Do cattle diets change in the summer? How do you keep them cool?

Posted: July 13, 2018

Answer: With fresh hay and wheat available in the summer, cattle enjoy the new crop filled with more nutrients. On hot, summer days they drink more fresh water and keep cool by being in the shade or a building with a breeze or fans to circulate air.

Cattle diets can vary with the crop that is available to harvest or graze, just like humans vary their diets with what foods are available fresh from their garden or market. Adequate fresh water, shade, and a breeze by wind or fans help to keep cattle cool in the summer.

Cattle raised in feedlots tend to have a more consistent diet. Fresh dry hay or haylage (chopped hay) will have more nutrients available than last year’s crop yet can cause stomach acidosis. Higher protein crops like alfalfa, chickpeas, clover, and lespedezas are usually limited in feed rations until the animals have become accustomed to their extra nutrient boost.

Field corn is not usually harvested in the summer, so whether it is being fed dry and ground, or wet from a silo or bunker, it has no real change in quality assuming it is stored and handled properly.

Cattle on pasture get to pick and choose the roughage in their diets. The protein crops mentioned earlier, and various grasses including orchard- grass, fescue, timothy, bermudagrass, ryegrass, oats, and wheat can be used individually or in combination for pasture, hay, or haylage.

We made wheatlage (chopped wheat) this year from about 37 acres and then round baled the remaining eight acres. The chopped feed filled our 30 x 100 foot bunker with roughly 600 ton of 55-60% moisture wheatlage. We are now starting to grind the wheat bales, as they were 20% moisture when we hurried to bale them before a big rain was forecast. They will not keep very long because the moisture is on the high end of the range recommended. They are stacked outside, and we will utilize them before the wheatlage.

Keeping cattle cool and comfortable is important. By doing so, they eat well and are healthy. Bedding in the barn is also very important to keep the ammonia tied up so their air quality is better. On hot and humid, sometimes foggy mornings, the fans are necessary to keep the air fresh in our barns. Confinement buildings are usually of a narrow construction so a breeze can get across the pens.

Pasture cattle will instinctively search for the right tree to cool under for the evaporative effect. Sometimes we start a sprinkler hose on the biggest, almost ready for market, cattle during severe heat. My dad reminded me that once you start this, you will be doing it until the cattle are shipped. The reasoning was that once they were accustomed to being cooled off by water, they would not respond well to any other method.

Flashback to the past. Each year, we appreciate Grandma and Grandpa for planting our two different varieties of rhubarb. It is one of those seasonal delights. Of course, we can’t forget that the leaves are poisonous. They contain oxalic acid. As a child, I was told that the cattle could eat the leaves, but the young pigs could not. We always took the leftover parts of fruits and vegetables to the pigs or cattle. Sometimes they would sort thru the smorgasbord and other times they would eat it all as fast as they could. Years later we learned that cattle do better with their own special, consistent diets. No more rhubarb leaves for them.

Roy Plote – Sixth generation cattle and grain farmer, Leland