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Proper nutrition needed before and after calving

An example of a good feeding plan based on common sense and economy

Most people have done a good job in feeding their gestating cows this winter in order to maintain good body condition for calving. Yet hard work doesn’t stop once the last calf is born. Rather, good nutrition should continue for months afterward, so fresh cows can produce lots of milk for their growing calves and themselves return to active reproduction.

Such is the case of a beef operation of a 350-cow-calf operation that I visited just before Christmas. I asked the producer and his wife how they managed their cows after calving in mid-March. I learned their feed and management program was a combination of common sense and economy.

They told me that once past-year calves were weaned in November, their newly gestating cow herd is moved onto on a section of unharvested barley (that were first affected by last year’s drought and then couldn’t be harvested due to a wet fall). Every few days, they dump out 20 per cent protein lick-tubs amongst them with access to loose mineral, salt and water in an opened drylot near their house. Cattle also have access to a few acres of bush to escape winter storms.

Once these cows calve, they remain on this cereal pasture, which is then supplemented with higher protein alfalfa/grass bales along with cattle lick-tubs as the main energy and protein source to maintain a body condition score of five to six (score of one being emaciated, while nine is obese) until the breeding season. At the same time, the cows are fed 1.5 kilograms of homemade grain ration (made up of 0.5 kilo of a 32 per cent beef protein supplement and one to 1.5 kilos of barley) if winter continues well into March or the nutritional support of the pasture wanes, where post-calving requirements are difficult to meet.

Constant feed requirements

Although this operation’s feeding program is unique to their own situation, their cow herd’s dietary requirements are identical to most other farms. That’s because most calved-out beef cows require about 60-62 per cent TDN (total digestible nutrients) and about 11-12 per cent crude protein daily by the time they are milking at their highest levels. First-calf heifers’ dietary requirements are very similar to mature cows, because they need the extra nutrients for growth. It is also important to keep in mind all cows, regardless of age calving in late winter, often need 20-40 per cent more dietary energy just to keep warm and maintain good body condition, which supersedes all milk production and reproduction requirements.

Essential cattle minerals (and A, D and E vitamins) should also be provided before and after calving — including calcium, phosphorus and other essential macro-minerals. Trace mineral requirements of these beef cows nearly doubles since the start of the winter season, and bio-available sources of copper, zinc, manganese, iodine, cobalt, and selenium must be fed.

As part of assuring there are sufficient essential nutrients, I often recommend beef producers take a midwinter stored-feed inventory. For example, I also know of a 200-beef cow producer, who has about 500 x 1,300 lbs. of fair-quality alfalfa/grass bales, especially saved for feeding his cows in the latter months of the winter. Therefore, he has about 80 days feeding inventory (accounted for 15 per cent wastage); ((500 bales x 1,300 lbs.) x 85%)/200 beef cows x 35 lbs. (“as fed” feed intake)).

If he starts feeding 30 days before calving, and relies solely on this forage inventory it would mean he only has enough baled feed for about 1-1/2 months after calvings begin. His forage inventory could be tight until spring pastures sprout and cows are allowed to graze new grass.

Having sufficient good-quality feed in a well-balanced post-calving, cow-feeding program is important. After a successful calving season, it helps cows raise good growing calves as well as rewards them after a successful breeding season with next year’s income.

About the author

Columnist

Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]

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