Winter cattle

For cow-calf producers, autumn is a great chance to start storing feed and making plans to get spring-calving cows into good enough shape to handle whatever winter has in store.

The approach of autumn signals not only a change in color, but sounds a distant alarm that a surly and snarling Old Man Winter will soon be here.

For cow-calf producers, autumn is a great chance to start storing feed and making plans to get spring-calving cows into good enough shape to handle whatever winter has in store.

A good start would be weaning calves early, says Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in Vinton.

“You substantially reduce that cow’s nutrient requirements when you wean her calf,” she says. “It’s also going to allow you to stretch that pasture a little bit more before you turn cows out on corn stalks. It also allows those pastures to catch up and be in better shape before winter.”

Schwab says it is important for cows to be in adequate body condition prior to winter. She recommends a body condition score between 5.5 and 6.5. Second- calf heifers should lean more toward the higher number.

“Most pastures should still be adequate for energy and protein, provided the intake is high enough,” Schwab says. “If you are short, you may need to supplement them with more forage.”

She says poor-quality forage will need to be supplemented so cows are meeting energy and protein requirements. Producers could use last year’s corn silage or distillers to boost nutrient levels.

Fall would be a good time to test feed quality and inventory supplies, says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University.

“You want to make sure you can develop a ration that gets cows the feed they need. You don’t want to overfeed them,” she says, adding overfeeding could cause issues with dystocia.

Walker suggests producers coddle heifers pregnant with their first calf.

“If you have the space it might be good to sort them off because they are still growing and maturing,” she says. “Those heifers are going to need more protein and energy than the older cows. You really want those heifers to have a high-quality diet.”

Walker says testing hay may be more important this year, given the unusual weather pattern through the Midwest.

“It’s been an odd year for hay growth, so you want to test it,” she says. “If you chop silage, make sure it’s fermented and test it about four weeks out from feeding it.”

Schwab says a rough spring has resulted in later than usual corn planting dates. That could make green chop a good option, she said.

“If you do that, you want to chop fresh each day and feed that, but be careful to limit intake,” Schwab says. “You don’t see it often any more, but it could be a good option this year.”

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.