Manage your cow’s BSC going into winter
October 31, 2012
In our area most of the harvest is complete. We really saw some large yield swings, depending on the rain showers. Some corn made nothing while other areas made 50-60 bushels. The only thing we can say for sure is 'Feed prices are high!" You must do everything you can to minimize feed costs while assuring adequate nutrition of your cows.
The calves in our area are already weaned, or just coming off the cow. The cow takes less energy with the calf weaned. Now is the time to add weight to your cow to enable her to reach a 5 Body Condition Score (BSC). The weather is still warm and the cow won't require much energy to maintain body heat. All the extra energy the cow consumes goes to increase her body weight or BSC. During winter the same amount of energy may result in only maintenance and give no weight gain.
Cull your cows heavily. Use your calf records and remove cows which produced a smaller, low-quality calf. This year your cost of production will be higher and these normally marginally profitable cows may lose money. We suggest you pregnancy test early this year. You can market late and open cows now before you put harvested feed into them. This will give you more feed for your productive cows. Also remove lame and blemished cows.
Pastures in our area are dry and short, but the cows we've been working appear to be in good shape. Most producers will not need to add much weight to get their cows to BSC-5.
I'm an old timer and have always been skeptical of electric fences. As I drive the roads on my calls I see field after field of harvested corn and beans. This would be a great year to rent some stalks and build an electric fence to keep the cows from straying. Most years we are still a month away from stalks, but this year was early. The only problem we have is a drinking water source. I know hauling water is time consuming and labor intensive, but at least it won't freeze.
Bean stubble provides adequate short term nutrition. There are still bean pods close to the ground. When pregnant cows consume beans it adds brown fat to the gestating calf. This gives the calf extra energy shortly after birth. Beans are a legume so the leaves and stems are similar to alfalfa. Graze beans rapidly and remove them so it doesn't appear they are eating dirt.
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Corn stalks are a great fall feedstuff. Most cows are well accustomed to gleaning stalks. First the cows walk the rows and pick up the corn. Even with pour yields I saw a lot of corn on the ground. When the grain is gone the cows will consume the husks and then the leaves. The stalks are the last thing the cow consumes. During the summer we saw high nitrates in the stalks. Most of those decreased as the crop matured, but it is still a good idea not to allow the cows to consume too much of the stalks.
I realize fencing is a lot of work, but this year is the time to intensely graze the stalks. In normal seasons 1.5-2 acres of stalks is enough to feed the cow for 30 days. Watch closely and move the cows when they begin consuming stalks.
Now is the time to prepare your cows for calving. Feed is expensive, but if you allow the cow to harvest residues, you can reap great savings. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionist, or extension specialist to formulate low-cost rations fulfilling your cow's nutritional needs. This will lower your cost of production and thereby increase your profits.