Quality winter feed will promote a more successful calving season, says expert

For strong cows at calving time, MAFRD livestock expert says to focus on the 
content of winter feed and keep your eye on the thermometer

Having profitable calves next fall starts with not shortchanging their mothers now, a livestock extension specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives says.

“Based on research conducted by the Western Beef Development Centre, reproduction is five times more important than growth rate and 10 times more important than carcass quality when it comes to profit,” said Tim Clarke, livestock extension specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD).

Clarke spoke about feeder rations in cow-calf operations during a recent Stock Talk webinar produced by MAFRD.

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“Thin or underfed cows are only half as productive as cows in optimal condition and thin cows at calving can negatively affect weaning weights, breeding potential, overall herd performance and profit,” said Clarke. “Another thing is that having higher-quality colostrum just after birth will produce a healthier calf beyond weaning.”

Clarke recommends testing rations to be able to evaluate the energy and protein levels, as well as the mineral content, specifically calcium and phosphorus levels.

“Most silage has enough energy for our cows, however, we often need to provide additional energy and protein to our young stock,” he said.

Clarke also recommends keeping an eye on the thermometer, as cattle require more energy intake as temperatures drop.

“Normally in the winter, we target feed consumption at 2.5 per cent of body weight, per day, per cow,” said Clarke. “But, for every 10° below -20 the nutritional requirements should be increased by 15 per cent or by 6.5 pounds of hay per day or 4.5 pounds of grain per day.”

However, he says it is important to know your ration contents as feeding a lot of native hay or straw can also affect the cow’s degradable intake protein.

“Beef cows can only consume 1.8 per cent of body weight per day of wheat straw due to low digestibility. If you are going to feed a lot of native hay or straw it is a good idea to mix in a bit of alfalfa,” said Clarke, who recommends about seven pounds of alfalfa every second day to keep the rumen operating effectively.

Clarke also suggests that producers consider adding corn into the mix.

“Cattle can consume up to 2.7 per cent of corn silage because digestibility is high. And if we look at the energy and protein provided by corn, in most cases it meets the nutritional requirements of our cows through the winter regardless of what stage they are in, lactation or pregnancy,” he said.

For more information on evaluating rations Clarke suggests visiting your local GO office where feed test probes and resources for lab testing are available.

About the author

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Jennifer Paige

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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