Substitute vs. supplement: Tips to make the most of your summer pasture

Shoreview, Minn. [May 21, 2013] – Managing a pasture through the summer requires planning. A managed pasture can help keep cows in proper body condition and prevent summer lulls in pasture performance.

That’s according to Chad Zehnder, cattle consultant for Purina Animal Nutrition. He says that managed pastures can typically support the cow-calf herd from summer and into fall unless environmental conditions cause problems.

A pasture management plan should include supplementation and substitution, when necessary. Selecting when to supplement pastures or when to substitute pastures with an additional feed source can impact pasture longevity and herd health.


Supplementing a pasture with protein and mineral can complement the forages provided in the pasture through the grazing season.

“In a normal year, we hope to manage our pastures so we have ample forage for the cows,” Zehnder says. “Supplementing the pasture with protein can help maximize forage utilization and potentially forage intake.”

Forage growth changes throughout the summer based on plant life cycles, regions and environmental conditions; a supplement program can help fill seasonal voids as cows consume the supplement as needed.

A protein and mineral supplementation program promotes feed intake and utilization. Supplementation programs can impact body condition scores, calf weaning weights and reproductive performance.[1]


After creating a supplementation plan, producers should monitor pastures for forage variations throughout the summer. If slow pasture growth occurs, adjusted stocking density or the addition of stored forage can relieve pressure on the pasture.

“If forage is getting low in the pasture, make a switch before the problem is out of hand and the pasture is burnt up,” Zehnder advises, explaining that a pasture break will allow it to regrow after periods of overgrazing or dry weather.

Pasture substitution, or complementing the pasture with stored forage, is an option to ensure the herd receives the nutrients required when pasture quality becomes low. During periods of pasture stress, stored forages can be fed to the herd.

Zehnder says that substitution was an option used by cattle producers during the 2012 drought, but that it is not necessary until winter in most years.

“Substitution may be necessary in dry areas in the summer, but, most years, pasture supplementation during the summer and fall is ideal,” he says, encouraging producers to work with a cattle nutritionist to create a pasture management and supplementation program.

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