For many cattle producers in the Plains states, putting stockers out on wheat pasture in the spring makes perfect sense. The pasture is an available, palatable forage source that is high in protein, energy and minerals. However, too much of a good thing can be harmful, and that includes grazing your calves on wheat pasture, which can easily contribute to bloat.
Kevin Glaubius, Director of Nutrition and Technical Sales with BioZyme® Inc., offers three tips to preventing bloat in cattle grazing high-forage diets.
Don’t put Hungry Calves out on Wheat
Glaubius wants to remind producers that managing forage-based bloat, a frothy bloat, is very different from managing bloat in a grain-based diet. And that one of the best things that can be done is not to turn calves out to pasture on an empty stomach.
“What we are really trying to do is manage digestive upsets,” Glaubius said. “Converting calves from grain and dry hay to lush, green wheat pasture is drastic as the wheat will produce gasses faster.”
Glaubius recommends feeding a typical ration to calves for a few days before turning them to wheat pasture. The day you plan to turn them out, feed them the same ration that morning. The risk of bloat will significantly decrease if they have 15 pounds of feed from their previous diet in their bellies and don’t rush out to eat every lush blade of wheat.
Timing is Everything
When you turn the cattle out to wheat pasture can play a vital role in bloat prevention. Cattle will eat more when it is cooler so try to wait until warmer temperatures arrive. Also, when heavy moisture is on the wheat, the cattle will eat more, more quickly, so perhaps waiting until the late morning or early afternoon when the morning dew is evaporated will help prevent the cattle from too much intake too quickly, also leading to bloat. He adds that waiting 3-5 days after a heavy freeze will help with bloat prevention.
Offer a Supplement
Providing your cattle with a high-quality forage supplement is key. Gain Smart® Wheat is a vitamin and mineral supplement for stocker cattle designed to balance basic nutrient needs on wheat or small grain pasture. Like all BioZyme products, the Gain Smart supplement contains Amaferm, a natural prebiotic designed to maximize the nutritional value of feed. Amaferm can help cattle make the dietary transitions while converting to grazing wheat pasture.
“Amaferm won’t manage bloat in the cattle, but it can manage the reasons cattle bloat making it an important tool in bloat prevention,” Glaubius said. “Small changes make big changes in bloat risk.”
In addition to helping extract nutrients from the wheat pasture while decreasing the bloat risk, Gain Smart can also help increase average daily gain, making it a great investment for producers. Glaubius said research shows that mineral supplementation alone will add a quarter-pound of gain per day to stockers on average; when combined with the Amaferm advantage that can easily jump to an additional half-pound of gain over un-supplemented calves. That additional gain, can help pay for a bloat preventer like poloxalene, an expensive but effective supplement for wheat pasture bloat if it does become an issue during the grazing period.
“In a perfect world, we could follow these three tips, and not have bloat in cattle, but when we do see cattle experiencing bloat, we do need to get it treated right away,” Glaubius said.
Before you turn your cattle out on wheat or any lush forage, make sure you have the proper equipment on hand to treat bloat, including good handling facilities, a long hose up to 1-inch in diameter; anti-foaming agent like mineral oil and a trocar – a large sharp needle used to puncture the muscle and the rumen wall to allow gas to escape from the rumen through the side of the animal.
Normally, putting a hose down the animal’s throat to release the gas will work; if this doesn’t work, you can add mineral oil to the hose to break up the frothy bloat and help the animal belch and release the gas. As a last resort, use the trocar, or contact your veterinarian for immediate attention.
Yes, too much wheat pasture or lush green alfalfa or clover can be a bad thing, but with proper livestock management and supplementation, your calves can graze wheat pasture and experience growth without bloat.