Winter wheat pasture conditions are improving throughout most of the Southern Great Plains as of this writing. Small-grain winter pasture is an excellent protein and energy source. Fall-calving, lactating cows perform extremely well when grazing abundant wheat pasture. We tracked performance of lactating Angus cows and their calves grazing wheat from January through May (Table 1).
Notice cows averaged 26 pounds (lb.) of milk yield during late-lactation, and still managed to gain more than 2 lb. per day, along with tremendous increase in body condition. The combination of forage quality and high forage intake can result in cows becoming overly conditioned. This would certainly be a concern in spring-calving cows, as their nutrient requirements are substantially lower during gestation.
Limiting wheat pasture forage intake can serve to control cow condition and stretch the expensive, high-quality forage over more grazing days. One approach is to limit-graze the wheat as a protein and energy source to complement low-quality standing forage or hay.
We discovered about nine to 12 hours per week of access to wheat pasture (three to four hours per day, three days per week) met supplemental protein and energy needs for lactating beef cows.
Using this method, we were able to stock cows at about a cow-calf pair to 0.7 acres of wheat pasture from mid-November through mid-May. Hours on wheat can be adjusted to maintain a minimum level of cow body condition. We simply fed low-quality native grass hay in drylot pens when the cows were not grazing. Stockpiled forage in a pasture adjacent to the wheat pasture would be an ideal situation to minimize wintering costs. In our situation, automatic waterers were available in the drylot pens.
After about three to four hours of grazing, the cows were ready to get a drink and lie down, so they would walk into the drylot pens and we would shut the wire gate behind them. Next to the gate, we simply raised the electric fence so the calves could pass under it to graze.
In our experiment, another set of cows were wintered grazing tallgrass prairie stockpiled forage and fed about 5 lb. per day of dried distillers’ grain with solubles. Calf weight averaged 467 lb. in mid-April in this “traditional” system, whereas calves in the limit-grazed wheat pasture system averaged 565 lb. in mid-April.