Nutritional management of calves grazing wheat and small grain pasture
Keywords:growing calves, wheat pasture, supplementation, minerals, bloat
Small grain forages are a unique and economically important resource in the Southern Great Plains and in similar areas worldwide. Income is possible from both increasing value of stocker calves grazing during the fall and winter as well as the harvested grain. Wheat and other small grain species are used in this “dual purpose” production system if calves are removed from pastures at the first hollow stem development stage. As more producers have opted to forgo grain harvest in order to graze-out cropped acres, other small grains (oats, cereal rye, triticale, barley) and cool-season annuals (annual ryegrass) are often planted in mixtures. These alternative cool-season annuals and mixtures have similar protein and digestibility attributes to wheat pasture, so management and supplementation recommendations are similar. Risk factors of production include forage growth and climatic variation as well as the bloat provocative nature of the forage, which impacts performance, death losses and economics of the enterprise. Small grain forages are high in crude Protein (17 to 35% of DM) and are highly digestible (up to 85% IVOMD), which is adequate for potential average daily gains in excess of 2.5 lbs per day. However, these performance levels are often not achieved in practice. Growth performance is impacted by forage availability, mineral deficiencies and imbalances, energy and protein imbalances in the rumen, and bloat. This review focuses on the nutritional management of stocker calves grazing smallgrain forages to improve predictability of performance and maintain economic sustainability.