Winter Feeding & the Cow Calf Operation

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Winter Feeding & the Cow Calf Operation
Dan Shike, Beef Specialist - University of Illinois

Winter nutrition for the cow calf operation is key. Todd Gleason reports from Urbana, Illinois it may be the best opportunity to positively affect real income.

This was the message heard during the annual…
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This was the message heard during the annual Beef & Beyond conference. It was clear and concise. The winter feeding program at a cow calf operation separates profitable farms from less profitable operations. It depends a lot on stored feed says University of Illinois Beef Cattle Specialist Dan Shike.

Shike :12 …what’s the least cost approach.

Quote Summary - How much stored feed are they having to purchase and what is their winter feeding program. We would like to graze as many days as we can, but if we can’t graze we have to feed them something. What’s the least cost approach.

Least cost only works if the cows meet acceptable performance standards. These are to maintain appropriate body condition, to calve once a year, and to wean off as heavy a calf as possible, but there’s more.

Shike :43 …has lifelong impacts on the progeny.

Quote Summary - We’ve not given much consideration in the past to the fetus. We’ve focused on the cow. We’ve focused on the calf that is nursing on her, but she’s also been bred and has a developing fetus inside of her. So, the nutrition management of the cow impacts the development of the fetus. There is plenty of data from human epidemiological studies and other animal models that maternal nutrition, or nutrition during gestation, has lifelong impacts on the progeny.

The results with beef cattle are mixed in this area of study and varies from region to region mostly as it relates to available forages. This seems obvious, but the clear message is if the cows are in poor body condition and not being fed enough there is a great deal of risk to hurting the calf. Under winter feedlot conditions this means the properly managed cow produces a calf which eventually yields better marbling. Heifer calves kept for breeding benefit from good nutrition in the womb, too. They weigh more, mature earlier, and have better conception rates.

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Shike :61 …the appropriate nutrients to the fetus.

Quote Summary - All these benefits come later in life at a year or two of age. It was set when the fetus was 3 to 4 months of age during mid-to-late gestation. All because the cow was in good body condition. A condition score of 5 or 6. On the flip side, a short term restriction in nutrition of a cow already in good condition isn’t particularly harmful. If the cow is already thin, say a body condition score of 4 or less, you should anticipate you’re restricting the fetus. If she is in good condition, even if her nutrition is restricted, the cow will mobilize body reserves to supply the appropriate nutrients to the fetus.

The body condition score runs from one to nine with scores of five or six considered optimum. Scores of eight or nine are too fat, scores below four are too thin.