Vet’s Voice by Dave Barz: Good nutrition for pregnant cows is important
Wow is it ever cold! It’s been years since I remember this kind of cold and wind chill. Some of my clients are beginning their calving and I hope it warms up for them. It sure is different from the last couple of years when we had 60° F above instead of -20° F below. Anytime the temperature is below nothing, it is cold. Most of our cows are gestating now and nutrition is very important. We now definitely need to add energy. Recent research at SDSU and other universities has helped shed some light on additional energy fed during all stages of pregnancy. This highlights the implications of fetal programming in beef production.
Compromised maternal nutrition during gestation can result in increased neonatal mortality, metabolic disorders, decreased growth rates, and reduced meat quality. Proper nutrition of the cow during gestation can improve progeny performance and health. One of the most important functions of proper gestation nutrition is the formation of high quality colostrum. The suckling of quality colostrum is the most important event of the young calf’s life.
We need to care for our calves from conception until harvest. Through proper nutrition we can impact formation of tissue, muscle and fat in the gestating calf, as well as assure they perform to their genetic potential. We can affect:
1) Placental development
Even when heifers are well-developed and fertile and AI protocols are strictly followed, we may sometimes have disappointing results. This generally results from abruptly changing the ration from high-energy diets to maintenance diet (pasture). This negative energy level may result in pregnancy termination or early embryo loss. Placental development is responsible for the nutrition of the fetus. If not properly developed early, the flow of nutrients may be greatly restricted as the calf grows rapidly in the last third of pregnancy.
2) Organ development
Because most of the calf’s fetal growth occurs during the last two months of gestation, minimal nutrition is needed for early development.
Several important days are:
Day 45 in male calves is when testicular development begins.
Day 50-60 in female calves is when ovarian development begins.
Day 80 in females is when primordial follicles are formed. This is her reproductive future.
3) Muscle development
The number of muscle fibers does not increase after birth. If a decrease in nutrition results in lack of muscle formation, muscle mass and overall performance may be impacted. Intramuscular fat also begins to be deposited late in gestation.
4) Heifer progeny
Supplementation of protein in late pregnancy resulted in no difference in calf weight, but did increase weaning weights, pre-breeding weight, and improved pregnancy rates.
5) Steer progeny
Supplementation of cows with both protein and or energy resulted in no significant increase in calf weight, but did improve average daily gain and marbling scores.
6) Calf health
The properly nourished cow also produces very high quality colostrum which the properly developed young calf suckles shortly after birth. This gives the well developed, programmed calf, a jump start on its productive future from conception to harvest.
We have all understood for years how important good nutrition is to the gestating cow. Now recent research has enabled us to quantify the results of our efforts. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionalist, or extension specialist to develop management and nutritional programs for your herd. Attention to detail from conception to harvest will assure optimum productivity of your herd. This will generate more dollars for your operation.
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A pasture or lot with plenty of grass or bedding and windbreak is important when calving in the cold.