Due to the ongoing drought conditions, residual forage, soil moisture, hay production and 2013 grass growth continue to be severely limited in some areas. In order to reduce grazing pressure producers might consider limit-feeding cow-calf pairs in confinement. This can be a viable option, says University of Nebraska cow-calf range management specialist Karla Jenkins, PhD. But she says there are several management considerations that need to be addressed. Confinement options include a winter feed ground, pivot corners, crop ground or a feedlot. Each pair in confinement will need at least 350 to 400 square feet of space.

Each cow will need about 2 feet of bunk or feeding space while calves will need an additional 1 to 1 1/2 feet. If at all possible younger cows should be fed separately from mature cows to reduce competition.

Limit-feeding refers to providing a limited amount of a nutrient-dense feed. In other words, the pairs are not allowed free-choice intake but are given a lesser amount that will still meet their nutrient requirements. Mixing nutrient-dense byproducts such as distillers’ grains, sugar beet pulp, soy hulls or corn gluten feed with low-quality roughages or crop residues may be more economical than feeding larger amounts of medium-quality hay.

Energy is the key to making a limit-fed diet work. The energy density of the diet must be high enough to meet the needs of the cow when intake is cut back. Once a cow calves and begins lactation, her energy needs increase considerably. Additionally, she must rebreed within 83 days of calving to stay on a 365-day production cycle. A cow that only needs 11 Mcal of energy per day during late gestation will need 14 to 15 Mcal per day at peak lactation. It is also important to remember that nursing calves will eat about 1 percent of their bodyweight in forage dry matter. Additional feed may be added for the calves or a creep feeder could be provided for them as well.

Young calves in confinement must be able reach the water tank and the feed source. If water flow is restricted into the tank, cows can drink the tank down far enough that small calves cannot reach the water. Additionally, the tank may need to be banked with dirt to ensure calves can reach it. If drought is accompanied by extreme heat, confined calves may need a source of shade.