Commercial Agriculture Program
Tips for feeding the cow herd
By Dr. Justin Sexten, Beef Nutritionist
Cull open cows - Open cows are 488 days from generating revenue for the operation on the day they check open. If open cows breed back the calf must now cover two years of expenses
Pregnancy check cows early - Pregnancy diagnosis can be completed as early as 35 days after the last desired breeding date. Early pregnancy determination permits early culling and allows producers to "select" cows that will calve in the desired calving season without removing bull from pastures.
Narrow calving window - Nutrient requirements vary with stage of production. Energy requirements are greatest two months following calving. The energy requirements of cows in a 90 day calving window will be 25% different whereas 60 day calving season will vary by 17%. Narrower calving windows minimize over and under-feeding of cattle groups.
Prioritize nutrients - At weaning sort cows into two body condition score groups, heavy conditioned cows (six or better) and marginal conditioned cows (five or less). Marginal cattle may include older cows and 1st and 2nd calf heifers in addition to thinner mature cows. Focus nutrients to marginal cows to add condition. Consider feeding a heavy and marginal cow three pounds of supplement per head per day. Take the same amount of feed and feed four pounds to the marginal cow and two pounds to the heavy conditioned cow. Nutrient supply to the marginal cows increased by 33% and the feed bill did not change. Allowing marginal cows access to stockpiled forage first or higher quality hay are other methods to prioritize feed nutrients.
Test forages - Forage testing allows producers to determine forage quality relative to cattle needs. Tested forage can be accurately fed or supplemented to meet production requirements
Feed cows to calve at body condition score 5 or greater - Once cows begin lactating nutrients are preferentially used for milk production; estrus cycles resume once energy from feed, forage and body condition meet milk production requirements. Feeding cows to gain condition prior to calving provides body condition for energy use once the cow begins lactating.
Price feeds by limiting nutrient - After forage testing producers should determine nutrient (protein or energy) limiting production and price alternative forages or supplements relative to limiting nutrient.
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