meadows says that early in pregnancy they should do well, at least into January.

READ MORE: No till pasture rejuvenation and silvopasture trials

Unless highly fertilized, all the macro and micro nutrients should be there.

One might send in some samples and get the analysis, so you know about your specific pastures.

Now we have the supplements to place out in those fields.

Several years ago, when we started to extend our grazing season and calve later, we grazed cattle in mature Reed’s Canary and wild sedges in the wetter areas which we couldn’t access earlier in the fall because it was too wet. This is mostly willow bottom riparian ground.

Advisors in the Ministry of Agriculture said that if the cows can eat willow there should be enough protein to digest the “rank” Reed’s grass which grows to seven feet tall, held up by the willows.

In other words, it is accessible to the cows.

Literature (research) that I have read says that if the cow can get a good mouthful of the feed without burying their eyes, then they can follow the grass under the snow.

We have successfully grazed these voluminous pastures well past Christmas.

Cows that are suited to and or habituated to this kind of feed can do well. We routinely use the protein supplement which is much cheaper than providing a full hay or silage diet.

If you are thinking of reducing your herd you may wish to replace them with genetics that are adapt to the extended grazing strategy approach.

After all, about 65 per cent of the cost of keeping a cow is feed costs.

A dollar saved is a dollar earned.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.


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