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Strategic planningEarly winter supplementation optimal for improving body condition

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Snowy and blustery storm fronts moving in hint at the upcoming arrival of winter to Wyoming.

As cattle producers make seasonal preparations, University of Wyoming (UW) Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley encourages them to consider their fall and winter supplementation programs to optimize both cow and fetal performance.

“If we can strategically supplement that cow and get her up to an optimal body condition going into calving, it’s much easier to do it in the fall and early winter than it is to add weight to a cow that is producing milk,” stresses Paisley.

Body condition

Supplementation programs vary throughout the year depending on forage quality and stage of production, says Paisley.

“The quality of our base forage is going to determine what type of supplement we need,” he explains. “The other part is what stage of production our cows are in.”

Determining when to begin supplementing is largely influenced by body condition of cattle.

“It starts by evaluating our cows and deciding the current condition of our cows,” continues Paisley.

The goal is to have mature cows at a body condition score of five as they enter calving season.

“They may need to gain weight to get them to a body condition score of five, and that will affect what supplement we use,” explains Paisley.

He also advises that producers evaluate the quality of the forage they are feeding to determine if body condition goals can be met with it.

“Then we can combine the data from the grass and hay and then determine what kind of production we need out of our cows,” continues Paisley.


During late fall, most cows are in the middle third of gestation, explains Paisley.

“Their energy requirements are relatively low, and they’ve got plenty of forage out there, so typically we supplement with a high protein supplement during this time of year because winter quality grasses or winter forage are relatively low in protein,” says Paisley.

Winter forages average four percent protein. In order to adequately digest forage, he notes that the diet needs to be approximately seven percent protein.

Protein supplementation in the winter is beneficial for two reasons, says Paisley.

First, protein supplementation improves the digestibility of winter forages.

“The rumen microbes are able to break down the forage and get more utilization of the grass that’s out there,” he comments.

Paisley also explains that protein supplementation increases forage intake.

“They’re breaking down grass faster in the rumen, and it moves through their system faster they’re able to eat more, plus, protein has a little bit of a hormonal influence that actually increases intake on its own,” says Paisley.

As cattle move closer to calving, Paisley notes that the diet transitioned to an energy supplement and harvested forages are primarily fed.

“Their energy requirements have gone up quite a bit and the overall protein value of the forage increases because it’s harvested. Now, the cows are needing energy,” he says.


If possible, Paisley suggests that producers sort cattle into groups based on their body condition.

“Sort our cows into groups, where we have a group that is in good condition and they probably don’t need as much supplement versus thinner cows that need some more supplement,” he says. “If a producer has the ability to sort those cows and then tailor a program to each of those groups, that’s the best scenario.”

Paisley notes that if all animals are in the same group, producers will feed to increase the body condition of the thinnest animals.

“Maybe not all of them need to gain weight, so sorting them into groups may reduce our overall supplement cost,” continues Paisley.

In general terms, the approach in developing a winter supplementation program is the same for producers across Wyoming.

“If we’re grazing a dormant grass or winter forage, they’re all going to be relatively low in protein and energy,” he explains. “Typically, we’re going to supplement protein in the fall and early winter, then include more energy as the cow’s requirements increase in late winter and spring.”

However, Paisley comments that some areas of the state are able to utilize crop residues, which will alter available nutrients slightly.

“For example, if we’re in southeastern Wyoming, we may utilizing corn stalks or corn residue. It’s going to be tailored a little bit to the quality and the type of forage that we have,” concludes Paisley.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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