Stocker cattle can be grazed on winter wheat pastures – if there’s a good balance between available forage and supplements. So says Ted McCollum, Texas Cooperative Extension beef cattle specialist based at Amarillo.
"You have to know what's on their dinner table each day and how to supplement their diet with additives, grain, low-quality roughage or silage," says McCollum, who calls this “grocery managment.”
"Keep an eye on when and how often they graze. This is a good indicator of what's on the table. If your wheat is getting thin or the weather is cold and harsh, they have to work harder and graze more to get the groceries they need."
If their groceries get thin, it may be time to adjust stocking rates or bring in supplemental feed, he adds.
"Economics will balance the scale of where you need to be with stocking rates. Research with stockers grazing dryland wheat in the Panhandle has shown that boosting the stocking rate 50 lbs/acre can reduce average daily gain by about one-third of a pound per day," McCollum says. "You have to balance stocking rates with expected gains, expected market price and your oper-ating costs."
Providing supplemental feed and additives increases operating costs and isn't necessarily profitable. "Supplements for wheat-pasture cattle have their place, but supplemental feeding isn't always economical," McCollum warns. "Pencil out your supplement cost and then compare it to the market value of the additional weight gains it may produce.
"As a general rule of thumb, each pound of added weight gain is only worth about 50-60¢ because of price rollback in the market-place. Aside from costs and returns, you also need to consider what those cattle really need in a good pasture supplement."
Most cattle grazing wheat pasture have relatively low supplemen-tal mineral requirements. Even so, a producer should feed a min-eral supplement containing calcium. Magnesium is of less concern for stocker cattle, but it is a good idea to feed supplements containing magnesium to mature cows in order to prevent grass tetany, he says.
"If adding weight gain is your goal, and the cost-returns are right, your supplement should contain an additive such as Ru-mensin, Bovatec or GainPro," McCollum says. "Aside from promot-ing weight gain, experience has shown that Rumensin also helps reduce bloat.
"Additives only cost about 2¢/day/head, but they must be deliv-ered in a mineral or feed supplement. If fed properly, they can boost gain by one-fifth to one-third of a pound per day. The la-beled/approved options for self-feeding these additives are lim-ited."
Energy and protein are two other key ingredients to consider, he says. "Grain is a good source of energy, but low-quality rough-age is not. Feeding low-quality roughage won't increase gains, but it can help prevent bloat. A wheat forage-only diet will produce better gains than a wheat forage and roughage diet. Wheat forage plus grain can be even better.
"Grain-based supplements that contain Rumensin or Bovatec are most economical when fed at a relatively low rate - somewhere around 2 lbs/day/head or less."
Feeding silage as a supplement is another option. "You can stretch the available forage and perhaps use a higher stocking rate by feeding silage," he says. It's also a good, nutritious feed that can help maintain or boost gains when forage is lim-ited."
Feeding times can be just as important as supplement ingredi-ents, the specialist says. "Don't feed your supplement early in the morning when the cattle are actively grazing. Wheat should be their main course. Feed your supplement as a dessert – after the cattle have finished their morning grazing."