Your Reading List

Tend To The Cow After Calving

All the hard work and feed you’ve invested in your beef 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 will need even more help from you to produce lots of milk for new calves as well as prepare for the upcoming breeding season. A daily investment of about $1.50 per cow in a good feeding program should keep them on the right track, and ultimately result in heavy weaned fall calves and a successfully bred cow herd, pregnant with next years’ income.

Nobody will argue a dollar and a half is a substantial commitment per brood cow. However, it is money well invested, because your postpartum beef cows have tremendous nutrient requirements targeted for good milk and reproductive performance compared to any other time of the year, including that of the recent past pre-calving months.


Lactation for instance, during the next 80 days after calving, nearly doubles a beef cow’s need for dietary energy and protein compared to the start of the overwinter 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 to 90 per cent, while related phosphorus and trace mineral usage grows by a conservative 50 to 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 to 30 litres on a 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 for breeding purposes.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to put 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 first calf heifers that are still growing.


Regardless, the main objective of most postpartum feeding programs is to maintain optimum body condition; built during the winter and sustained at calving time for good milk production and reproduction (re: a quick return to estrus) until the breeding season starts.

Mature cows (i. e. 600 to 700 kg) should achieve their essential nutrient requirements by consuming about two to 2.5 per cent of their body weight per day in good-quality feed, on a dry matter basis. They require about 58 to 60 per cent TDN (total digestible nutrients) and about 11 to 12 per cent crude protein in their diet when they are milking at their highest levels (re: 10 litres per day). Firstcalf heifers usually cannot eat as much and do not milk as hard compared to older cows, but their dietary concentrations are very similar because they need extra nutrients required for growth. It is also important to keep in mind that all cows that calve out in February to April may need 20 to 30 per cent more dietary energy just to keep warm, which supersedes all production requirements.

Setting up an 80-day post-calving feeding program is not a hard exercise. There are literally hundreds of well-proven 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.


All we need is a good estimate of all postpartum beef cow nutrient requirements and be prepared to match them with available postcalving diets. As a result most beef cows coming into lactation in February to March could likely be fed available medium-good-quality forages (such as a mixed grass hay; 60 per cent TDN, 13 to 14 per cent protein) supplemented with nutritious grains for much of this nutrient-demanding postcalving period. Keep in mind that cows calving in April and into May will be moved on to lush pasture as grass becomes available and thus form the forage base of their postpartum diets.

Subsequently, the actual amount of concentrate or grain feeding will vary; depending on forage quality (both drylot and pasture), actual days of lactation, and current cow body condition. Complimentary beef mineral, salt and a good source of free-choice water should be provided to the beef cows at all times.

Luckily, most of these post-calving beef cow diets are a continuation of feeding programs set up during the last 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 should lead to good milk production for profitable good growing calves and good reproductive performance for profitable pregnant beef cows.

PeterVittiisanindependentlivestocknutritionist andconsultantbasedinWinnipeg.To reachhimcall204-254-7497orbyemailat [email protected]

About the author


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]



Stories from our other publications