Ration planning to stretch hay supplies for cows and feeder calves


Source: Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives

This Information was prepared at the end of July and since then prices of grains have changed.  This article is for information only and that if you are interested in exploring any of the options discussed in this page that you should contact your local Agriculture Office for more infomation on winter feeding of cattle.

When hay supplies are low, differing options for wintering the cow herd need to be considered. Straw is usually the first thing to come to mind. Straw does not contain sufficient levels of nutrients and the use of grain, protein supplements and mineral/vitamin premixes is needed to make straw-based wintering rations work well. It is critical to supply all the nutrients the animals need in order for them to maintain good health, body condition, high reproductive rates and desirable weaning weights. The nutritional requirements of the beef herd change as the animals move through different physiological stages. The general nutritional requirements of the breeding herd are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Nutritional requirements of the breeding herd1

1 Nutritional requirements vary with body weight, frame size, predicted ADG and stage of production. Contact your local Ag. Office for ration formulation services. All rations must be balanced for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals.

Physical intake of a straw based ration will be restricted due to the fibrous nature of the feed. This can create problems, particularly when beef cows increase intake in response to cold temperatures. Rumen compaction may occur if straw is fed alone with no readily available energy and/or protein supply for the rumen microbes. During cold periods the energy component of the ration needs to increase approximately 15-20% as the ambient temperature drops to -20 to – 25 °C. In the last trimester of pregnancy the cows’ nutrient requirements also increase significantly. Therefore, it is important to provide higher quality feed either in the form of good quality alfalfa hay or increase protein and energy supplementation of straw diets. We have received a good number of calls on ammoniating lower quality roughages. It is an excellent way to increase intake and digestibility of poor quality feeds. Ammoniation of straw would run approximately $20 to 25/ton, increasing protein to 6 to 7%. The Brandon Agriculture and Food Office has a set of pipes available for ammoniation and more detail on how to do it. Contact Hans Rindlisbacher 726-6381.

Here are some different options (Table 2) for feed rations using values of $65/ton for hay, $65/ton for greenfeed, $110/ton for 20% CP grain screenings (77%TDN), $20/ton for straw, $40/ton for ammoniated straw, $1.75/bushel on barley, $280/ton for 32-10 feedlot supplement, $650/ton for mineral, $27/ton barley silage (35% dry matter), $27/ton for corn silage (30% dry matter) and $8.50/bale treating bales with liquid feed supplement (4.5-5 gallons/bale). Based on a 1400-1450 lb cow – approximate feed required pre/post lactation calving in March.

Table 2. Differing wintering ration options for beef cows (1400-1450 lbs)*

Additional factors you need to consider are bedding, drug costs, financing costs, death loss and yardage. If you find yourself very short of roughage, we can develop cow rations for you with only 14 to 15 lbs of straw, some screenings and barley grain and still make things work at a very reasonable cost. The purpose of the above is to give you a rough idea of the amount of feed you will need to have on hand for cows for the winter. Cull cows and bulls in the wake of BSE will not bear very much value. The tough and critical question to ask yourself is – if the cow is worth only 10 cents/lb and she is old – is it worth spending the money to feed her through the winter or do you move her out your herd at a loss? Testing feed is critical in determining a suitable feeding program for you and Manitoba Agriculture and Food Staff would be pleased to work with you on ration balancing.

Deadstock Disposal

One of the realities that we are faced with much more often in the fall and winter is deadstock disposal. Rothsay no longer does pickup on farms and you need to be aware that disposal and storage should be done in accordance with Manitoba Livestock Manure and Mortalities Regulations. Approved methods are rendering, composting, burial and incineration. Some of the local landfill sites are prepared to take livestock and it is worth the time and effort to investigate these…we don’t need a bad image right now as we try to regain markets and export. Don’t think that the back “40” – coyotes and crow disposal method is the way to go. It can land you in some fairly hefty fines.

Pasture Management: Nutrition, Feeding and Poisonous Plants

Shortage of pasture and movement of cattle to other forage resources or stubble grazing often results in protein and/or energy deficiencies. If you find cows and calves are really falling back in performance this can be an issue and some supplemental feeding may be necessary. Moving into some annual cropland and emergency fencing is another way to deal with the feed shortage on perennial pasture. It may also be worthwhile to wean calves early or creep feed calves to alleviate some of the pressure on pasture. Water quality and quantity are also an issue and ensuring a short, medium and long term supply is available is important. Some cattle producers have actually run their wells low by using them for both summer and winter water. Watch out for effects of poisonous plants – if you are seeing unusual signs of sickness in your cattle – they may be the cause. Most times cattle avoid consuming poisonous plants, however, with the level of feed shortage on pasture they are more pressured to consume them. Thus far we have seen problems with water hemlock, seaside arrowgrass and chokecherry.


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