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Winter hay

Oh, what a year it's been for beef producers

While there’s much to be said for cutting costs, cow nutrition may be an area to watch.

2019 was great year for much of America’s midsection. If you’re a duck.

That’s how I started a blog last September after traveling from Grand Island, Neb. to Bismarck, N.D. The amount of ruined hay, much of which was in round bales still in the field and sitting in several feet of water, was staggering.

The ducks, it seems, are still coming out ahead.

At this Thanksgiving season, we have much to be thankful for in the beef business. Family, friends, faith and the opportunity to make a living are just a few of the many things we have to be thankful for.

READ: Getting cow nutrition right from the start

But the reality is that this was a tough year for beef producers. Those of you in the middle of the volatility and weather extremes already know that. As I write this, I look out the window at 14 inches of snow and the storm headed for the part of cow country that needs it the least.

In a tough year, it’s essential to trim overhead. There’s much to be said for the financial benefits of roughing a cow through the winter. But research on fetal programming now shows us that such a management program can have negative effects on the calf. If it’s a heifer you keep for replacement, it can even affect her calf.

A common winter management approach is to rough the cows along until late in the pregnancy, then feed them up so they’re in good body condition at calving. It may be time to rethink that.

That’s because research shows that much of the important fetal development occurs in the first and second semester of pregnancy. Organ, muscle and immune function development all occur then. Restricting nutrition to the cow restricts nutrition to the fetus, which restricts the calf’s ability to fully express its genetic potential in these areas.

Beef Roundtable: Fetal programming: Fact or fiction?

So there’s one area where it might pay to spend a little money this winter. And that’s testing your hay and feeding more supplement if necessary.

Bottom line—there’s a lot of rained-on hay around. For those dealing with that, there are no good options. Feeding it won’t provide the nutrition that cattle need to get through the winter. Buying and trucking hay is expensive.

On the plus side, winter grazing should be good. But with all the rain, the grass is likely washy and will probably have less protein than average. So will any late-baled, more mature hay.

Read: Fetal programming studies show supplemtation pays

Either way, knowing what you’ve got from a nutritional perspective matters. As we know, cows in less-than-adequate body condition will have a harder time squeaking through winter, won’t be able to produce adequate colostrum and will produce a calf that has two strikes against it before its ever born.

Let’s hope the weather of 2019 is behind us. But perhaps it’s wise to be prepared to help your cows winter another hard one.

 

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