Cow-calf producers this winter face considerable challenges in cost-effectively feeding late-gestation cows, says South Dakota cow-calf field specialist Adele Harty, PhD. She offers the following checklist to help evaluate feed needs and develop the best winter rations for individual operations.

1. What are the primary forage sources?
2. Has that forage been tested for quality? If not, take representative samples for analysis.
3. What body condition are the cows in?
4. Does body condition need to increase or maintain?
5. What are the cows’ requirements based on body condition and stage of production?
6. Does the forage require additional nutrients, including protein, energy, minerals and vitamins, to meet requirements?
7. If yes, what feed options are available as sources of needed nutrients? Determine availability of alternatives, as well as feed-delivery equipment needs and availability.
8. Evaluate feedstuff options on a cost per unit of nutrient basis to determine the most economical option.
9. Select the option(s) that meets the cows’ requirements at the lowest cost for the operation.
10. Determine quantity needed and purchase additional feed.

Harty suggests working with your local or state Extension specialist to answer these questions. Rations will be ranch-specific; and it is vital to know the feed quality of your forage before selecting supplemental feeds, as forage quality has varied widely this year due to drought conditions. Samples of grass hay have ranged from 9.5 percent to 4.5 percent crude protein, Harty says, depending on when and how the hay was put up.