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Pump up the nutrition for bred cows

Temperatures dropped below zero today, and the last hint of green is diminishing from lawns and pastures. Now is a critical time to focus on cows’ nutrition.

For spring-calving herds, producers need to key in on the needs of the pregnant cows and the unborn calves. “Poor nutrition for pregnant cows reduces lifetime calf performance,” says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist. 

The body’s first need is to maintain its condition. With damp below-freezing temperatures here for a while, cows will expend more energy to stay warm. This time of year, feed should be adding fat to the cow (improving body condition) because once the calf is born, feed will be converted into milk. Added body condition improves breeding, quality of colostrum (the first milk), and antibodies passed to the calf.

Feeding options for this time of year include:

Stockpiled pasture

The first choice of winter feed is stockpiled pasture, fall growth left ungrazed from August until winter. However, the time has passed to properly prepare pastures to serve as a nutritional source of feed. In August, cattle should be removed from pastures and nitrogen applied so that pastures are replenished for winter feeding.

Cornfield residue

“In Missouri, cornfields offer our most underused cattle feed,” says Sexten. Ear corn dropped during harvest as well as leaves and the upper part of the stock provide nutrition, but additional supplement may be needed. Sexten adds that the important thing is to get the cattle into the cornfields because cornstalks deteriorate quickly.


Although more hay was baled in 2013 than during the 2012 drought, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the hay is good quality. Sexten reports that much of the hay is “mediocre to bad.” Rains during haying season caused hay to overmature, lowering the feeding value. 

Be sure to test hay right before feeding time to ensure accuracy, and supplement accordingly. “Hay tested early can lose quality by feeding time, especially if stored uncovered outdoors,” says Sexten. More often than not, energy is the key thing lacking for cows.

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Once the hay is tested, it should be sorted. The highest-quality hay needs to be fed to the highest-valued animals. At this time, that includes pregnant cows preparing for spring calving.

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