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Dan Undersander: Manage animals on lush spring pastures

[audio:http://news.cals.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/dan_undersander_spring_pasture_mgmt.mp3|titles=Dan Undersander: Manage animals on lush spring pastures]

Sevie Kenyon

Mind those pastures this spring:  We’re visiting with Dan Undersander, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.  Dan, welcome to our microphone.  Tell us what we should be doing with these pastures this spring.

Dan Undersander

As we’re looking at our pastures greening up a lot of us get excited about getting our animals out there and that’s good.  Animals belong on pasture – horses and cattle and sheep and goats.  But what we have to think about is really that these pastures as they first begin to green up are totally different than the pastures later on in the season.  This first growth of pastures is real low in fiber, it’s really high in protein and really high in energy.  So really until that grass is about six inches tall we ought to think about a pasture as a replacement for concentrate rather than as a replacement for hay.

Sevie Kenyon

Dan, How should the livestock owner manage that transition?

Dan Undersander

Well typically what owners of horses or cattle or sheep or goats do is that when they put animals out on pasture they may even continue to feed a little bit of grain but they cut the hay.  And our recommendation would be that at this time of year, from the first green up in the spring up through the middle of May or so, they really ought to feed a little hay along with the pasture and possibly cutting the concentrate that they’re feeding the animals.  Because this early pasture growth that’s less than six inches will generally be 20 to 25 percent crude protein.  And of course, most of these grazing animals only need 12-14% protein so we’ve got almost twice the protein we need in that pasture grass.  It’s very high in energy, like a corn grain.  It’s over 90% digestible.  So again, what most of these animals need on this lush pasture is a little bit of fiber in their ration, not more energy and not more protein.

Sevie Kenyon

Dan, are there any differences between the kind of animals we are going to manage this spring – the horses, the beef, the goats, the sheep?

Dan Undersander

Well, yes there are differences.  But in terms of their energy and protein needs they are fairly same.  Of course, the difference being that cattle and sheep and goats have grazing periods and then they ruminate because they have a true rumin.  So they’ll graze for two or three hours and then go lay down and ruminate. Horses on the other hand don’t have a true rumin so they eat a lot continuously throughout the day.  So the eating patterns are quite a bit different between horses and then the other ruminants, which would be sheep and goats and cattle.  But the energy and protein needs are about the same at least in terms of the way we’d recommend feeding initially a fiber source with the pasture, and later a protein or energy source with the pasture.

Sevie Kenyon

We’ve been visiting with Dan Undersander, Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin Extension and the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Madison Wisconsin, and I am Sevie Kenyon.