I have had many discussions with cattle producers over the last couple of weeks about how to manage pastures in these wet conditions. We have also discussed the effect we are seeing on the cattle grazing these areas. It is hard to complain about too much rain, especially after a beautiful growing season last year and not so distant memories of drought. However, too much rain can be a difficult challenge to manage.
One of the main topics of discussion has been the prevalence of white clover in pastures this year. Early on it was nice to see white clover instead of weed species fill pasture wholes. Now the lack of yield, the wet and washy properties, and excess protein are giving cattlemen fits. White clover handles grazing pressure well, but does not yield highly and does not get very tall. This has been evident in mowed pastures and the disappointing re-growth in terms of tonnage. Pastures with heavy legume stands are testing high in moisture here at the Orr Research Center. Many of these pastures are too high for comfort and would be diagnosed as "washy" in our standards. These same pastures with immature legumes will be high in protein and complicate the lack of energy we are seeing due to many cloudy days. I strongly believe many of the pinkeye issues we are seeing in herds are due to nutrition and lack of energy in the diet.
Grass species were early to mature this year because of stress from frost early and some quick heat in May. Cool season grasses that quickly ended up tall and mature have lost palatability and have been trampled into the ground in many cases. This decreases total forage availability. This is another contributor to cattle being less satisfied on pasture. It is frustrating seeing all that forage laid over and trampled into the ground while forage becomes more limiting in these paddocks.
Wet weather has brought fungus issues into pastures. Nearly every pasture I have walked has Ergot issues. Ergot is easily identified by dark brown or black seed heads that resemble mouse droppings. Fescue seed heads seem to show ergot first, but all grass species are susceptible. Ergot is a fungus that can cause reduced blood flow to the extremities. Many times symptoms will be lost tail ends where cows end up bob tailed, and feet problems causing lameness. These cattle will also exhibit more heat stress. Hay made from forages containing ergot will be toxic as well and thus this problem may linger for beef herds into the winter.
Many times foot rot can become an issue in wet weather times. This can be influenced by ergot, excess protein, and warm weather causing cattle to seek shade and ponds to reduce heat stress. These areas become wet, muddy and exacerbate foot rot infection. Be on the lookout for foot rot issues.
The wet weather headaches can be managed by supplementing an energy dense feed that is dry and palatable. Provide your cattle shade and if possible a dry place to lounge. Avoid haying ergot infested pastures as they may produce problems later on this winter. Be diligent about monitoring cattle for hoof health and contact your local veterinarian if problems arise.