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Here’s an idea to help ease the wintertime, drought-time blues.

Unlike the oft-quoted line from the musical Porgy and Bess, the living has been anything but easy for drought-stricken ranchers. And the long-term weather outlook doesn’t hold much promise that things will improve.

What can you do? If you have a drought plan, you have a roadmap for moving cattle off summer pasture and an idea about where to go with them, whether that be the sale barn, dry lot, or moving early to winter pasture.

If you elect to use winter grazing or feed in a dry lot, it’s time to do some heavy number-crunching. Include in that exercise the value of helping your cows maximize the forage they consume, says Trevor Greenfield, founder and co-owner of Riomax®.

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Winter Grazing Strategies

First, let’s consider a situation where you moved off summer pastures early and turned out on winter grazing. You’re asking that stockpiled forage to last another couple of months longer than normal, which means supplemental feeding will have to start earlier than normal.

A long-standing winter feeding strategy is to supplement hay or grazing with range cubes, or cake. And while protein is important for rumen function, that’s all the cake provides.

A drought of the magnitude seen the summer of 2021 forces ranchers to find the lowest-quality, cheapest feedstuffs available. In essence, gut fill. “Now you think of that rumen and you’re trying to optimize a low-quality forage—poor quality hay, straw, corn stalks,” he says. Those range cubes may not have the 'oomph' to get the job done.

And range cubes are not a replacement for hay or winter grazing. Typically, 4 pounds per head per day is fed. Now, consider the volume of a mature cow’s rumen.

For that, consider a 55-gallon drum. That’s about the same volume as the rumen. Weigh 4 pounds of range cubes and dump them in the drum.

“From a bird’s-eye view, you can see that there’s just a very small scattering of cubes on the bottom,” Greenfield says. “Is that bad? No. But it is definitely not the complete diet and certainly not anywhere close to providing proper gut fill.”

That’s where the number-crunching becomes critical when considering your supplementation strategy. Many ranchers have learned that providing Riomax® lick tubs can be the difference between good-doing cows and poor-doing cows, especially during drought. But did you know that Rio’s ComboCubestm can enhance the top-of-the-line nutritional supplementation the tubs provide?

They do, and the recommended daily feeding is 1 pound per head. Just as with range cubes, you’re not trying to feed the cow. The ComboCubesTM feed the bugs in the rumen, which then can break down that low-quality forage in a way that maximizes its nutritional value. “It’s a pound daily feeding of direct-fed protein and energy.”

More than that, the ComboCubestm provide the same minerals and other Rio science as the lick tubs. “So that cow can better digest and get more nutrient uptake out of all the forage that she consumes,” Greenfield says.

That’s because the cubes utilize indirect supplementation technology, which empowers cows to more efficiently digest feed by combining Riomax® technology with DDGs, flax, and other high-quality protein and energy sources.

When To Use Lick Tubs vs. Range Cubes

And, should you use them together or separately? Either way works but for the most oomph (and to make your life easier), there’s no need to pull the tubs.

Many ranchers are accustomed to using the Riomax® tubs year ‘round and then, in the extreme middle of winter, they may feed supplemental cubes. “That’s where the ComboCubestm will fit in, giving those cows a little extra fuel during extreme weather conditions,” Greenfield says.

Then there’s this: If you’re running on winter pasture, you need to move those cows around. The ComboCubestm are your tool to do that easily.

“When you come out with that cube truck, it sucks those cattle out of the hills or out of the far corners of the pastures,” Greenfield says. And the cubes are not only a fit for your grazing management, but a fit for everything that Riomax® science delivers, in terms of getting minerals into the blood and feeding the bugs in the rumen so that you get better utilization of the whole feeding program, he adds.

Getting By On Less

“During tough times, it’s all the more important to have the right tools to run as lean and mean and efficiently as possible,” Greenfield stresses. “That way, you can utilize lower-quality, lower-priced forages or winter pasture, provide the gut fill but use the tools to make that go farther, taking your feed dollar and stretching it farther in a time that you need it most.”

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