feeding cows

About the cover – Harsh winter weather conditions have been a challenge for both producers and cattle, as was the case during feeding time at the Jallo Ranch near Fordville, N.D. There are tips you can follow that will make your winter feeding a more profitable venture. 

With reports from several sale barns of an increased number of open cows being culled lately, it stresses how important the nutrition level is before calving and continuing that practice throughout the breeding season. The increased cull rate due to open cows was the first adverse sign of what has been a challenging year for feeding the cow herd, according to Karl Hoppe, Extension area specialist for livestock systems at the Carrington Research Extension Center.

For many, the summer of 2019 provided a good hay crop because of adequate moisture, however the frequent rainy periods made harvesting that good hay crop difficult, and in the northeastern part of the state the hay crop was very short due to a shortage of rain. This was further complicated during the fall months by excessive rain that resulted in many bales sitting in water or muddy field conditions, preventing the hay from being hauled from the fields.

And now, harsh winter weather has not only made feeding chores more difficult, but it has also covered the fields with deep snow drifts, further complicating the hauling process. Many are now hoping for warm weather early on this spring to get the grass growing in the pastures.

“The real question is: when is our spring going to warm up?” Hoppe said. “If we have a late spring like we did last year, with an April blizzard and not much grass growth in May, we might see the guys out there counting hay bales and wondering if they have enough feed.”

Hoppe shared some ways operators can either stretch that valuable roughage supply, if it is limited, or boost the nutritional level of the roughage is it is of poor quality. The first thing he advocates is finding a way to increase the protein being fed to the cows.

“That is the first place I would spend the money,” he said. “If the protein is too low in the hay, corn will actually reduce the hay’s digestibility. The question is: do I feed them some soybean meal or an ear of corn? And if they are on poor quality hay and you feed them corn, they actually lose weight, but if you give them soybean meal, they actually maintain or even gain weight. That would be on hay that is less than 7 percent crude protein.”

Although there are many grain co-products that are produced in the state that can help augment the feed supply, Hoppe is an advocate for distiller’s grain, which can boost not only the protein level of a ration, but the energy level, as well. Plus, it is readily consumed by the cattle.

He also suggests producers get their roughage tested if they haven’t done so already.

“Feed testing isn’t that difficult to do and it gives you a place where you are starting at in regards to your feed’s nutritional level,” he said. “If you need help figuring out what the results mean, you can contact your local Extension agent or feed nutritionist.”

Feeding a supplement to hay can be accomplished in several ways, Hope noted. Cubes or cow cake can be fed on the ground. Some producers use a hay shredder and put the grain, distiller’s meal or wheat midds on top of the shredded hay, or you can tub-grind the roughage and use a mixer wagon. Others, trying to hold down costs, will feed the hay in hay rings and feed the supplement in a feed bunk.

“Vitamin supplementation is very important this time of year. The cow is starting to use up the vitamin A she’s stored in her liver, unless you are feeding green, leafy forages. You may not be getting enough vitamin A into the cow,” he said. “Mineral supplementation is needed as well.”

Employing some of these feeding tips probably won’t make the task of feeding the cows in adverse weather any easier, but it can lead to better herd health, a vigorous calf and an improved bottom line in the check book.

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