When, how much to feed?
December 21, 2012
As the holiday season approaches, temperature are beginning to drop, and wind speed has definitely picked up. While some areas have had snow, much of the area has Christmas wishes for some type of precipitation. With the long nights, everyone is looking at their Red Books, calculating the number of weeks or months before calving, here are a few considerations, regardless of when calving begins.
1) Providing adequate energy is critical during the winter. Providing that cows have adequate nutrition and are in adequate body condition [score] (BCS 5, minimum), for every 1 degree drop in wind chill below 20 degrees, the cow's feed requirements are increased by 1 percent. Therefore, if effective wind chill is –10 degrees, mature cows would require 30 percent more additional feed to maintain constant weight (approximately 6-7 pounds).
2) Several recent research studies emphasize the importance of proper nutrition during gestation. This includes adequate nutrition during early pregnancy, to ensure proper fetal development, as well as late gestation. Providing adequate energy, protein, and mineral balance during late gestation is critical for getting the cow re-bred in the spring, insuring that calves will get up quickly and nurse, and essential for providing adequate, high-quality colostrum to the calf.
3) If cows are still consuming winter range, or stalks, consider supplementing to avoid any weight loss, and to have cows in good condition heading into calving. When selecting protein supplements, begin by pricing the supplements per pound of protein. For example, 18 percent Crude Protein (CP) alfalfa hay, priced at $80 per ton, would provide protein at approximately $0.26 per pound of protein. A commercial 32 percent CP cube, priced at $180 per ton, would provide protein at approximately $0.31 per pound of protein. Solid blocks, lick tubs, and liquid supplements can also be compared in the same manner, but make sure to calculate everything on a similar dry matter basis, and to consider the amount of supplement required to deliver the same amount of protein per day.
4) Late gestation is a good time to consider sorting cattle into 2 or 3 groups in order to better meet each groups nutrient requirements. Typically, first- and second-calf heifers are managed separately in order to address their additional requirements for growth, as well as give them a fighting chance to consume the right amount of feed. Consider sorting off thin and timid cows, and managing them with first- and second-calf cows to improve their energy status and overall condition.
5) Managing cattle with their requirements in mind. Energy requirements for gestating cows increases approximately 25-30 percent during late gestation, and another 30-35 percent from calving through the peak of lactation. Adjusting feed amounts delivered will help ensure that cattle maintain condition throughout calving and re-breeding.
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Continued studies at the University of Nebraska, as well as the University of Wyoming, have shown the importance of addressing nutrition during gestation, and the importance of nutrition in proper fetal development and subsequent health and performance of calves throughout the neonatal, backgrounding, and feedlot phases. Although feed costs are high, research has shown that improvements in weaning weights, backgrounding weights, and future heifer fertility easily offset the cost of proper supplementation. As the Christmas season approaches, make sure the cow herd has their winter coats on.