Producers should evaluate their production plans in winter

Cattle ranchers work to maintain the body condition of their cattle herds as winter continues, increasing the need to analyze the quality of available forage and adjust production plans accordingly.

Every operation is different and as such, operators need to optimize their forage resources and specialize them to meet their marketing structure. Calving season, breed of cattle and sale time can all impact nutritional requirements.

Dirk Philipp, a professor specializing in forage utilization and grazing management at the University of Arkansas, said cattle ranchers should take all of this into account when creating a forage plan.

“Normally, when you look at the nutritive value of stockpiled fescue, that usually meets the requirements,” said Philipp. “But not of a lactating cow at that point anymore.”

Many factors will affect lower nutritive content in forage.

Soil type and quality, geographic location and weather during the growing season may all be causes for a lower quality feed source. For instance, protein is the most common macronutrient in need of supplementation for the Ozarks area.

Some cattle producers may be able to adequately fulfill their herd’s nutritional needs with quality pasture ground alone. But in order to determine if additional supplementation is necessary, ranchers are encouraged to contact their county extension office for information about hay and forage testing.

Producers should be conscientious of over supplementation. Excessive supplementation may not drastically hurt herd health, but it could negatively impact ranchers’ bottom line.

Cows with a higher than average body condition score can have issues breeding back, damaging reproductive efficiency and diminishing endpoint revenue. Though, none of this should keep producers from supplying their herd with the supplements they need.

Before any issues arise, cattle ranchers can take measures to reduce harm from early supplementation early on. By developing a concrete, effective operating outline, producers will be able to more confidently balance the feeding goals of their cattle.

One of the ways producers can plan is by determining calving seasons ahead of time.

Beth Kegley, a professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas, said having a defined calving season can significantly impact forage needs in the cow herd.

“If producers will have a defined calving season, which means they have a defined breeding season,” said Kegley. “When they wean, they have a bigger group of more uniform calves to market that is more optimal.”

While this may limit income to a specific time of year, it can also be a more efficient way to lower forage and feed costs by keeping their herd’s nutritional needs easier to manage.

Kegley said a cow’s nutritional requirements are greatest right after calving, meaning ranchers should more readily monitor body condition scores and ultimately keep feeding consistent among the cow base.


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