Nutrition for the beef cow before calving | TSLN.com
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Nutrition for the beef cow before calving

Photo by Heather Smith Thomas

Dr. Dick Fredrickson, a veterinarian at Simplot ranches and feedlots of Grandview, ID, says protein deficiency in cows can be a big factor in whether or not their calves do well. If cows don’t have adequate protein, they cannot produce adequate colostrum. “This is the key to a healthy calf, all the way through,” says Fredrickson. “This is assuming cows have adequate forage, to supply enough energy. They can utilize low quality forage for energy, if they have enough protein to supplement it, so they can digest it.”

Good quality colostrum is crucial to the newborn calf, to give him energy to keep warm, and antibodies to protect him from disease.

“Inadequate passive immunity from colostrum increases the risk for sickness and death in calves, and decreases average gain in the nursing calf. This follows on through into the feedlot, with higher risk of sickness, respiratory disease and death and a decrease in average daily gain,” says Fredrickson. These deprived calves never got their immune system off to a good start and they never quite make up for it during their growing period.



“Of all the things you can do for a calf, the best thing you can do to help his health and growth is to make sure he gets an adequate amount of good quality colostrum soon after birth,” says Fredrickson. “A calf with poor or no passive transfer of immunity has a 9.5 times greater times greater chance of sickness before he’s weaned, and is three times more likely to get sick in the feedlot.”

Research has shown that nutrition of the cow makes a big difference.



“In one study of two-year-old pregnant heifers they fed one group an adequate amount of protein, and another group received a restricted protein diet,” he says. “There was about 40 percent difference in protein intake. They milked the heifers after they calved, to evaluate the colostrum. The heifers that received adequate protein had 2.75 quarts of colostrum while the heifers with low protein intake had 2.02 quarts. Then they measured the heat production (that would be produced from the colostrum). The colostrum from heifers that received adequate protein produced 118 kilocalories of heat, while the colostrum from restricted diet heifers produced 104 kilocalories.

“They also measured the time elapsed from birth until the calf was standing up and looking for the udder,” he adds. “It took 66 minutes for the calves from heifers who had adequate colostrum and 97 minutes for calves from deficient heifers.”

In cold weather, this could make the difference between whether or not the calf is able to nurse before he gets too chilled, or even life or death.

Protein levels in cow diets not only make a difference in survivability of their calves, but also in how well those calves do later, in the feedlot.

“The University of Nebraska did some research on quality grade for steers, whose mothers were supplemented. These cows were running on corn stalks,” says Fredrickson. “The research looked at cows that were supplemented with protein versus cows that were not. The calves from dams that received protein supplementation graded 86 percent choice. Those from dams that had no protein supplement graded 64 percent choice.

“At five percent total protein in the cow’s diet, her daily forage intake will only be about 1.6 percent of her body weight. If you increase her protein level to seven percent of her total ration, she will eat 2.3 percent of her body weight daily. That’s a big difference in the total energy she takes in, and she also does a better job of digesting the forage.”

The protein enables cows to use lower quality forage, and keep winter feeding costs down.

Fredrickson says another thing that can help cattle utilize energy is Rumensin. This can greatly increase feed efficiency.

“If you feed 75 milligrams of it per cow per day, efficiency and utilization of forage goes up five percent. At 150 milligrams of Rumensin per cow per day, efficiency goes up 10 percent, and you can do this for just a few pennies per day,” he says.

The Rumensin should be added to the protein supplement, such as a cube or pellet, which can be fed to cattle on winter range or corn stalks. Salt is added to the product, to limit daily consumption to proper amounts. If you use Rumensin, however, always remember that it is extremely toxic to horses.

A protein supplement, whether it’s alfalfa hay or a pellet, can be fed every third day (just tripling the amount that’s fed).

“The rumen can get by on this type of periodic protein supplementation,” says Fredrickson.

When talking about calf health, and ways of avoiding cold stress on calves, nearly everything boils down to the nutrition of the dam during the final three months of pregnancy, and body condition of that cow.

“If cows are not adequately fed during that time, you’ll have more scours, respiratory disease and other illnesses in the calves, and they won’t do as well,” he says.

When ranchers in some western regions during the 1960s and 1970s were dealing with what was termed “weak calf syndrome” and studies were done to look for infectious causes, the final analysis was that the problem was mainly nutritional.

“I am convinced that weak calf syndrome is nothing but protein deficiency in the dam,” says Fredrickson. This problem is not seen when cows are adequately fed.

Dr. Dick Fredrickson, a veterinarian at Simplot ranches and feedlots of Grandview, ID, says protein deficiency in cows can be a big factor in whether or not their calves do well. If cows don’t have adequate protein, they cannot produce adequate colostrum. “This is the key to a healthy calf, all the way through,” says Fredrickson. “This is assuming cows have adequate forage, to supply enough energy. They can utilize low quality forage for energy, if they have enough protein to supplement it, so they can digest it.”

Good quality colostrum is crucial to the newborn calf, to give him energy to keep warm, and antibodies to protect him from disease.

“Inadequate passive immunity from colostrum increases the risk for sickness and death in calves, and decreases average gain in the nursing calf. This follows on through into the feedlot, with higher risk of sickness, respiratory disease and death and a decrease in average daily gain,” says Fredrickson. These deprived calves never got their immune system off to a good start and they never quite make up for it during their growing period.

“Of all the things you can do for a calf, the best thing you can do to help his health and growth is to make sure he gets an adequate amount of good quality colostrum soon after birth,” says Fredrickson. “A calf with poor or no passive transfer of immunity has a 9.5 times greater times greater chance of sickness before he’s weaned, and is three times more likely to get sick in the feedlot.”

Research has shown that nutrition of the cow makes a big difference.

“In one study of two-year-old pregnant heifers they fed one group an adequate amount of protein, and another group received a restricted protein diet,” he says. “There was about 40 percent difference in protein intake. They milked the heifers after they calved, to evaluate the colostrum. The heifers that received adequate protein had 2.75 quarts of colostrum while the heifers with low protein intake had 2.02 quarts. Then they measured the heat production (that would be produced from the colostrum). The colostrum from heifers that received adequate protein produced 118 kilocalories of heat, while the colostrum from restricted diet heifers produced 104 kilocalories.

“They also measured the time elapsed from birth until the calf was standing up and looking for the udder,” he adds. “It took 66 minutes for the calves from heifers who had adequate colostrum and 97 minutes for calves from deficient heifers.”

In cold weather, this could make the difference between whether or not the calf is able to nurse before he gets too chilled, or even life or death.

Protein levels in cow diets not only make a difference in survivability of their calves, but also in how well those calves do later, in the feedlot.

“The University of Nebraska did some research on quality grade for steers, whose mothers were supplemented. These cows were running on corn stalks,” says Fredrickson. “The research looked at cows that were supplemented with protein versus cows that were not. The calves from dams that received protein supplementation graded 86 percent choice. Those from dams that had no protein supplement graded 64 percent choice.

“At five percent total protein in the cow’s diet, her daily forage intake will only be about 1.6 percent of her body weight. If you increase her protein level to seven percent of her total ration, she will eat 2.3 percent of her body weight daily. That’s a big difference in the total energy she takes in, and she also does a better job of digesting the forage.”

The protein enables cows to use lower quality forage, and keep winter feeding costs down.

Fredrickson says another thing that can help cattle utilize energy is Rumensin. This can greatly increase feed efficiency.

“If you feed 75 milligrams of it per cow per day, efficiency and utilization of forage goes up five percent. At 150 milligrams of Rumensin per cow per day, efficiency goes up 10 percent, and you can do this for just a few pennies per day,” he says.

The Rumensin should be added to the protein supplement, such as a cube or pellet, which can be fed to cattle on winter range or corn stalks. Salt is added to the product, to limit daily consumption to proper amounts. If you use Rumensin, however, always remember that it is extremely toxic to horses.

A protein supplement, whether it’s alfalfa hay or a pellet, can be fed every third day (just tripling the amount that’s fed).

“The rumen can get by on this type of periodic protein supplementation,” says Fredrickson.

When talking about calf health, and ways of avoiding cold stress on calves, nearly everything boils down to the nutrition of the dam during the final three months of pregnancy, and body condition of that cow.

“If cows are not adequately fed during that time, you’ll have more scours, respiratory disease and other illnesses in the calves, and they won’t do as well,” he says.

When ranchers in some western regions during the 1960s and 1970s were dealing with what was termed “weak calf syndrome” and studies were done to look for infectious causes, the final analysis was that the problem was mainly nutritional.

“I am convinced that weak calf syndrome is nothing but protein deficiency in the dam,” says Fredrickson. This problem is not seen when cows are adequately fed.


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