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Cow nutrition discussed

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension Educator Troy Walz shares insights for feeding cows during late gestation and early lactation during a UNL Beefwatch webinar, dated Jan. 26. These insights include beef cow and heifer nutritional requirements, periods of high and low nutritional demands, ranch resources, body condition of cows and corresponding effects to the calf. 

Nutritional changes

                  “Nutrition during late gestation, generally the last 60-90 days of gestation, plays a very large role on the future of the calf as well as the dam,” says Walz.

                  The pre-calving period will impact the calf’s survivability, long-term health and overall production, according to Walz. Additionally, the future breeding and reproductive performance of the cow will also be affected during this time in relation to how the cow is managed and fed.

                  “It is also important to note during the last three months of pregnancy, 70 percent of fetal growth occurs,” says Walz. “There’s a lot of nutrient requirements going to this growth.”

                  Walz points out 60 days after a calf is born is when a cow has her highest energy requirements, and it is when she is producing the most amount of milk. 

                  “Also, important to note, this peak milk production coincides with the beginning of the breeding season,” says Walz. “After a cow calves, she starts producing milk – the highest milk production in her cycle – and she’s also recovering from calving and getting ready for breeding. We are asking quite a bit of this cow.”

Importance of BCS

                  Setting goals for winter feeding or pre-calving will help producers reach the body condition score (BCS) needed during calving, shares Walz.

                  “BCS is based on a nine-point scale, from one being really thin to nine being really fat,” says Walz. “The benefit of body condition scoring is it’s free. A producer can do it anytime they look at their cows, and it can be a tool they use in overall production of their herd.”

                  Walz says to look at the fat around the tailhead, pins, hooks, back, ribs and brisket to determine BCS. Mature cattle should be at a BCS of around five at calving. 

                  A study from Perdue University showed a lower BCS correlates to a higher average postpartum interval or the interval from calving to first heat or estrus after calving.

                  “If a producer is managing their cattle to be skinnier at calving, it’s going to take them a lot longer to get rebred,” says Walz.

                  Lower body condition scores in cattle can also lead to lower levels of immunoglobulin (IgG) in colostrum for the calf which can result in greater risk of death, sickness and lower expected weaning weight, he adds.

Nutrition considerations

                   When it comes to ranch resources, Walz notes four important aspects – the forage resources available to producers on the ranch, the genetics of animals unique to individual ranches, the unique cattle management philosophy and the economic situation of the ranch.  

Walz encourages producers to test their forage, store forages in a way to reduce nutrient loss and match the forage quality with the nutrient needs of the cattle.

                  When it comes to supplements, the type, amount and price are all things to consider, shares Walz.

                  “Producers need to think about what they can’t afford not to do,” says Walz.

                  Katie Shockley is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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