A little bit about a lot of things

Farm Forum

Sometimes one of my challenges in writing these columns is deciding what topic should be the focus. This time of year there’s a lot of different things all going on at the same time which need attention. So this time around we’ll try a short discussion about a number of topics. If you’d like to visit about any of these ideas in more depth, please give me a call at 605-882-5140 or email me at

Grass Tetany, Winter Tetany, Milk Fever?

These three disorders are all characterized by low calcium and magnesium and elevated potassium. Grass tetany is usually what we think of first and only when we get into that time of year when the grass is growing rapidly. Even though we’re a little ways off from fast grass growth, this is still worth some consideration. During the start of lactation, the cow faces greatly increased calcium requirements. Normally those will be drawn from the body reserves in the bones. However, when blood magnesium is low and potassium is high, that mobilization may not occur as efficiently.

We don’t always think about alfalfa in terms of minerals, but it is considerably higher in calcium and magnesium compared to grass hay, silage and other grass-type feedstuffs. This year because of drought conditions we most likely haven’t fed as much alfalfa as normal. If that is the case on your operation, I’d recommend being more aggressive in feeding high magnesium minerals to make up for the difference in the base forage ration. There have been some reports of an increased milk fever cases in South Dakota, which would be consistent with lowered levels of magnesium and calcium in the diet.

Are Annual Forages Worth Considering?

Even though the northeastern segments of South Dakota have seen some additional moisture in the last month or so, the growing season and feed supply situation this year is far from certain. We’ve also seen that it is much more difficult to buy or even find high quality feedstuffs at an attractive price.

I think the ability to grow and control your own feedstuffs is very important right now. I think that one option that deserves some consideration by diversified farms and ranches is to plant some cool season annual forages to help bridge the feed supply. These crops don’t require as much inputs or moisture to produce harvestable forage compared to cash grain crops. They also offer some flexibility in terms what gets planted next. Some options include a short-season oilseed crop, a summer annual for additional forage, or waiting to plant a fall-seeded crop.

Prior crop history needs to be considered before planting. Depending on what herbicides were used last year there may be carryover concerns. This is especially true following a year like 2012. Without sufficient moisture, some of the herbicides may not have broken down in the soil as in a normal year. I’d suggest contacting one of the SDSU Extension Agronomy Field Specialists to go over your situation and specific recommendations.

Be Cautious About Turning Out Too Soon

I realize that especially in the areas of the state that received significant amounts of snow that there will be a mud battle going on. And in those cases a primary consideration is how to get cows out to dry ground as quickly as possible. We also know that dry conditions last year hurt our pasture resources. Those grass plants will need time to recover. The typical recommendation is to wait until cool season pastures have at least three leaves, a longer wait would be better this year if possible.

My suggestion would be that if cattle need to get out of yards because of mud, that they be moved to a sacrifice pasture and spare as much of the summer grass as possible. Ideally this would provide a better environment for the cows and calves while preserving as much production potential as possible. If mud isn’t an issue, I’d carefully evaluate feed supply versus pasture grass growth and delay turn-out as long as you can. We rarely get perfect conditions in the cattle business and this is no exception. But taking some steps to spare grass production now will get us more days later in the growing season.

Reach Warren at 605-882-5140 or