Supplementation Strategies for Cattle Producers

AUBURN, Ala. — Supplementation is an important management strategy for cattle producers to implement as cooler weather approaches.

Supplementation is adding or including ingredients into a beef herd’s diet to increase the energy or protein values or both over the base diet to a desired level, said Rickey Hudson, Alabama Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension Agent.

The Goal

Supplementation is imperative for cattle producers because it allows for proper maintenance, growth and performance of cattle.

The primary goal is to complement the deficient base ingredients in the herd’s diet with the necessary nutrients to allow cattle to function without limitations said Hudson.

When Should Supplementation Begin

Producers might consider supplemental feeding in the fall when the nutritional value of warm-season forages begins to decrease, especially in fall-calving systems.

Supplementation should not occur year-round.

“Supplementation might become a necessity at any point during the year, resulting from environmental conditions,” said Hudson. “However, any extended period of supplementation begs for a review of the base diet, along with an audit of the planned beef production system.”


Because each operation has different goals and each herd has different dietary needs based on their age and stage of production, there is no single best supplementation strategy to follow.

According to Hudson there are, however, different ways to increase the energy and protein levels in your herd’s feed.

  • Corn is a feedstuff high in energy.
  • Oat and soybean hulls are moderate sources of energy and protein.
  • Corn gluten, cottonseed, dried brewer’s grain, dried distiller’s grain and wheat midds are high in energy and protein.
  • Soybean meal and cottonseed meal are high in protein.

The best supplementation strategy is one that complements the base diet by providing the herd with the needed nutrients while being cost effective for the producer said Hudson.

For more information on feed supplementation, contact your Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Extension Agent.


Forage Testing

AUBURN, Ala. — Just as soil tests are an important part of on-farm management, forage testing is an important part of beef management systems.

“Forage testing involves testing fresh forage, hay or silage in a laboratory to

provide information needed to formulate animal rations,” said Josh Elmore, Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and Forages Regional Agent.

“If You Never Check, It’s Just a Guess”

Forage testing is important because producers need to know that the nutrient value of the hay to ensure it meets the nutrient requirement for their livestock said Gerry Thompson, Alabama Cooperative Extension Animal Science and

Forages Regional Agent.

Every animal has different nutrient needs based on what it is doing at that specific time in its life. For example, a dry cow will have less nutrient needs than a cow with a calf.

Forage testing is important because it shows how much protein and energy is in a batch of hay. The test can also reveal if there are any toxic properties, such as nitrates, said Thompson.

It also helps determine how much supplemental feed is needed.

Hay harvested at different times of the year and from different fields will also have different nutrient values. Knowing this helps producers determine if the hay from a particular field or cutting has a higher nutritional value, then it can be fed to livestock with a higher nutrient requirement.

How to Test Forages

Testing forages is simple and something any producer can do by themselves.

Using a hay probe, drill a hole in 12 to 15 random bales of hay and drill to

capture the hay. Every county extension office has a hay probe that producers can borrow.

Once the hay sample has been collected, send it to the Forage Testing Lab at Auburn University for analysis.

Hay stored outside should be tested right before it is fed because exposure to the high humidity and rainfall experienced in the Southeast has diminished the nutrient quality said Thompson. If hay does not reach the proper nutrient requirement for the livestock, supplemental feed will be necessary.

Hay stored inside should be tested once as well, but the nutrient quality will be

about the same as it was when it was cut because it has not been exposed to the elements.

Forage testing is a simple and less labor-intensive management practice that should be utilized to ensure livestock are receiving the proper amount of nutrients.

For more information about forage testing contact your Alabama Cooperative Extension Regional Animal Science and Forages Agent or read the Alabama

Cooperative Extension publication on forage testing here.

Information on collecting a forage sample for laboratory analysis can be found at:


Fall Calving

The fall is a busy time for many cattle producers in the state as preparation begins for fall calving season. The following provides some considerations when choosing a fall-calving season:


  • “October is typically the driest month of the year making for a good time to calve,” said Landon Marks, Alabama Extension Animal Science and Forage Regional Extension Agent.
  • Cooler temperatures in the fall also typically make calving and rebreeding easier.
  • Fall calves typically are marketed the first week of the following August. This is beneficial to cattlemen because the South can provide feedlots with calves at a time when most of the country cannot and they typically will receive a higher price.
  • Fall-born calves in the Southeast tend to have higher weaning weights than spring and summer-born calves said Marks.


  • Calving in the fall will typically create a higher cost of production because of the lack of available forages.
    • Fall calves will have higher feed costs for hay and supplemental feeds said Johnny Gladney Alabama Extension animal scientist.
  • “Nutrient demands of beef females are generally highest in the first few months after calving,” said Marks. “Cows calving in the fall normally need more winter supplementation than spring-calving females.”
  • “Although spring-born heifers are often lighter at weaning than fall-born heifers, post-weaning gains and body condition scores at breeding are higher for spring-born calves than fall-born calves,” said Marks.

Preparing for Fall Calving

Fall calving takes year-long preparation.

Attending educational meetings hosted by cattlemen’s associations, farmers federations and Extension and keeping the cows’ body condition as close to 5 as possible are two of the best ways to prepare for fall calving said Gladney.

It is also important to remember to review gestation tables and to make sure the bull is with the cows at the right time.

“December, January and February will be the breeding months for a fall calving season lasting from September to November,” said Marks.

If using an artificial insemination, AI, program, it is best to use a timed AI program. This makes sure cows and heifers are synched together so they can all be breed in one day. It is also important to use a proven bull.

Remember to have a good forage program as the backbone of any cow-calf operation because grazing management is crucial to success said Marks.

“Be prepared for calving season,” said Gladney. “Have a vet/client relation because there is going to be a situation that you can’t handle and know when you need to call the vet.”

Other Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • It is important to make sure cows are in the proper body condition during the calving season (5 or above).
  • Producers need to stay educated on Expected Progeny Differences, EPDs. “Look at EPDs and make sure you’re not breeding high birth weights,” said Gladney. High birth weights can cause calving difficulty.
  • During calving, make sure cows are being check twice daily for signs of any calving difficulty and be able to move them into a working facility so they can be treated properly said Marks.
  • “A mistake made by cattleman calving in any time of the year is record keeping,” said Marks. “You cannot improve what has not been measured.”

Whether you calve in the fall or the spring, it is more important to have a specific calving season.

“Calving is the busiest time of the year in most cases on a cow-calf operation, so make sure you are choosing a calving season that fits your personal life schedule as well,” said Marks.

For More Information

For any questions regarding fall calving contact your local Alabama Extension Animal Science and Forage Regional Agent.

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Cool-Season Forages

As fall and cooler weather approaches, cool season forages can be an important forage option for producers seeking to extend their grazing periods.


Cool-season perennial grasses, such as fescue and orchardgrass, are good options to consider because they grow back each year.

“Perennial grasses should be the basis of what you grow,” said Gerry Thompson, Alabama Extension animal scientist.

Ryegrass, rye, wheat, oats and triticale are annual grasses that have to be replanted each year.

Producers need to begin preparing to plant both cool-season perennial and annual grasses in mid-September. Perennials can be planted using either “no till” or by using “conventional tillage” for establishment. Annuals that are being interseeded into existed warm season grasses need to be planted after the warm season grasses have stopped growing.

To get a meaningful amount of fall growth, planting rye in a prepared seedbed will likely provide the earliest cool-season growth. Any warm or cool season annual would benefit from being planted in a prepared seedbed, but it is more expensive than overseeding warm-season perennial grasses.


Cool season forages allow the grazing period to be extended further into the year, they minimize the feeding of hay and it is typically a more economical way of feeding livestock.

“A general rule of thumb is that cool season grasses will be more nutritious than warm season grasses” said Thompson.

There also tend to be fewer insects or diseases to manage with cool season forages.

When to Graze

There is no specific day to begin cool season grazing. Producers will typically want to maximize the use of summer grasses for as long as possible before moving to cool season grasses.

Thompson says there will be a gap that is typically hard to fill, when warm season grasses become less productive and before cool season grasses are ready for grazing.

To some degree this can be addressed with improved forage management practices that might include stockpiling of perennial grasses.

Stockpiling Forages

Stockpiling forages is more than simply deferring grazing until later. It is fertilizing them at the right time and having a grazing management system in place that allows animals to “harvest” the grass in a controlled and timely manner said Thompson. The goal of stockpiling is to allow it to grow and make “standing hay” out of it.

Stockpiling is an economical and easy forage management technique. It allows cows to graze the fescue directly instead of cutting and baling it to be fed later.


There are several ways for producers to manage their cool season forages more effectively:

  • Have some type of grazing management plan in place.
  • Make sure soil fertility is where it needs to be to ensure grasses will perform well.
  • Do not allow cool season perennial grasses to be overgrazed in the summer months because they will have diminished carbohydrate reserves available for fall growth.
  • Remember to fertilize cool season grasses in the fall to increase productivity.
  • When possible, stockpile fescue and other grasses for later use in the cooler months.

For More Information

For establishment recommendation with cool-season forages refer to the Alabama Planting Guide for Forage Grasses and the Alabama Planting Guide for Forage Legumes.

Find more information on extending grazing and reducing stored feed needs in the Timely Information- Extending Grazing and Reducing Stored Feed Needs sheet.

Contact your County Extension office for assistance reaching an Extension professional, or for more information.

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