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Summer Slump to Summer Shortage

Authors as Published

Dr. Mark A. McCann, Extension Animal Scientist, Virginia Tech

As beneficial as late spring moisture was for Virginia pastures and cattle performance, we annually brace ourselves for the heat and many times the dryness of our July and August.  This seasonal decline in pasture and cattle performance during this period is usually called “summer slump”. Infected Kentucky 31 tall fescue gets most of the blame and is certainly a major contributor, but there are other factors in addition to fescue toxicity that come into play and contribute to this seasonal slump.  Unfortunately, this year dry conditions across parts of Virginia have escalated pasture conditions from summer slump to a simple shortage of available forage.

Different strategies exist for each situation.  If there is adequate forage available, but quality is suspect, consider the following management suggestions:

  1. The age old suggestion for diluting infected tall fescue still works.  The dilution can be other grasses, legumes or even supplemental feed, anything that takes the place of infected tall fescue.
  2. Managing pastures through clipping or grazing management to reduce seed heads and stems which contain higher toxin levels.  These management practices will produce a more open forage canopy which will prevent shading of diluting forages such as clovers and warm season grasses.
  3. Limited creep supplementation of calves.  Rather than maximizing calf feed intake, consider a target intake of 1-2 lbs of feed/hd/day.  Resulting performance impacts will not be as dramatic but they will be more efficient and cost effective.  Past research would indicate that 1lb/d of soybean meal could increase daily gain .25-.33lb/d.  Salt can be added to limit feed intake to the desired level.

If drought has severely limited forage availability, one of the most effective strategies is to wean spring calves early.  Calves can be retained and offered the best remaining pasture and limited feed while dry cows can rough it on low quality forages or poor quality hay.  Early weaning reduces both the quantity and quality of forage that a cow requires.  Calves weaned early can quickly adjust to palatable rations and are very efficient in their feed conversion.  Early weaning also allows culling of open cows from the herd.  Pregnancy diagnosis will identify open cows which can then be sold saving the remaining forage for your pregnant cows.  This is also an excellent time to cull any other undesirable cows.

In closing, remember every drought is followed by a good rain.  In the midst of dealing dry times, don’t forget to plan for fertilization and stockpiling of tall fescue for the upcoming fall and winter.


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.


Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.


August 9, 2010

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