The harsh winter's effects on cow-calf operations may linger unless producers take the right measures to ensure their animals' nutritional needs are being properly met, according to an expert from Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Beef cows' nutritional requirements to stay warm and perform well have been higher this winter, putting pressure on their hay inventories and leading to increased costs for producers, said John Grimes, beef coordinator for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.
Even though it has been a challenging season, now it's not the time to be frugal when it comes to proper nutrition for pregnant cows, which typically have their calving period during March and April, Grimes warned.
"Feeding poor-quality forages to cows in the late-gestation or early-lactation periods can have a devastating negative impact on conception rates in the following breeding season," he said. "Producers need to save the best feed for these periods, as the nutritional needs of cows increase during this time."
To ensure a more successful, healthy and productive calving, cows need to maintain adequate body condition scores during critical production times, Grimes said.
"Body Condition Scores (BCS) ranging from 5 to 6 are considered ideal during late gestation or early lactation in this scoring system where 1 is thin and 9 is obese," Grimes said. "Poor nutrition and declining BCS during late gestation or early lactation can be very detrimental to cow-calf operations and their bottom line."
For producers to remain profitable, cows need to calve every year, which means they have to rebreed within 90 days of calving, Grimes said.
"Cows that are malnourished will take more time to get pregnant, so producers need to not get complacent now so they can stay on track," he said. "A particularly vulnerable group is first-calf heifers, as they are still growing and lactating for the first time, and need to be rebred for their second calf.
"They need to be separated from mature cows and receive extra feed to meet their unique needs."
Grimes said producers might be tempted to put cows on grass as soon as possible this year to reduce feeding costs, but he cautioned that early-season grass has a lot of water content and cows may not be able to consume enough to meet their needs.
"This grass will not be adequate to meet the cows' nutritional requirements at this critical time, so they will need supplementation, even if it means that producers need to get some extra grain or hay to do that," he said.
Finally, Grimes said producers also need to check their hay, especially if it's been stored outside during the winter, as it may have lost quality due to extreme weather conditions and might not be good enough to meet nutritional requirements.