Utilizing Low-Quality Residual Forage

A topic that has surfaced a good bit lately is that of utilizing low-quality, residual forage that is left over from the summer.  This is especially relevant in the southern portion of the state where bahia and bermudagrasses predominate.  First of all, the type of animal that is best suited to use this forage is a pregnant non-lactating cow (i.e., a spring-calving cow that has already weaned this year's calf).  The ideal situation is to supplement these cows with a small amount of protein in order to stimulate both digestion and intake of this low-quality forage.  A typical "hot mix" will work well for this situation.  A mixture of cottonseed meal and salt such that daily intake is only about 2 to 3 pounds per day.  For a salt-limited feeding program to be successful it is important that the cows have been on a good mineral program prior to this or the salt will have the opposite effect and actually stimulate intake.  Start out with a mix of 80% cottonseed meal and 20% salt and put about 5 pounds of this mix in a bunk for each cow that is in the group.  Keep doing this on a daily basis and adjusting the amount of salt until you get a mix that makes them leave feed in the bunk.  Once you have the correct amount of salt for limiting to 2 to 3 pounds of consumption per day then you can fill a self-feeder.  If cows tend to not graze in certain areas move the feeder to that area and soon they will clean-up the entire pasture (excluding dog fennel, smutgrass and several other undesirables!!)  The goal can also be accomplished by using some of the commercially available products that contain high concentrations of natural protein and designed for low daily consumption.
    This technique is not very well suited to a fall-calving cow that has already calved because her nutrient demands are too great for the amount she will be receiving.  This technique is not suitable for fescue-based pastures during this time of the year because fescue is a cool-season grass and is just starting it's growth period.  Young, vegetative grass will be high-quality unlike the warm-season grasses which have declined and will only get lower in quality.
    Some researchers and producers have actually taken this concept a step further and are placing cows on stockpiled bermuda and bahiagrass during October and November.  Instead of taking the last hay cutting about now they simply leave that hay crop standing in the field and let the cows harvest it by employing a strip-grazing technique.  These programs have been extremely successful in Oklahoma but have not been properly evaluated in Alabama or other southeastern states.