Will My Livestock Make It Through the Winter?

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Do you have enough winter feed in the form of hay or other sources to carry your livestock through a cold, harsh winter? After a late summer drought that has extended well into fall, the availability of pasture forages is declining. I have heard several reports of folks already feeding hay. Although this article will focus specifically on cattle, the principles may be applied across many species to help you recognize the difference in your animals.

Just as we as humans have different nutritional requirements, it is important for us to realize that our cattle are different from each other, which makes them have different nutritional requirements. If you have 50 cows on a tight calving season, selling every calf at weaning, your winter feeding management may be easier than someone who has 50 cows and sells pre-conditioned calves, replacement heifers, breeding bulls, and freezer beef.

Animals’ nutritional requirements are based on their stage of production. Young calves are in the “growing” stage because they are actively growing. They are gaining muscle mass and bone mass and require the highest level of nutrition. Weaned calves and replacements are next in line as they are continuing to grow and add muscle and bone mass. Their level of nutrition is similar to the young calves, but at a higher intake rate due to their body size.

Bred heifers and 2-year old cows are grouped in the “breeding” stage of production with younger animals needing a little higher quality nutrition. The bred heifers are still growing themselves, in addition to growing a calf inside while the 2-year old cows are just trying to maintain their body condition while growing a calf inside. The 2-year old cow may have a little higher intake, but does not require as high quality as the bred heifer.

Lactating cows fall into the next category. These animals are also grouped according to age as well as milking ability. Of course the first calf heifers and 2-year old cows require a higher level of nutrition than the mature cows, but will have a much lower intake rate. If we analyze the mature cows, a cow that has superior milking ability will require slightly higher level of nutrition than one with average milking ability, while their intake level will be dramatically higher than the heifers and 2-year olds. This intake level, of course, depends on the mature size of your cows.

The last stage of production encompasses everything else on your farm – mature cows in the last third of gestation and mature bulls. These animals are basically at a maintenance level and require lower quality feeds, but at a higher intake rate due to their overall size.

Keeping all of this in mind, it is important to know which animals need our best hay and who can get by on the lower quality hay when we begin to feed our winter hay supplies. As stated above, the class of your cattle will determine who gets the best feed.

A forage test is essential in making cost-effective feeding decisions. The nutrient content of hay on most farms varies. A forage test provides an indication of the quality

(nutrient density) of hay and allows the producer to formulate and feed balanced rations. Producers should test hay (each cutting) every year for crude protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN). These tests are available through the NCDA&CS for a $10 fee.

In order to estimate your feed supplies on hand, you must know how many pounds of hay you have on hand (realistic estimate), how much standing forage (pasture) you have available to graze, and any other types of feed you may have available such as by-products, grain, or crop residues. By taking an inventory of feed supplies and hand and knowing your animals’ requirements, you will know if you have enough feed or if you have a shortage. If a shortage occurs, you either have to sell animals or buy feed. That is a management decision that you will need to make and will be easier to make now than when you are about to run out. Hay will also be more available now than in February.

If you need assistance in determining if you have enough feed on hand, winter feeding management practices to stretch feed supplies, or forage sampling, don’t hesitate to give me Jeff Bradley a call at 287-6010.