Feeding cows is a large expense and winter feed costs account for greater than half the variation in profitability between cow-calf producers. Nutrition of the breeding female is perhaps the most important aspect of beef production. We focus a great deal of effort on managing grass and forage availability all through the growing season. Drought years pose a special challenge of trying to maintain herd numbers while decreasing metabolic demands. Summer brings haying and producers spend a great deal of time and money making diesel doughnuts. It is a continuous circle putting the random swords of grass and legumes in neat little rolls and bales only to be scientifically allotted and again scattered before the hungry mouths in the cold months that follow. The most critical time to manage cow nutrition is from 60 days prior to calving through breeding.
In our practice in western South Dakota, we tell producers the body condition score at calving determines the rebreeding success and income for the next year. This is the last chance to make sure your cows are on the correct plane of nutrition. At this point cows should be in a condition score 5 to 6. The onset of lactation will create a huge swing in metabolic demands on the cow and especially the two-year-old heifer. Heifers are still growing which further increases their nutritional needs. A 285-day gestation only leaves an 80 day period for females to rebreed in order to calve on a yearly basis. Peak energy demand occurs with peak lactation, approximately 60 days after calving. Range females calving in poor condition have limited success breeding in a timely manner. Successful early breeding requires the dating divas to be in a positive energy balance.
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