As your cow gets ready to calve, make sure she’s able to pass her own good health on to her offspring.
Dr. Shane Gadberry, University of Arkansas Extension specialist in beef cattle nutrition, said the third trimester is when the cow’s need for energy and supplemental protein really begins to increase. “In the Ozarks, we find our forages do a really good job of meeting protein and energy needs,” Gadberry told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “We’ll rarely see a protein deficiency in those cows, and about 20 percent of the time we’ll see an energy deficiency.” Although nutritionists don’t have an understanding of mineral and vitamin needs fine-tuned to specific stages of gestation and lactation, Gadberry said Ozarks forages typically have inadequate levels of copper and zinc, and are often short of selenium. Gadberry said, “All three of those are tied to immune function, so in terms of making sure our beef cow responds well to vaccination protocols, we need to do a good job of supplemental mineral nutrition.”
That’s particularly important to the calf, because the cow’s colostrum or first milk is the calf’s initial source of antibody protection from disease. Gadberry said according to veterinarians vaccinating cows within 30 days of calving provides benefits, particularly when trying to protect calves against scours. The cow also passes along in her first milk the antibodies she’s built up against BVD, IBR and PI3; these diseases can cause reproductive problems in the cow, and respiratory illnesses in calves. “To make money in the cow/calf business we have to have a live, weanable calf every year, so we’ve got to make sure that we take care of our cows so they are reproductively efficient,” said Gadberry.
“These calves need some nutrition quick and early in their lives,” pointed out Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension beef cattle specialist at Mt Vernon. Therefore, the cow has to be in good body condition to provide good quality and, perhaps more importantly, a good quantity of colostrum. Cole told OFN, “If that cow is not in a good body condition score of 5 to 6 or better, their inability to produce a large quantity of milk and colostrum that is high in antibodies is going to compromise the growth and development of that newborn calf once it gets on the ground. We also think that if a cow is in good physical shape, it is less likely to have some of the paralysis problems and difficulty in getting up; the calf may be compromised in its growth potential early on, because of the condition that the cow is in.”
Cole said some producers like to get cows off of fescue ahead of time, because the toxicity can cause hormonal problems that will leave the cows in rundown condition and compromise the production of a satisfactory quantity of milk. It may also be a good idea to line up supplies of extra colostrum, either from a manufacturer of milk replacers or from a neighbor or dairy, although on the latter point he cautioned, “We’re not sure from a biosecurity standpoint that is always a very smart thing to do. There could be some disease transmission if you utilize a neighboring farm that may have a disease problem. If you get that in colostrum, it could end up coming through the calf.”
While some producers are cautious about overfeeding a springing cow for fear it will create calving problems, Cole said the bigger problem is usually not feeding her enough. “She’s a little weak and undernourished, and both the quantity and quality of her colostrum could be lessened,” he said. He also recommended any external parasite problems be addressed, and encouraged the producer to check the cow’s Vitamin A levels.


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