LITTLE ROCK -- Winter is a time of increased vigilance for the state’s livestock producers, said Tom Troxel, professor and associate department head-animal science for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“One climate model is projecting November through January to be warmer and wetter than normal,” Troxel said. “If predictions are wrong and the weather turns cold and wet, these conditions can compound dangers to cattle, and producers need to keep a closer eye on herds through the time spring grass can be grazed.”  

Cattle across the state are in rather good body condition due to good rainfall and excellent growing conditions in 2013, but hay quality may be disappointing so cattle producers need to monitor body condition carefully as spring calving approaches.

“Calving increases the nutritional demand on the cow’s system,” 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. As the weather becomes colder and wetter, this also adds nutritional demands on the cow’s system.”

To meet that demand, cows will need more calories, more protein and more roughage.

However, “with much of the state receiving rain in early May and June, many producers were unable to bale hay when the forage was at its peak quality,” he said.  “This is going to result in feeding lower quality hay than normal to late gestating cows and lactating cows later in the winter and early spring.”

That may mean that the cow’s body condition can suffer resulting in lower milk production and slower bred back. Body condition becomes very critical as the cattle production cycle moves into the calving period.

“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,” he said. “This will affect the weaning weights of the 2014 calf crop. In addition, cows in poor body condition take longer to rebreed, which will affect the 2015 calf crop.

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.