Protecting cattle pregnancies

Experts weigh in as producers look to safeguard next year’s calves in the face of short feed

The next few months of feeding are critical to ensuring pregnancies survive the winter.

Open rates are up in areas worst hit by Manitoba’s feed shortage. Now farmers must focus on protecting what they’ve got.

Why it matters: Ranchers may already face a smaller calf crop next year after poor forage has yielded higher open rates, but the winter is far from over and short feed now might still translate into plenty of woes come calving.

Some of that protection traces back to years of management, Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal of Ashern said. She urged producers to preg check annually to keep reproductive levels high in the herd. Producers are also doing themselves no favours by keeping the bull out longer in an average year, she argued. Farmers with a normally short calving season and high fertility due to regular culls have more resiliencies in a year like this, she advised, while bulls should also be regularly tested.

“They definitely need to be testing their feed this year,” she also said. “They need to be getting minerals specially formulated so that they’re meeting the mineral requirements, because we know the hay this year is garbage.”

Farmers who aren’t properly supplementing minerals should expect a wreck this spring, she said. Calves may be weak or more vulnerable to illnesses like scours or pneumonia.

Art Jonasson, reeve of the Municipality of West-Interlake, says poor feed has already been flagged in his area. Native hay has tested low in protein, he said, something he attributes to the amount cut from the bottom of dried sloughs and other low-quality areas, as ranchers looked for every bit of possible feed.

At the same time, he noted, some possible feed supplements have come with their own issues.

“There’s some concern with ergot in some of the grains and pellets that you would be getting and that could cause some abortions, but most guys, they’ve made their plans,” Jonasson said. “Some of them are selling down. Some guys have moved their cattle to a feedlot to feed for a portion of the winter and some people are going to buy concentrates and try and bring them through the winter with concentrates and rough feed.”

Provincial extension staff highlighted both screening pellet quality concerns and mineral ration worries during a series of workshops this fall, organized in light of the expected feed shortage.

Provincial livestock specialist Tim Clarke urged producers to test their screening pellets to ensure both quality and nutritive content during one such workshop.

The same workshop warned that oilseed screening pellets should make up no more than 10 to 15 per cent of a ration, due to high fat content, while molasses may increase uptake of straw, but will do very little in terms of nutrition.

Provincial livestock specialist Shawn Cabak also warned producers to watch their mineral ration if cows are eating a lot of straw, grain or annuals. Those diets are low in calcium, he warned, and will require a 2:1, rather than the normal 1:1, mineral ration.

For those relying on additives, Cabak also warned them to check the label.

“It’s always important when we’re looking at different mineral options to read the label,” Cabak told the Manitoba Co-operator at the time. “Minerals are not created equally, whether it’s a 1:1 or 2:1. The macro and the micro mineral levels vary, so it’s important that you maximize the minerals that you’re getting for what you’re paying.”

The series of workshops also covered practices like ammonizing roughage (something that can significantly increase digestibility and protein, but also comes with safety considerations and cost), injecting liquid feed supplements to bales (something that may create uneven levels through the bale), or feed products like dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS).

About the author


Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.



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