• Diet Composition of Cattle Grazing Sandhills Range During Spring

      Volesky, Jerry D.; Schacht, Walter H.; Reece, Patrick E.; Vaughn, Timothy J. (Society for Range Management, 2007-01-01)
      The grazing season on upland Sandhills range traditionally begins in mid-May when the dominant warm-season grasses have initiated growth. Initiating grazing earlier would improve efficiency of use of cool-season plants and reduce the time period during which hay is fed. A 2-year study was conducted to determine nutrient and botanical composition of cattle diets when grazing upland Sandhills range during spring. Diets were collected from esophageally-fistulated cows on 10 April, 1 May, and 22 May each year. Concurrently, current-year, and residual herbage was clipped to determine pasture composition and calculate preference indices for the primary plant species and groups. Averaged across dates, needleandthread (Stipa comata Trin. Rupr.), bluegrasses (Poa spp.), and sedges (Carex spp.) accounted for 19% of the total herbage and 68% of the current-year herbage yield. These species constituted an average of 74% of cow diets. Diet composition of sedges was less on 10 April than on 22 May (P < 0.05), whereas similar amounts of needleandthread and bluegrasses were present on all dates. Preference indices indicated strong selection for species with abundant current-year growth and avoidance of residual herbage. Crude protein content of diets was less on 10 April (10.7%) than on 1 May or 22 May (13.9%, P < 0.05), likely because of a greater amount of residual herbage present in 10 April diets. Overall quality of diets would meet requirements of average spring-calving cows; however, grazing management strategies would need to account for the limited availability of current-year growth during spring, particularly April, to ensure that cattle are meeting their nutrient needs.