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With extreme spring weather, cows in early lactation may need supplementation

trends in cowcalf production in past 50 years
Whether it’s not enough moisture or too much, cows in early lactation may need supplementation to make up for poor forage conditions.

Source: Iowa State University

In the northern parts of cow country, a long and prolonged winter, capped by the Xanto blizzard, has made life difficult for both cattle and cattle producers. Ditto for the Southern Plains and the Southwest, but for the opposite reason. There, the drought monitor shows drought—in parts of the region, it’s been six months or more since any measurable rain has fallen.

Until someone figures out how to make those two extremes meet in the middle, beef producers are looking at the need for feed.

Prolonged winter weather has limited forage growth in a number of states thus far this season, which means many producers are still feeding cows. Iowa State University beef specialist Chris Clark reminds producers of the importance of feeding cows appropriately this spring. Nutritional requirements are significantly greater during lactation and it is critical for producers to adjust rations appropriately.

“Energy and protein requirements are significantly greater during lactation. Many spring calves have been born but because of the weather, pastures are not yet growing well,” Clark said.  “It is important to realize that whether they're in a lot setting or already on pasture, cows need to be fed well enough to support early lactation.”

Typical winter diets, balanced for gestational requirements, may not offer enough energy and protein to meet requirements of early lactation. Producers may need to supplement with some type of concentrate or at least strive to use high quality hay.

“To help cows milk well and maintain condition, we need to feed them well as we are waiting for the grass to grow,” Clark says.  “They really need some good hay and in many cases some 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 season, hay inventories may be running pretty low.”

Corn co-products are low-starch feeds that are very compatible with forage-based diets, and Clark said distillers grains 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.

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