Maintaining winter nutrition is critical

Published 4:39 pm Monday, January 12, 2009

One of the most difficult times of the year for maintaining proper nutrition in a cow herd is during late winter and early spring period.

During this period, air temperatures begin to warm and cool season weeds and grasses begin to grow. The problem with cool season grass at this time is the quality is very high but the quantity is very low. Additionally, producers are beginning to feed the tail-end of their hay supplies. These conditions make it especially difficult for most cows during this period that have calved or are about to calve to meet their nutritional demands and rebreed.

Research has shown that the conception rate and time of conception are related to nutritional health before and after calving.

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It is important to minimize the time period for rebreeding by providing the herd with adequate nutrition so the cows will be in moderate body condition at calving time.

If a producer has cows in different production stages because of a long breeding season, it becomes impossible to effectively and properly feed the cow herd. One group of cows will be overfed while another may be underfed. Underfeeding lowers conception rates and delays conception. Overfeeding creates fat cows and reduces productivity. Both conditions will result in increased cost to the producer.

Most of the time, cows will lose weight following calving. It’s desirable for cows to calve with some body reserves or extra condition, so rebreeding rates are not significantly affected.

The probability of cows rebreeding is greatly reduced if they continue to lose weight after calving. One of the most important goals for a cow-calf producer is for each cow in the herd to have a calf every 12 months. On average most cows have a gestation period of 280 to 290 days and to cycle and conceive on a 12-month calving interval must recover from calving in about 80 days.

Some management strategies that help cattle producers maximize profits include:

• Target a calving season that fits the available forage, supplements, marketing plan and management.

• Adjust stocking rate to ensure adequate forage during the stocking rate limiting months.

• Provide a good mineral-free choice all year.

• Cull open and poor producing cows.

• Group cattle by age and nutritional needs for part or all of the year. Groupings may include weaned heifers, first-calf heifers, young cows and mature cows.

• Test forage, especially hay, for nutritive value. Provide highest quality forage to animals with the greatest nutrient needs. Supplemental protein is often overfed where supplemental energy is underfed.

An important part of herd management during late winter and early spring involves meeting the cow herd’s nutritional needs. Meeting these nutritional needs during this time is critical for maintaining herd health, producing a good calf crop and increasing profits for the cattle producer.