To be successful this winter, producers must maintain adequate body condition scores (BCS) within their herds. Ted Perry, beef nutritionist with Purina Animal Nutrition, says healthy body condition through the cold hinges on quality nutrition.
“Winter months can be a challenging time to feed cattle as you never know how wet or cold the weather is going to be,” says Perry. But one thing is certain: as the red line on the thermometer decreases, the energy needs of the cow herd will increase. If these extra energy needs aren’t accounted for in the diet, cows will begin to lose weight and the herd could be susceptible to problems that spread beyond the winter season and producers could see complications through spring calving and summer breeding.
“Some producers may be headed into winter with already under-conditioned cows,” he says. “With the tight supply of forages, many producers have been limit-feeding cows to hold onto their feed. These cows will need extra nutrients to move back to ideal body condition.”
The winter is no time to scrimp on calories. “Cow’s need extra energy,” notes Perry, who advises producers consider supplementing forages. “In addition to higher requirements for maintenance, the cows are supporting a growing calf. The calf requires significant nutrients in the second and third trimester.”
Many choices for supplementation on the market can help the cow herd best utilize nutrients provided and remain in adequate body condition through all seasons. Supplement options include hand-feeding cubes, self-feeding rations and molasses-based tubs. Self-fed, intake-modifying feed technologies can be an excellent way to provide feed which, in turn, helps cows to manage forage utilization.
Research from the University of Nebraska shows long-term benefits to supplementing the diet. In one study conducted during the late fall, cows that were supplemented with protein were compared to cows that received no supplement. The supplemented cows fared much better. Cows that had no supplement lost 64 pounds and dropped an average of 0.6 BCS points with an average body condition score of 4.6 on a 9-point scale. Animals that received the protein supplement maintained body weight and condition and had an average BCS of 5.2.
Researchers further examined the impact the protein supplementation had on the offspring of these animals. Heifers from protein-supplemented dams had higher pre-breeding body weights and higher body weights at pregnancy diagnosis than heifers from non-supplemented dams. When it came time to calve, heifers from protein-supplemented dams continued to outperform their counterparts. In the initial 21 days of the calving season, 77 percent of the heifers from protein-supplemented dams calved in compared to 49 percent for heifers born to non-supplemented cows.
“The data from Nebraska provides the impetus for producers to seriously look at forage supplements this year if they haven’t already,” says Perry.
To maintain body condition scores this winter, Perry recommends putting a feeding plan in place. “Examine the resources available and figure out what to supplement to make the feed last all winter,” he says. “The last thing you want to do is short your cows’ nutrition.”