“Accurately measuring pasture forage intake, whether warm or cool-season annuals, remains one of our greatest challenges,” says Nicolas DiLorenzo, beef specialist for the University of Florida.

DiLorenzo notes, though difficult to accomplish, knowing feed intake from winter pastures is the key to determining the amount of pasture area needed until spring. This prompted Lorenzo and his research colleagues at the North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) to evaluate the potential amount of forage that growing cattle could eat while grazing cool-season pastures during winter.

For two consecutive years, growing beef cattle were fed green-chopped winter annual pasture forage comprised of: 1) rye + ryegrass; 2) triticale + ryegrass; or 3) oat + ryegrass. Pasture forage was chopped daily and delivered to the cattle housed at the Florida Feed Efficiency Facility, located at the NFREC. Cattle were fed the treatment ration for a total of 28 days each year: 14 days of adaptation and 14 days of feed intake and other measurements.

At the end of the two years, cattle consumed an average of 9 percent of their body weight daily in pounds of fresh forage. Intakes were similar in both years and across the range of forage species fed. With an average forage dry matter content of 16 percent, this translated to 1.44 percent of body weight on a dry matter basis.

On average, the cattle gained 2 pounds per day on the fresh forage ration.