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The Cow-Calf Manager Livestock Update, January 2008

15 February 2008

The Cow Calf Manager

By Dr. John B. Hall, Extension Beef Specialist, VA Tech. Livestock Update, January 2008.

Feeding Spring Calving Cows in Late Gestation This Winter

Over the past several months the VT Extension Beef Team dedicated several articles to dealing with the drought. These articles discuss strategies in dealing with drought and animal feeding options as well as culling decisions. Several producers and agents asked for a reminder on when these were published and the titles. These articles can be accessed at http://www.ext.vt.edu/news/ then click on Livestock Update.

More recently, I received several requests for example diets that limit hay but meet the nutritional needs of cows. Diets that use alternative feeds to allow limit feeding of hay are illustrated in Tables 1 & 2. Both tables indicate amounts of feed needed per cow per day during the 60-90 days before calving. Table 1 is for cows that need to maintain weight. Table 2 is for cows that need to gain weight or heifers about to have their first calf.

I am always concerned when I list recommended diets because not everyone’s situation or feeds are the same. These tables are for cows that weigh 1250 lbs. If your cows are a different size (probably bigger) then they need more feed. Also, the hay used in these diets is average 1st cutting fescue (50% TDN and 8.8% CP). Hay made in 2007 may be better, but unless you have it tested the nutrient content used is conservative.

Table 1. Limited Hay Diets to Maintain Weight and Body Condition in 1250 lbs. Mature Cows in Late Gestation
  Diet 1 Diet 2 Diet 3 Diet 4
Ingredient Pounds (as fed) per cow per day
Hay, Fescue 1st Cutting 10 10 10 10
Whole Shelled Corn 0 5 0 0
Corn Gluten Feed
OR  Soy Hulls
10 5 0 0
Wet Brewers Grains 0 0 50 0
Dried Distillers Grains 0 0 0 9

 Cows will neither gain nor lose weight on diets in Table 1 if weather conditions are normal to mild. If the winter turns very cold or during a short cold snap cows will lose weight on these diets if addition feed is not provided.

Table 2. Limited Hay Diets to Increase Weight and Body Condition in 1250 lbs. Mature Cows in Late Gestation
  Diet 1 Diet 2 Diet 3 Diet 4
Ingredient Pounds (as fed) per cow per day
Hay, Fescue 1st Cutting 10 10 10 10
Whole Shelled Corn 0 7 0 0
Corn Gluten Feed
OR  Soy Hulls
15 7 8 0
Wet Brewers Grains 0 0 35 0
Dried Distillers Grains 0 0 0 13

The diets in Table 2 are designed to allow cows to gain about 1 body condition score (85-100 lbs) in 60 days. This weight gain is in addition to the weight gain needed to produce a healthy calf. Many cows in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region need to gain weight before calving this year.

When using diets in either Table 1 or 2, producers should be aware of the following:

  • Because of the high phosphorus levels in these by-product feeds (except soyhulls), a mineral that is high in calcium as well as copper and selenium should be provided (See Dr. Wahlberg’s article on mineral supplements for high phosphorus diets in this issue).
  • Cows will still act hungry because they are not eating as many pounds of feed as they would like to eat. However, since they are getting enough energy and protein, they are not undernourished
  • Performance of cows eating these diets will vary with the actual nutrient content of your hay and by-products you are feeding. To be sure cows are getting enough nutrition, test your feeds then consult your Animal Science Extension agent or nutritionist.

Remember having cows calve in good body condition (BCS 5 or 6) is essential to a healthy calf and a cow that will rebreed quickly.

January 2008

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