AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.–Heavy rains in Alabama are causing headaches for livestock producers. Producers may need to make changes to ensure their livestock get an adequate diet while pastures are saturated with recent rainfall.
Landon Marks, a regional animal science and forages agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said livestock producers should consider adding more hay or feed feeding sites.
“This reduces competition around feeding areas,” Marks said. “It will allow all cattle to receive appropriate nutrition.”
Kim Mullenix, an Alabama Extension animal science specialist, said an animal’s energy requirements differ during heavy rains and flooding.
“Energy requirements of animals rise due to an increase in their maintenance requirements,” Mullenix said. “Extra energy is expended trying to get out of water, walk in mud, etc.”
Mullenix suggests that producers follow the steps listed below to ensure that their livestock are receiving the proper nutrition during this time.
- Supplement cattle with a high energy, easily digestible feed for 3 to 5 days after being moved to higher ground to help rebuild their energy reserves. Also, provide free-choice hay or adequate pasture along with supplementation.
- Provide a complete mineral supplement containing calcium, phosphorus, and trace minerals such as copper, zinc, and selenium. Calcium and phosphorus are the minerals needed in the largest amounts by beef cattle. Mineral supplementation is especially important given the elevated level of stress for cattle during this time.
“Adequate nutrition is needed to support proper immune function, and will help cattle respond better should vaccinations be needed,” Mullenix said.
Leanne Dillard, an Alabama Extension forages specialist, said even if hay was not submerged in water, heavy rains will likely decrease the quality of hay stored outside or on the ground.
“Hay that is submerged by as little as 1 ft., has little usable forage remaining,” Dillard said. “The amount of rotted hay, mold and possible contaminants in flooded hay, make it of little value and a potential hazard to livestock.”
According to Dillard, hay that has been submerged in less than 1 ft. of water may have some useable forage.
“Producers should use this hay with caution and should only be fed to cattle,” Dillard said. “Feed the dry hay, but do not force the cattle to consume the wet and rotting portion of the bale.”
If hay in storage barn was flooded, it should be removed as soon as possible. This hay will begin to heat which creates the possibility of spontaneous combustion. Hay that is not fit for livestock should be disposed of by burning or compositing.
Mullenix said there are a few steps producers can take to minimize the damage to pasture and the creation of mud.
- Identify areas in the pasture that are well-drained and tend to dry out faster when feeding hay.
- When checking cattle, minimize vehicle traffic. Use smaller vehicles such as an ATV, etc. or check cattle on foot where possible.
- Setting out round bales prior to feeding on firm ground, then fencing them off with electric fence and moving to new bales as needed one-by-one may be a way to reduce mud. Several trials have noted that this works especially well in stockpiled fields where cattle can both graze and eat hay as needed.