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Winter feeding plan, Producers can use forage testing data to help curate a winter feed plan

Written by Saige

The implications of winter feeding programs reach far past the disappearance of snow and emergence of fresh spring grass. A properly planned, data backed winter feeding program can assist producers reduce cost and increase breeding viability. 

Wyoming State Beef Extension Specialist Steve Paisley who studies heifer development and feed management, prioritizes forage quality testing prior to winter feeding season. 

“If ranchers have the ability to quality test their forage before the winter they absolutely should,” says Paisley. “By doing this, ranchers can more accurately determine the nutritional needs of the herd so we know how much to feed throughout the winter.”

Paisley also notes it is very important for producers to have their feed nitrate tested to reduce possible instances of nitrate poisoning, which can decrease the body score and cause a number of other health issues in ruminants.  

Be proactive

Being proactive in planning for feeding in the winter will set up the next breeding season for success, says Paisley. 

“It is imperative for producers to monitor their cattle’s body condition scores. This is essentially a roadmap telling us how to feed cattle appropriately,” says Paisley. “It is also very beneficial to make a checklist of the types of feeds available and note their quality.” 

Paisley also stresses the importance of understanding herd dynamics and feeding appropriately. 

If we plan on feeding more than one type of feed throughout the winter it is in the best interest of the herd to alternate the days in which producers feed different types of feed or feeds of varying quality.

“Oftentimes, when feeding a low-and-high-quality feed together, more dominant cows in the herd will consume the high-quality feed first and leave only lower-quality feed for less dominant or younger cows in the herd,” says Paisley. “Alternating the days allows for cows to have more equal opportunity to consume high-quality feed.”

Future implications

An effective winter feeding program also lays the foundation for effective rebreeding in the spring, which is crucial for cow/calf operators. 

“A cow’s needs increase by 30 percent as she approaches calving and an additional 30 percent once she has the calf,” says Paisley. “It is important to maintain a cow’s body condition score because it is nearly impossible to put weight on them once they give birth.” 

Open winters, such as the one Wyoming is experiencing now, can be deceiving and should not be underestimated, says Paisley. 

“Waiting until the winter is in full swing to start feeding can be detrimental to cow’s body condition score as they enter spring breeding season,” says Paisley. “Even if there isn’t snow on the ground cows still aren’t getting the nutrients they need to nurse a calf, and they will go into the spring with a lower body condition score than what is ideal for rebreeding.” 

Paisley says, “The cost of having forages and feeds tested is ultimately justified by the money saved through a well-planned and data-backed feeding plan.”

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..