Cattle producers who want to ensure a healthy, productive calving season might want to consider testing the nutritional values of forage supplies, an Ohio State University Extension beef expert says.
Feeding poor-quality forages to cows in the late-gestation or early lactation period can reduce body condition scores and, ultimately, conception rates in the following breeding season, said John Grimes, beef coordinator for OSU Extension.
If producers find they have poor-quality forages, they might want to supplement the feed with higher-quality corn for those cows -particularly with first-calf heifers, he said.
“In nearly every cow-calf operation, harvested forages are the primary diet component of winter rations, but we typically know less about those forages than any other feed and health products consumed by the herd,” Grimes said. “It’s easy to over-value hay that looks good in the bale while we may have forgotten how mature it was when it was packaged.”
The issue is even more significant this year, considering that the drought of 2012 was one of the worst on record in the eastern Corn Belt, leaving many livestock producers hard-hit in their pastures and forages.
“The drought caused shorter supplies, so there may be some less-desirable hay,” Grimes said. “So if your hay isn’t good enough - you test it and it is nutritionally inferior - you may have to supplement with byproduct feed or corn. Poor-quality hay cannot be improved by feeding more poor-quality hay.”
Instead, producers might need to balance rations with corn or grain byproducts to meet the needs of mature or growing females under production stress.
“For a cow to calve every year, which producers need in order to pay the bills, the cow needs to rebreed within 90 days of calving, so you need to ensure that females receive feeds that are high in quality and adequate in volume. Producers need to consider when their calving season is, how that relates to the feed they have and how they will distribute that feed.”
To ensure a more successful, healthy and productive calving, cows need to maintain adequate body condition scores during critical production times.
“If you feed lower-quality feed to cows in the late-gestation or early lactation period, they will regress and lose body condition,” 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.