Vet’s Voice by Dave Barz: Maintain your cows now to ensure a healthy calf in the spring

I hope all of you had a very happy Thanksgiving. I’m sure you all found some reason to be thankful. We all know feed is short and expensive, but at least in our area the mild temperatures are saving feed. You need to watch your cow’s body conditions closely to make sure they are not losing weight. The residue feeds most of you are using will only give limited amounts of protein and energy. If your cows need to gain some weight, now is a great time to increase you cow’s body condition scores (BCS) to 5.5.

This time of year the cows’ nutritional requirements are low. The cow is no longer lactating and the warm weather reduces the need for energy to be expended to keep the cow warm. Soon these cows will be entering the final trimester of gestation and the growing calf will require more nutrients for growth. Also the cow is forming colostrum during this time. Good nutrition and positive energy levels will assure a strong, healthy, vigorous calf as well as an adequate amount of good, quality colostrum.

If your cows are thin, you need to add condition (weight) now. When cows’ calve at too low a BCS, the cow doesn’t milk well, produces a weak calf, and probably won’t breed back. Skimping on feed now to save a few dollars will only cost you in the future. It would be much better to reduce your cow numbers to meet your current feed inventory.

When purchasing supplements don’t overlook trace minerals and vitamins. In years past, we always injected gestating cows with vitamin A and D. Recent scrutiny of this protocol has resulted in omission of this from most herds. Swellings and allergic reactions resulted in many animals causing discomfort and stress. It was determined elimination of stressors outweighed the need for supplemented A and D.

Injectable trace minerals consisting of copper, zinc, and selenium, which are commonly short in most feedstuffs, are now available. These are important components of enzymes involved in the immune response and skeletal growth. It is hard to scientifically test these products for effectiveness, but many clients who have used them believe they increase their animals “wellness”. Studies have shown increased reproductive rates in breeding herds and embryo transfer proponents have used them for years. Recent feedlot trials have demonstrated increased feed conversion as well as lower back fat and higher marbling scores.

Basic mineral supplementation is essential everyday of your cow’s life. Most of us believe “we get what we pay for” in bagged mineral. Not every herd needs chelated minerals to operate successfully, but in areas where calcium or phosphorus may be tied-up (normally occurring ground minerals), they may fill a needed niche. One extra calf buys a lot of mineral.

Preparing your cows for calving needs to happen now. Visit with your veterinarian, extension specialist, or nutritionalist after you assess your cow herds overall body condition. Set goals for improvement or maintenance and implement management changes using your existing feed inventory. Make wise cost effective purchases to supplement your nutritional needs. Careful attention to detail will assure a profitable future in the cow-calf business.