Rules of Thumb for Winter Feeding

By: James B. Neel

“Rules of thumb” can be helpful in planning winter feeding programs for cow-calf
herds. Following are a few that might be useful.

How much hay does a cow need each day? Mature beef cows with an average body
condition score (BCS of 5) should eat about 25-30 pounds of average quality, dry hay or its
equivalent per day to get her required energy needs.

If hay supply is limited and there is the need to substitute grain for hay,
approximately 5 pounds of corn can replace 9 pounds of hay.

If substituting corn for hay, cows should be fed at least 1 pound of hay per 100
pounds of body weight. The balance of the energy can come from corn or other grain.

If feeding average to low quality hay, be sure that adequate protein is available and
should come from a plant protein such as cottonseed meal or soybean meal. Inadequate
protein will cause the cattle to consume less feed than desired. Digestibility of lower quality
hay will be reduced if protein is inadequate.

Young cattle, replacement heifers and stockers need a ration that contains at least 12
percent crude protein.

Water consumption is critical during the winter. Mature cows need 10 to 15 gallons
of water per day, bred heifers, 7 to 8 gallons per day. The bottom line is that all classes of
cattle need about 1 gallon of water per hundred pounds of body weight.