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Ensure Sufficient Cow/Calf Nutrition While Grass is Dormant

There hasn’t been a whole lot of moisture in any form this winter, but a few rains this week may help grasses start to green up. However, some beef producers started their calving season 4-6 weeks ago. When there’s little or no grass, how do you ensure sufficient nutrition is being provided for both the lactating cow and the feeding calf?

Before we answer that question, let’s jump back a bit. When cows are in late gestation, their nutritional needs increase to support a growing calf. The energy requirement is fairly low at 9-11 lbs of total digestible nutrients (TDN) per day. But that’s not the only thing to consider. 

“Providing a protein supplement to late gestation cows grazing dormant range or fed low quality hay is usually sufficient to maintain cow performance. Supplying a protein source provides nitrogen to the microbes in the rumen and allows them to digest the low quality forage to provide the needed energy for the cow,” says Karla H. Jenkins, University of Nebraska-Lincoln range management specialist. “So providing 2 pounds per day of a 20-25% CP protein cube to cows grazing dormant native range would likely meet the needs of a 1200-pound cow in late gestation, provided the cow has access to as much grass as she can eat.”

Once the calf is born and the cow is lactating, these nutritional requirements change pretty drastically. The same 1200-pound cow can now require 14.5 to 16.5 TDN per day. Now, keep in mind that amount of milk produced, weather, and cow maintenance requirements can all play a factor in fluctuating that number.

Bump that 2 pounds of protein cube to 7 pounds? It would only amount to 14 pounds TDN. Not only is it lacking in protein, but there’s a good chance it won’t meet the spiking post-birthing energy requirements either. That is, unless you find a protein source that is also high in energy. 

Cue distillers grains. Fed at low levels, distillers grains are a great choice to meet protein needs. Higher levels of supplementation will help meet energy needs. As little as 5 pounds of dried distillers grains in addition to spring’s dormant grazing range would provide 15 pounds of TDN.

If you’re not in an area where distillers grains are readily available, there are other options to consider. 

“If producers fed high quality hay ad libitum that was at least 56% TDN and 12% crude protein it would supply 15 pounds of TDN per day,” Jenkins lays out. “All producers need to calculate the cost of their supplements on cost per unit of protein and cost per unit of energy basis to determine the most economical sources for their operation.”

To test the quality of you hay, forage, and supplement samples, submit them to a commercial lab. This will help producers determine the additional supplements that should be provided. 

To help you determine the nutritional requirements of your cows, Oklahoma State University has a document charting nutritional requirements of beef cattle through different life phases. 

Source: UNLBeefWatch

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