Calving Season: A critical time for optimal nutrition

Assess forage quality and body condition scores to determine nutritional status and needs of the cow herd.

Amanda Radke

March 3, 2021

3 Min Read

It’s calving season for ma.y producers, and with the recent cold weather, perhaps you’ve been burning the midnight oil. Constantly, checking for new calves and bringing them out of the elements into the barn.

If that’s your situation, I hope you’re subsisting on more than endless cups of coffee and candy bars, but today’s blog isn’t about rancher nutrition —it’s about gestating cows and their nutritional status.

We know that this time of year, pregnant cows are using a great deal of energy growing babies, staying warm and preparing to lactate once those calves hit the ground.

Now is not the time to skimp on the quality of forages and feedstuffs you’re offering your pregnant and lactating females.

Karla H. Wilke, a cow-calf systems and stocker management specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, offers some important reminders on this critical period for providing optimal nutrition to the cow herd.

Wilke writes, “Cows will enter peak lactation, the highest nutrient requirement time in their production cycle, 8 weeks after calving. Shortly after this, cows will need to rebreed to stay on a 365-day calving interval. Most early spring calving cows are not yet grazing green grass at peak lactation making it necessary to meet their nutrient demands with harvested forages and supplementation.

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“Sometimes producers make the mistake of assuming that increasing the protein supplementation previously fed during gestation will meet the needs of the now lactating cow.

“If a 1300-pound lactating cow is fed 30 pounds (as is basis) of medium quality hay (52% TDN) and provided a protein lick tub with limited consumption of 1 pound (as is ) per day, then this cow will fall short of both protein and energy required for lactation. Feeding 30 pounds (as is basis) of that same hay with 5 pounds (as is) of a 30% protein cube would meet the protein requirement, but fall just short of the energy requirement. This will likely result in some loss of body condition prior to turning out on green grass. For a cow in a body condition score (BCS) 6 (1-9 scale), this will likely not have a major impact on her ability to rebreed within 83 days of calving. It can be detrimental for a cow in a BCS 4.

“Producers will want to keep an especially watchful eye on the BCS of first-time calf heifers as they have a smaller rumen than a mature cow, and therefore cannot eat as much and likely will need a more nutrient dense diet. Additionally, they have a requirement for growth on top of lactation, which can make rebreeding a challenge. Having heifers in a BCS 6 at calving can help alleviate some of the challenges associated with lactation.

Related:COVID & calving — start your preparations ASAP

“Because feed resources have likely been tight this winter, now is a good time to assess BCS of the cows and send feed samples to a commercial laboratory for nutrient analysis. This will help producers be better prepared to feed a diet during calving that will prevent BCS loss in cows that may not have excess BCS to give this year.”

To read the entire article or for information on how to measure BCS in your cows, click here.

Is there anything extra you do this time of year to ensure your gestating and lactating cows are performing at their best levels? Share your tips below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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