Prolonged winter weather has limited forage growth thus far this spring, which means many farmers are still feeding hay to cows. Pastures aren’t growing like they usually do in early spring.
Iowa State University Extension beef specialist Chris Clark reminds cow-calf producers of the importance of feeding cows appropriately this spring. Nutritional requirements are significantly greater during lactation, and it is critical to adjust rations appropriately.
“Energy and protein requirements are significantly greater during lactation. Many spring calves have already been born, but because of the weather, pastures are not yet growing very well,” Clark notes. “It’s important to realize that whether they're in a cow-lot setting or already on pasture, cows need to be fed well enough to support early lactation.”
Feed supplement or quality hay
Typical winter diets, although balanced for gestational requirements, may not offer enough energy and protein to meet the requirements of early lactation. You may need to supplement with some type of concentrate or at least strive to use high-quality hay.
“To help cows provide a good supply of milk for the calves and yet maintain the cows’ body condition, we need to feed them well, as we are waiting for the grass to grow,” Clark says. “Cows really need some good hay to eat, and in many cases, additional supplementation to keep them on a good plane of nutrition. The challenge is that not everyone has a good handle on the quality of their hay. Plus, at this point in the spring season, hay inventories may be running pretty low.”
Use distillers grain to stretch hay
Corn coproducts are low-starch feeds that are very compatible with forage-based diets, and Clark says distillers grain can work well to supplement and stretch hay supplies. Other feeds such as soybean hulls, corn and corn silage also can be used for supplementation. Whatever feed is used, supplements must be fed appropriately to optimize rumen function, digestibility and animal health.
The Iowa Beef Center website has numerous resources available on beef cow nutrition, forages and many other topics. ISU Extension beef specialists are also available to answer questions and help with feeding and supplementation decisions. Contact Clark or your regional beef specialist for assistance.
Source: Iowa State University