Farm Talk

November 19, 2013

Watch winter cow condition


Parsons, Kansas — Winter is a time of increased vigilance for  livestock producers, according to Tom Troxel, animal scientist at the University of Arkansas.

“One climate model is projecting winter to be warmer and wetter than normal,” Troxel said. “If predictions are wrong and the weather turns cold and wet, it can compound dangers to cattle, and producers need to keep a closer eye on herds.”  

Cattle are in rather good body condition due to good rainfall and excellent growing conditions in 2013, but hay quality may be disappointing so cattle producers need to monitor body condition carefully as spring calving approaches.

“Calving increases nutritional demand on the cow’s system,” Troxel said. “For example, as a cow calves and begins to lactate, her energy requirements increase by 36 percent; her protein requirements increase by 62 percent and dry matter requirements increase by 17 percent. As weather becomes colder and wetter, this also adds nutritional demands on the cow’s system.”

To meet that demand, cows need more calories, protein and roughage.

“With much of the state receiving rain in early May and June, many producers were unable to bale hay when the forage was at its peak quality,” he said.  “This is going to result in feeding lower quality hay than normal to late gestating cows and lactating cows later in the winter and early spring.”

That may mean cow body condition can suffer resulting in lower milk production and slower bred back. Body condition becomes very critical as the production cycle moves into calving.

“All of these conditions could add up to the cow producing less colostrum and less concentrated colos-trums,” Troxel said. If the newborn calf isn’t well protected, scours – or diarrhea – may become a real problem this year.

“Cows in poor body condition produce less milk compared to cows in moderate body condition,” he said. “This will affect the weaning weights of the 2014 calf crop. In addition, cows in poor body condition take longer to rebreed.

Forage testing is critical to ensure the health of beef cattle through the winter and healthier calves come springtime. “The key is quality and quantity ration,” he said. “The first step is to obtain a forage test to determine the hay quality.“

“Once the protein and energy values of the hay are known, the proper supplement can be determined to balance the diet,” Troxel said. £