It’s a myth that restricting feed will influence calf size. It does more harm than good

Walk into your cowherd on any given winter morning, and take a good look at your cows.

Are the older cows and pregnant replacement heifers in good shape? Are they healthy? Who’s a candidate for culling? Are you confident that your cowherd can deliver a successful calving season? Yes, no, maybe? After a morning walk, you should be able to pick out “the good, the bad and the ugly” in the herd.

Many producers still have about 60 to 90 days before the first cow of the herd calves in order to get most cows ready for the calving. Our current primary goal for all pregnant cows should be to provide a sound pre-calving nutrition and management program that will help cows calve out in optimum body condition. We hope the reward will be frisky calves, which contribute to farm income.

On a Canadian body condition score (BCS) scale of 1 to 5 (1 = thin, and 5 = obese), mature cows should maintain or achieve a BCS of 2.5 to 2.75 by calving time, while replacement heifers calve out at a little better BCS of 3.0. Years of university and extension service research have demonstrated that beef cows within these BCS goalposts are likely to have an easier time calving, produce higher quality colostrum (re: more antibodies) for their newborns, have fewer days returning to a regular post-partum estrus cycle, and ultimately have higher breed-back rates.

The hard-dying myth of restricting good pre-calving nutrition to produce smaller calves and easier births proves only detrimental to the cows at calving time. A variety of pasture and drylot experiments with pregnant cows; demonstrate that a low plane of nutrition fed in the pre-calving period has no significant effect on their calves’ birth-weights, to make the calving season any easier for those upcoming sleepless nights. In many cases of dietary restriction, just the opposite rings true; calving difficulties or dystocia often increases because a starved freshening cow is too weak to give birth, and her calf tends to be weak and is less healthy.

In contrast, producers should not be too generous with feed. We should also not assume that all cows require additional body condition than the standard recommendations. Fat cows (BCS above 4.0) are just as problematic as thin cows; plagued with calving difficulties, weak calves and less than average reproductive rates. Depending on the current condition of the beef cows, their calving date and how well they were fed right after weaning and during the early part of the winter, will determine the best feeding program to set up.

It’s a good idea is to separate and feed the herd into at least two groups; (1.) mature cows with a BCS of 2.5 to 3.0 plus obese animals, and (2.) thin cows with a BCS of less than 2.5, and most first-calf replacement heifers (except the obese ones). Our target is to shoot for the respective nutrient requirements of each group with an appropriate feeding program.

For the most part, the mature cow group will need a diet that contains about 55 to 60 per cent TDN (total digestible nutrients) and about 10 to 11 per cent protein for the rest of the late gestation period to maintain good body condition. Beef cows that score 2.0 or less will need to gain about 80 to 85 kg bodyweight (which includes the growing weight of the fetus) to achieve a desired BCS of 2.5 by calving. Growing heifers should also gain about 0.9 –1.1 kg (also includes fetal weight). In this latter pen, dietary energy and protein should be increased about 25 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively. One should keep in mind that by the middle of January, the weather can be bitterly cold across the prairies, and we should account for another energy requirement increase of the entire cowherd by 25 to 40 per cent.

Consequently, sound late-gestation diets that either hold or move cows toward a desirable BCS by calving time keep within six major boundaries:

1. Good late gestation diets have a good forage base — All types and quality of forages are fed to late gestation cows, which are mainly intended to provide significant amounts of dietary energy and protein. In many situations, 10 to 12 kg of adequate quality grass hay matches the winter

requirements of mature gestating cows, and other than feeding two to four ounces of a commercial beef mineral or some grain when it gets very cold, requires very little energy or protein supplementation.

2. Low quality forages can be used a solid forage base. Cereal straw, and most forms of crop residues are acceptable feeds, just as long as they are supplemented with higher energy and protein feeds (re: barley, corn distillers grains, cattle blocks) to help meet all cows’ late gestation requirements. It is important not to force pregnant cows to eat extremely high quantities of them, nor extreme quantities of supporting nutrition supplements (i. e.: too much grain). In addition, keep in mind that crop residues and other exposed pasture forages tend to deteriorate over the winter.

3. Replace grain with only good quality and economical by-products. Universities of Nebraska, and South Dakota have done extensive work on using wet or dry corn distillers grains as an excellent grain replacement to supplement low quality forages such as corn stalk residues. Other grain replacements for supplementing lower quality forages or supplementing higher planes of nutrition include: beet pulp, lentil-pea screenings, wheat middlings, and off-grade wheat and corn.

Hello again Grainews readers across Canada and elsewhere in North America. Welcome to the new year. I remain in good voice so far this winter, talking, singing, yodeling and of course writing.

What do I have in common with Canada geese? I’m anticipating and looking forward to an early springtime. A garden is always good medicine and I have so much to tell you that it even excites me. I’m the kind o’ gardener who loves to share. I’m continually learning, so I appreciate my fellow gardeners sharing their words of wisdom and experiences with me.

Right off the top

When I get my hair cut and beard trimmed (and it’s not all that often), my lady barber always asks me: “How much would you like off the top, Ted?” Lucky me, I still have hair up there too, not just facial hair. I arrange my trims according to the moon that circles the Earth about every 28 days.

How about you? May I suggest you consider planning your haircuts according to the man or woman in the moon. Here’s why. For faster growth, get a trim after the start of a new moon when it’s waxing or increasing in light. For thicker hair, wait until the moon is full, or nearly so. Your hair will not grow so quickly if it’s cut during the waning of the moon, that is, when decreasing in light. Basically, the same thing applies to cutting lawns and manicuring grass, even though it’s a few months away for most of us. O’ those lucky folks in Victoria and the Lower Mainland of B. C. who are still cutting grass.

Hair colouring and permanents take well during the first quarter of each new moon. The next immediate dates are January 27 through February 2. My wife always told me she felt better after a visit to her hairdresser.

Like haircuts…

…it’s all in the timing with gardening and houseplants, too. There’s an element of similarity when it comes to pruning plants, trees and shrubs. To slow down or retard growth, prune during third and fourth quarters when the moon is receding in light. Now that days are getting longer, you can encourage bushy and quick growth on houseplants by pruning and pinching them between each new moon and full moon.

It’s OK to prune fruit trees during late winter and early spring if it’s not too bitterly cold. You’ll promote better quality and more fruit when the task is confined to the third and fourth quarters. Extra energy will be directed to the lower part of the tree and root system when buds break in spring. The future crop of flowers and fruit is stimulated, yet leafy growth is not so brisk.

When pruning and thinning, avoid removing tips or just a section of side branches. Cut them all the way back to a central, main or secondary side limb. Don’t shear off the top of a mature specimen. Pruning and thinning open the tree to more light and better ventilation. This old adage still applies: A bird should be able to fly through your apple trees.

There’s just so very, very much more to moon lore. Law enforcers from centuries back kept written references, suggesting a broad increase in crime with the waxing of the moon and decreasing crime as it waned. On the bright side, a positive tradition recommended marriages on the day of the full moon or as close to it as possible. Galen, an ancient second century climatologic Greek physician, believed that those born during the full moon would be vigorous and live on to a ripe old age.

Best sauerkraut ever

I find the best tasting sauerkraut is made right at or immediately after a full moon. Here’s an old German recipe that’s also popular in east European countries.

For every five pounds of shredded cabbage placed in a large container, add 3-1/2 tablespoons of pickling salt. Toss well with clean hands to distribute salt throughout. Do not waver from the ratio of salt to cabbage as indicated. Not enough salt and it goes mushy. Too much salt and cabbage won’t ferment. The exact amount is critical.

Transfer salted cabbage into a crock along with a few cloves of garlic if desired. Compress it down with a potato masher or wooden tamper. Continue adding more prepared layers of shredded cabbage and pickling salt. When crock is nearly full, weight the contents down with a heavy stone placed on a plate resting on top. Cover the crock with a blanket and set it in a warm area such as near the furnace. During the fermentation process, sauerkraut juice gathers at the top as the cabbage compacts inside the crock. Some white foam will also appear and this can be skimmed off. It will take up to 12 days or longer, but let your taste buds decide when it’s right for you.

At the appropriate time, transfer sauerkraut into zip lock plastic bags and freeze. It’s such a clean, health promoting smell, very yummy tasting and one of the best natural health foods going, especially for the gut and digestive system. You can make sauerkraut soup, sauerkraut juice and sauerkraut perogies, too.

How does this sound?

I, Ted, have got a bunch o’ garden goodies to be drawn for in March. To my Grainews readers! You did yourselves proud with last year’s response, so I decided to give it a whirl again. Here’s what I have:

Four Bluebell grape plants, two-year-old vines, courtesy of Bob Osborne at Corn Hill Nursery, Corn Hill, N. B., E4Z 1M2, phone 506-756-3635.

Gift certificates valued at $25 each, courtesy of the following: Kevin Twomey, of T & T Seeds, Headingley, Man., phone 204-895-9962; McFayden Seed Co., Brandon, Man., phone

1-800-205-7111; and Early’s in Saskatoon, Sask., phone 1-800-667-1159.

There’s a neat place called Voloaca Nursery in Aylmer, Que., 20 km from Ottawa. Phone 819-685-0429. Voloaca specializes in 11 grape varieties, cold hardy up to Zone 3, and conifer saplings.

Someone’s going to win a bundle of 11 vines. The plants will be just a few months old, between 20 and 40 cm tall, but can grow like young whipper snappers and start producing fruit, often by the second year.

Do you grow garlic? I love the stuff. The best little publication in the country about all things garlic is The Garlic News. Paul and Mary Lou Pospisil at Beaver Pond Estates in Maberly, Ont., put the publication together four times a year. Phone 613-273-5683. A one-year subscription, starting with the summer 2009 issue through until spring 2010, is another of my prizes.

For a chance to win something, send your name and mailing address to: Ted the Singing Gardener, c/o Grainews, 1666 Dublin Ave., Winnipeg, MB., R3H 0H1.

Mark the word “Draw” on the outside of the envelope. Draws take place in March and gift certificates will be mailed out to the winners. Their names will appear in a future Singing Gardener column.

My mother didn’t say it!

Since I’m a songwriter and musician of sorts besides a gardener, I’m not certain how the following short tale will reflect on me. But here goes.

A young boy says his mother: “When I grow up, I’d like to be a musician.” She replies: “Now Teddy, you know you can’t do both.”

Does that mean musicians never grow up? Of course they do! I grew up and turned out OK.

Ted Meseyton is the Singing Gardener & Grow-it Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. He talks and sings gardening at his personal appearances. Ted also teaches yodeling and musical grow-your-own-garden classes to children and adults. His e-mail address is: [email protected]



Stories from our other publications