5 factors affecting winter supplementation in beef cattle

December 14, 2015

3 Min Read
5 factors affecting winter supplementation in beef cattle

In South Dakota, we’ve been experiencing a mild December so far. With little snow cover, our cattle are still grazing on corn stalks, and aside from a few mild winter storms, we haven’t had to feed too much hay as of yet. Aside from keeping waterers chopped out, we’ve just had to worry about offering lick tubs as supplemental nutrition.

I realize that the weather can change on a dime, and as soon as a major blizzard hits or the typical South Dakota winter chill sets in, we will soon need to feed more hay and increase our supplementation of the cow herd, particularly as they enter late gestation.

When cattle get wet from snow and are exposed to colder temperatures and bitter winter winds, energy requirements increase in the beef herd. There are many factors that impact the type and amount of energy cattle may require, including these five critical factors:

1. Forage quantity

According to Steve Hammack and Ron Gill, Texas A&M University Extension beef cattle specialists, “The amount of available forage obviously affects the need for supplemental feed. If grazing or hay will be limited, take immediate action. Reduce the number of animals in order to lessen the need for supplemental feeding of the remaining cows. As forage supply declines, the opportunity for animals to selectively graze decreases, and so does diet quality. Then, supplementation may become necessary even if animal numbers are reduced.”

2. Forage quality

“Poor quality forage has less than 6-7% crude protein (CP) and is low in digestibility, with less than 50% total digestible nutrients (TDN),” say Hammack and Gill. “These deficiencies limit the amount of such forage that an animal can eat. Because both consumption and nutrient content of poor quality forage are low, supplemental needs are high. The amount a cow can eat in a day ranges from as little as 1.5% of body weight for very low quality forage to near 3.0% for very high quality forage. The typical amount is 2.0-2.5%.”

3. Body condition

Hammack and Gill write, “The level of body condition (amount of fat) affects supplemental requirements. Low body condition markedly increases the need for supplemental nutrients, and meeting such needs often is cost prohibitive. Moderate body condition significantly reduces or eliminates the need for supplements. Fleshy cows generally need little if any supplement and the daily amount of forage required often can be reduced. If forage consumption is not reduced, higher production is possible or reserves of stored body energy can be maintained.”

4. Milking level

“Higher milking cows can consume somewhat more forage, but not enough to com- pletely satisfy extra needs,” say Hammack and Gill. “When forage quality is inadequate, higher milking cows need more supplement; from 50% to 100% more may be required for high versus low milk production in cows of the same body size.”

5. Age

“Young animals are still growing and require extra nutrients, but their body size is not as large as mature animals,” they write. “Because of their smaller body size, growing heifers cannot consume as much forage as mature cows. For these reasons, young females require higher quality diets than mature cows and often require more and different supplements.”

In an article for Texas AgriLife Extension, Hammack and Gill explain the various supplementation options and how to calculate how much is needed based off the above factors. Read the entire article here.  

What are your strategies for supplementing your herd during the winter months? Share your management practices in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.


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