As calving season approaches, it’s important to keep cattle in condition, and to know what they need to stay in condition.
Eldon Cole, southwest regional livestock specialist at the University of Missouri Extension Center in Mt. Vernon, Mo., told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor the biggest mistake he sees is by producers who don’t know either the quality or the quantity of hay they’re providing their cows. “All cows do not need the same amount of feed or the same quality of feed,” he pointed out, “depending on whether they’re spring calvers or fall calvers, old cows or young cows. If you have a pretty good grasp of what your quality is, and what your body condition score is on your cows, then you can do a much more knowledgeable job of coming up with what the supplemental needs might be, if any.”
Filling those needs might be as simple as moving a cow with a lower body condition score to a pasture with more stockpiled winter forage, or feeding her some better quality hay that the producer has in reserve. If a grain or oilseed co-product or byproduct is called for, the cow may need 3-6 lbs./day.”
But producers are probably a lot more willing to pay for feed supplements in this environment. “Feed is high; everybody is complaining about feed,” said Cole. “But pretty quickly, you can bring them back to reality by saying, ‘Yeah, but did you hear that lightweight calves are selling for that $1.30-$1.40-$1.50 range?’ It’s kind of like going fishing and getting these fishing stories.”
Dr. Shane Gadberry, professor of beef cattle nutrition for University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, told OFN that when cattlemen are struggling with nutrient deficient hay, they tend to go out and buy supplemental protein. “That’s just kind of been the traditional default mindset,” he said, but frequently, it’s the wrong solution. The state’s forage testing program has found that only 40 percent of the hays submitted are protein deficient, but 80 percent are energy deficient. “Many of the byproduct feed options that we have available today tend to be higher in protein content,” Shane said. “So when we feed for energy, many times we do compensate for protein deficiency.”
To meet the nutritional needs of a gestating beef cow, hay protein should be around 8 percent and TDN (total digestible nutrients) around 52 percent; for lactating beef cows, it’s 11 percent protein and 60 percent TDN. If your hay has insufficient TDN, it’s time to do some comparison shopping. “When we’re looking at supplementing TDN, we look at what feedstuffs are available to us,” Shane said.
Prices tend to fluctuate with the season; the price of energy in feedstuffs is based on corn, which in turn is influenced by demand for ethanol production. “Feedstuffs tend to be a little bit cheaper in the middle of summer, because demand in general is lower,” Shane said.
The ultimate goal is to ensure the cow has a high enough body condition score for lactation once the calf is on the ground, and is able to breed back quickly. If one or more cows are too thin, separate them from the herd and enrich their rations.


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