BeefTalk: Feed Those Cows the Right Amount of Feed

By Kris Ringwall, Beef Specialist

With the temporary letup from the harshness of winter weather, cow-calf
producers are breathing a sigh of relief. The arctic cold is held at bay and the
world seems to go a little better.

However, the cows still need to be fed. In fact, a common mistake that is made
as the weather warms is to reduce the feed a little bit. In reality, yes, that
extra feed for body heat may not be needed, but every day that a cow gets closer
to birth, the more demanding the pregnancy becomes.

The calf is gaining weight and putting extra demands on the cow regardless of
the weather. In fact, I doubt that the calf even knows how cold the outside
world is, at least not until that moment of exposure at birth. Somehow that drop
from the cow’s body temperature to the environmental temperature should jump-
start any system.

Nevertheless, the cows need to be fed and there is no other option. Some
producers prefer to calve early and some late, but most pick spring to calve and
keep their fingers crossed with the hope that Mother Nature sends good sunshine
and rain instead of heartbreaking storms.

As we all know, there is a cattle management system for every producer and the
producer needs to be comfortable with whatever system is utilized. What is even
more important is that every system still must feed the cow. Perhaps if as much
time was spent discussing the nutrient requirements of beef as the merits of
different systems, all the cows would be better off.

When a producer visits with his or her nutritionist, four questions come to mind
quickly: How much do the cows weigh and milk so the nutritionist can calculate
how much feed the producer needs to feed each cow? How is the environment
affecting the feed requirements of the cattle? What stage of production are the
cattle in? What do you have for feed?

It really does not make any difference as to what management system the producer
has developed. What is more important is that the producer be able to answer the
questions factually so that the nutritionist can calculate a ration or feeding
plan correctly.

The nutritionist will take into consideration the cows, environment, stage of
production, feeds available and the nutritional analysis of those feeds when the
ration is formulated. Getting the correct answers is critical.

For example, let’s take the very first question: How big are the cows? When I
visited with Greg Lardy, Animal Sciences Department head and professor at North
Dakota State University, he shared some calculations that help show the amount
of feed that a cow would need at a given environment (5 degrees F and no mud), a
given milk production (17.6 pounds of peak milk during lactation), a given stage
of production (cow in the last two-thirds of pregnancy) and given feed resource
(55 percent total digestible nutrients forage).
Lardy calculated the dry-matter intake for every 100 pounds of cow weighing from
1,000 to 2,000 pounds. The 1,000-pound cow required 26.5 pounds of dry matter
per day, while the 2,000- pound cow required 42.2 pounds of dry matter per day.

Obviously, the larger cow needs not only a fork or two more hay, but it needs
15.7 pounds more dry matter than the smaller cow. This is not good or bad. It
simply is a biological need. Likewise, the smaller cow will waste the feed that
is provided in addition to what she needs, so know your cows and how much they
need to eat.

If we use Lardy’s experience in beef cattle nutrition and accept his
assumptions, the 1,000-pound cow needs 26.5 pounds of dry-matter forage daily.
Here are the other daily dry matter needs for different weight cows:

* 1,100-pound cow needs 28.2 pounds of dry matter
* 1,200-pound cow needs 29.9 pounds of dry matter
* 1,300-pound cow needs 31.5 pounds of dry matter
* 1,400-pound cow needs 33.1 pounds of dry matter
* 1,500-pound cow needs 34.7 pounds of dry matter
* 1,600-pound cow needs 36.2 pounds of dry matter
* 1,700-pound cow needs 37.8 pounds of dry matter
* 1,800-pound cow needs 39.3 pounds of dry matter
* 1,900-pound cow needs 40.7 pounds of dry matter
* 2,000-pound cow needs 42.2 pounds of dry matter

Again, this is simply an example to illustrate how the amount of feed a cow
needs various considerably by body weight. Other factors also influence the
amount of dry-matter forage a cow needs to consume daily.

Now is not the time to misjudge cow nutrition. When you visit with the
nutritionist, make sure you adjust the cow feeding for your environment, cow
size, expected milk production and cows at calving time. Have a good feed
analysis in hand and be able to describe your feeding system so appropriate feed
wastage can be factored in.

May you find all your ear tags.