3rd trimester nutrition tips
As beef producers welcome a new year, many will also soon be thinking about the 2019 calving season.
Winter weather can be stressful on gestating cows. As these pregnant cows enter the final trimester, nutrition becomes critical to maintain body weight, grow the calf, formulate colostrum and be in good shape to deliver a calf.
“Now is the time to make sure you’re meeting the cow’s needs for both protein and energy,” said Kelsey Powell, a feed consultant for Dakotaland Feeds in Huron, S.D. “There are multiple ways to supplement, with cubes, distillers, tubs or alfalfa. Feeding Rumensin is also a good idea. It can help prevent environmental coccidiosis down the road and improve feed efficiency.”
Powell recommends producers shoot for a 9 percent protein ration in cows and 10 percent for heifers in their third trimester, increasing for both after calving. A good rule of thumb for total digestible nutritions (TDN) values is 55 percent for cows and 58 percent for heifers.
“It’s always a good idea to work with your feed consultant or nutritionist to determine best percentages for your cattle based on body conditions scores (BCS),” said Powell. “It’s also important to know what you’re feeding. Forage testing is a cheap way to save money. If you know what your forages have, you’re not just guessing on nutrient needs and you know how much added protein you need to meet your cows’ needs.”
In addition to evaluating BCS and forage testing, a third important nutritional consideration is having a good supplementation program in place.
“This time of year, a lot of guys are looking to cut back on input costs, but the mineral program isn’t the place to do it,” said Powell. “Not only are we taking care of the gestating cows now right before they calf, but with all of the research coming out on fetal programming, what we do now is also impacting next year’s calf crop, too.”
Ramping up minerals and overall nutrients offered to cows in the 90 days before calving can help ensure fetal growth, a healthy calf and a cow with adequate milk after birth.
According to Roxanne Knock, Ph.D., for Dakotaland Feeds, “Trace minerals are a key component of cow diets this time of year. Trace mineral deficiencies in the cows can follow her calf for the rest of its life, resulting in increased incidence of disease and lost performance.”
Of pre-calving mineral, Knock adds, “Vitamins A and E need to be supplemented to cows this time of year. In cattle, these vitamins do not cross the placenta, and so they need to be provided in the cow’s diet. The calf has to get these vitamins through the colostrum and if they don’t, they are at increased risk for scours and other disease challenges.”
Naturally, not every cow will have the same nutritional requirements, and that’s when it becomes important to look closely at BCS to make judgement calls for gestating cows who may need extra care before calving.
“On both ends of BCS, we have problems,” said Jake Geis, DVM, Sioux Nation in Freeman, S.D. “An undernourished cow may be weak during calving and lack the uterine inertia and energy to finish the labor. These cows will also make poor quality colostrum, which will impact the calf for the rest of its life. With poor quality colostrum, expect to see an increase in scours, summer pneumonia and pneumonia after weaning.”
Of the over-conditioned cows, Geis said, “There is definitely such a thing as being too fat. Not only is having over-conditioned cows an expensive way to operate, but fat cows will increase the likelihood of a difficult labor as the fat is deposited inside the pelvis, which narrows the path for the calf to be born through. She’ll also tire faster, and may need her calf pulled or a C-section, as well.
Feed costs, Geis says, are the biggest cost in the beef enterprise, so meeting the nutritional requirements of the gestating cows while avoiding overfeeding is a delicate balance.
He said, “In my area, I see just as many too-fat cows as I do too-thin cows, so it would benefit producers to take a hard look at BCS. Have a neighbor, veterinarian or nutritionist come in to give you an honest opinion and a second set of eyes, so you can make appropriate feeding decisions moving forward.”
After evaluating the BCS of the cow herd, Geis said it may be beneficial to sort older, thin cows, first-calf heifers and replacement heifers off to receive a higher plane of nutrition than what the mature, fleshy cows would need.
“The prime opportunity to make a difference in BCS would be the second trimester, but it’s better late than never,” he said.
Even with the best nutrition and mineral program in place, herd health can be greatly impacted by other factors such as lice or internal parasites. While many producers deworm, pour and provide pre-breeding vaccinations at branding or pregnancy-checking times, winter lice populations may be persistent and re-pouring just before calving may minimize the infestation.
As the third trimester gets underway and calving gets closer, Geis said it’s a good time to get your calving supplies rounded up.
“The list of calving items is extensive, but there are two main items that producers need to have on hand — OB chains and good bagged colostrum,” said Geis. “Get the good stuff — real dried colostrum, not blood plasma. Have it ready for the cow that isn’t going to get enough colostrum to the calf, especially if she had a hard labor. But don’t confuse low volume with low quality colostrum. Typically, the thicker it is, the better it is. I would rather have a pint of really good colostrum than two quarts of crappy colostrum. It’s a judgement call, but if you have to pull a calf, it’s not a bad idea to tube that colostrum in yourself to make sure that calf gets off to a good start.”
For producers wanting to be awake for calving, Geis said more research is showing the benefits of evening hay feeding.
“Anecdotally, in the last 10 years, I’ve been nighttime feeding my cows during our April calving season, and although it’s not a silver bullet, I’ve seen a greater percentage of my cows calve during the daytime hours,” said Geis. “Of course, it gets to be a logistics problem. Who wants to feed hay in the dark?”
The concept of feeding cattle in the evening originated from Manitoba rancher Gus Konefal, who discovered that 80 percent of his cows calved between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m when they were fed later in the day, said Adele Harty, South Dakota State University Extension cow-calf field specialist.
She said, “Konefal’s method included a twice a day feeding, with first feeding between 11 a.m. and noon and second feeding between 9:30-10 p.m.”
She added, “Similar research at Iowa State University using the Konefal feeding system, but only feeding one time per day at 4 p.m., starting 2 weeks prior to the expected start of calving, resulted in 82 percent of cows calving between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. In addition, calves born between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. (75 percent of the 24 hour day) was 91 percent. Therefore, only 9 percent of calves were born outside the window when traditional calf checks are performed.”
Ultimately, as calving approaches, Geis says tender loving care is the most important thing a producer can do.
“TLC is probably the biggest indicator of success in the long-run,” he said. “You can have all the right equipment, but it’s more important to be around to pen up the right cows, help the ones who need assistance and make sure the calves get that critical dose of colostrum shortly after calving.”