If you run a cow/calf operation, you understand that your cattle have dietary needs that are constantly changing. This is especially true after calving season when calves are nursing.
“Lactation is the most nutritionally stressful activity for the cow. The modern commercial beef cow produces around 20 pounds of milk each day during peak lactation,” said Dr. David Lalman of Oklahoma State University in his article, Nutritional Requirements of Beef Cattle. “Milk contains a high concentration of protein. Therefore, lactating cows, particularly during early lactation, require nearly twice the daily protein of dry cows.”
Adequate protein during lactation is also necessary to help the cow breed back successfully for the next calving season.
To understand how much protein your cows are getting, and to understand what you need to provide nutritionally to help them out, you’ll need to start by running a forage analysis with the help of your local extension.
This step takes a bit of extra work, but it’s worth it.
“Test, don’t guess,” advises University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist Eldon Cole.
Once you’ve determined what level of protein and nutrients you and your herd are actually dealing with, then you can move on to selecting a supplement that will provide extra protein.
“A supplement may be high-quality pasture such as wheat, rye or ryegrass, alfalfa hay, by-product feeds such as corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, dried distillers grain, corn or any number of commercially prepared meals, cubes, blocks, barrels, tubs, liquid feeds and the list goes on,” Cole said.
A lactating cow will likely need a mineral supplement to help keep her and her nursing calf in peak health. Calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals such as manganese are essential for good milk production in this stage of a cow’s life. Mineral supplements can come in the form of a block, powder or a lick tub.
While some extra groceries during lactation are important, be careful to not change up your cow’s menu too quickly. In their study Feeding Dairy Cattle During Lactation, Macdonald Campus of MacGill University notes, “major ration changes should be avoided.”
To avoid any digestive problems (e.g. acidosis, depressed intake), concentrates should be added gradually at a rate of about 0.5 to 0.7 kg/day for the first two weeks.”
The size of your cows, their growth rate and their milking ability will come into play when providing the necessary nutrition requirements during lactation.
“A 2 ½ quart increase in daily milk for the average beef cow increases her TDN requirement by 13 to 15 percent,” Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle states.
Providing adequate pasture or feed to supplement less than desirable pastures during this time can help you achieve good milk production and a healthy calf.
By meeting your lactating cow’s nutritional needs, you can ensure a good crop of calves and success when breeding back. Your herd and your bottom line will thank you.


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