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Fresh Cows Are Worth $2 Meal

All the hard work and feed that you’ve invested in your cows for the last few months in order to get them ready for calving should finally pay off with a healthy newborn calf. For the next two months, your fresh cows are going to need even more help from you, so they can produce lots of milk for new calves as well as help themselves prepare for the upcoming breeding season. A daily assistance of about $2 per cow, invested in a good feeding program will keep them on the right track, which should ultimately result in heavily weaned fall calves and a successfully bred cowherd, pregnant with next years’ income.

Nobody will argue that a Toonie is a substantial financial commitment per cow. However, it is money that is well spent, because your post-partum beef cows have tremendous nutrient requirements geared for good milk and reproductive performance compared to any other time of the year, including that of the recently past pre-calving months.

Lactation during the next 60 days after calving nearly doubles a beef cow’s need for dietary energy and protein compared to the start of the over-winter season. Similarly, mineral and vitamin requirements grow too, namely; the demand for calcium (re: milk contains about 0.12 per cent Ca) increases by 80 –90 per cent, while related phosphorus and trace mineral usage grows by a conservative 50 –60 per cent. In addition, milk contains about 87 per cent water, and therefore a milking cow can now easily drink 45 to 50 litres from a waterer per day, up from a normal 25 –30 litres on given day before calving.

In contrast to supporting good milk production, nature gives reproduction (including rebreeding) in beef cows, a very low nutritional priority, especially when precious nutrients from feed are in short supply. For example, many producers are sometimes forced to cull exceptionally high milk producers at the end of the breeding season, because these cows keep repeating and remain open. This is one reason that there is such a heavy emphasis placed on assuring beef cows calve out in good body condition; so there is an ample supply of stored nutrients (body fat = energy) that can be drawn for all productive needs, including breeding purposes.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to put on to put on significant body condition on most beef cows, once they calve and start milking. Laying down body fat is technically the storage of excess nutrients (from feedstuff energy) that are not being utilized for either maintenance or production. Consequently, little or no body fat is produced, when there is such a large demand for nutrients going toward lactation purposes as well as for calved 1st calf heifers that are still growing. To complicate matters, most prairie beef cows must also contend with the sub-arctic weather during February and March, which further increases their energy needs by an additional 15 –20 per cent. Therefore, the main objective of most post-partum feeding programs is to maintain optimum body condition amongst beef cows until the breeding season starts; body condition that was supposedly laid down during late gestation.

Most of these post-partum diets are relatively straightforward. They should be all based on a foundation of good quality forages that can easily supplemented with either grains, grain by-products or a protein supplement that helps achieve the overall energy requirement for lactation of 58 –60 per cent TDN and 10 –11 per cent protein in the ration. In addition, a complimentary source of mineral-vitamins should fortify the chosen diet, along with salt and a free-choice source of water (including snow). Given today’s prices for most beef feedstuffs; a solid beef cow feeding program that delivers good milk production and reproduction performance should cost no more than two dollars per head, daily.

There are literary hundreds of $2 post-calving cow diets fed on the prairies, ranging from feeding free-choice alfalfa or mixed grass hay that is supplemented with a couple of kilograms of barley or corn distillers’ grains to a complete TMR using cereal silage as its base, dried down with a couple of kilograms of dry hay, and a couple of kilograms of barley added in for extra energy. As an alternative, cereal crop residues or straw can also be used as a basis of your lactation diets, but one should realize that these forages are usually low in dietary energy

and protein, and frequently require heavy nutritional supplementation to meet the respective requirements of lactating beef cows.

Despite some of the best feeding plans implemented during gestation and into lactation, there always seems to be a common group of “poor-doing” cows after calving. The reasons why some of these cows lost some built-up BCS immediately after calving does vary. It could be a result of pathogenic or metabolic disease, an extremely difficult calving that required serious intervention (an operation) or even twin births. Some of these cows might be worth saving and only need a little extra nutritional help to prepare for the breeding season.

Many producers implement a “Flushing” program for these thin cows by feeding them a very high plane of nutrition (re: energy) for a couple of weeks before the start of the breeding season. University and extension evidence suggests that a few of these saved cows are amazing in that they seem to contradict conventional experience of laying BCS, right after calving. Many of these exceptional cows are able to put on 0.5 to 1.0 BCS in a very short window of time and thus build back their BCS of at least 2.5; the bare minimum for a successful breeding season. The flipside of this quick fix is that flushing does not always work and will not enhance reproductive performance in most poor cows that continue to maintain a poor body condition.

For your main herd, there is no substitute for a sound post-calving feeding program that should cost no more than $2 per cow per day. These diets are essentially a continuation of workable beef cow feeding programs set up during the latter stages of gestation. Only this time around, dietary energy, protein, important minerals and vitamins are fed in greater quantities to lactating beef cows because their nutritional needs are the greatest of the entire year. Assuring such feeding challenges are met every year after calving, should lead to desired cow performance for now and for years to come.

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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