Cooler weather and a resurgence in rain will be sparking regrowth in fescue pastures, but ranchers with fall calving cows may need more than grass to maintain good body condition for cows, said Tom Troxel, associate head-Animal Science, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“August and September in Arkansas saw rainfall below normal amounts,” said Troxel. “Pasture conditions throughout the state became very dry and regrowth of forage became nonexistent.”
However, the return of rain in October brings the promise of regrowth in fescue pastures, “and it may take 30 days for that regrowth to happen,” he said. “During this time, those fall cows are calving and their nutrient demands will be increasing due to lactation.”
Cattle producers “may still need to feed hay and supplements to keep those cows in good body condition until those fall pastures come along,” Troxel said.
“For example, as a cow calves and begins to lactate, her energy requirements increase by 36 percent; her protein requirements increase by 62 percent and dry matter requirements increase by 17 percent,” he said. “As the weather becomes colder and wetter, this also adds nutritional demands on the cow’s system.”
If cows lose body condition, producers may see less milk production and slower breed back.
“All of these conditions could add up to the cow producing less colostrum and less concentrated colostrums,” Troxel said. Colostrum is the first milk that protects the newborn calf from diseases.
If the newborn calf isn’t well protected, scours – or diarrhea – may become a real problem this year. Cows in poor body condition produce less milk compared to cows in moderate body condition. This will affect the weaning weights of the 2015 calf crop. In addition, cows in poor body condition take longer to rebreed, which will affect the 2016 calf crop.
For spring calving cows, it is desirable to maintain cows in good body condition throughout the fall and into the winter month prior to calving.
“Now is the time cattle producers are weaning calves from the spring calving herds,” Troxel said. “It is very important to pregnancy test the spring calving cows to determine the non-pregnant cows. It is very expensive to feed a non-pregnant cow. Invest supplement feed expenses into a cow that will provide a return on your investment.”
Forage testing is critical to ensure the health of beef cattle through the winter and healthier calves come springtime.
“The key is quality and quantity ration,” he said. “The first step is to obtain a forage test to determine the hay quality.”
“Once the protein and energy values of the hay are known, the proper supplement can be determined to balance the diet,” Troxel said. Cattle producers can contact their county extension agent for more information on how to conduct a forage test.
A forage test provides the nutrient contents of hay. Knowing the nutrient composition of hay allows for the comparison between hay nutrients and the nutrient requirements of the cattle being fed. If the animals’ needs are greater than what’s provided in the hay, a least cost feed supplement can be developed.
To minimize feed costs, cattle with different nutritional requirements should be grouped separately and supplemented accordingly. Commingling cattle with different requirements (for example, non-lactating cows wintered in the same field as lactating cows) can cause either overfeeding and waste of costly supplements or underfeeding and poor cattle performance.
Proper supplementation helped improve demonstration herd reproductive performance. Calf crop percentage increased from 85 percent in the first year of the program to 93 percent in the fifth year. Changes in the winter feeding program alone did not cause this increase, but it did play an important role.
The county extension office has a hay probe available to collect hay samples to submit for analysis and computer software for developing a least cost feed supplement based on local grain prices, animal requirements and quality of available forage.
For more information about cattle production, visit www.uaex.edu or www.arkansas-livestock.com or contact your county extension office.
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.