Stretching feed supplies to make it to grass season


Source: Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives

Long, cold winters are common here in Manitoba and can leave a dent in a cattle producers’ feed inventories.  When cattle producers face low feed supplies, different options for wintering cows need to be considered.

Lower quality forages and/or a combination of straw is usually the first option, but they don’t have sufficient levels of nutrients. If they are combined with grains, byproducts, protein supplements and mineral/vitamin premixes, they can meet the nutrient needs. Animals need all the basic nutrients to maintain good health, body condition, high reproductive rates and desirable weaning weights. The nutritional requirements of beef herds change as the animals move through different physical stages. The general nutritional requirements of the breeding herd are listed here:

Table 1. Nutritional requirements of the breeding herd1

Class Total Digestible Nutrients% Crude Protein% Calcium% Phosphorus%
Mature Cows
Mid Gestation 50-53 7 0.20 0.20
Late Gestation 58 9 0.28 0.23
Lactating 60-65 11-12 0.30 0.26
Replacement Heifers 60-65 8-10 0.30 0.22
Breeding Bulls 48-50 7-8 0.26 0.20
Yearling Bulls 55-60 7-8 0.23 0.23

1Nutritional requirement varies with body weight, frame size, predicted average daily gain (ADG) and stage of production. Contact your local Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (MAFRD) GO Office for ration formulation services. All rations must be balanced for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals.


Meeting nutrition needs

Feeding higher quantities of low quality forage can cause problems. The intake of lower quality roughage will be restricted by the fibrous texture of the feed. This can be a problem, particularly when beef cows increase their intake in response to cold temperatures. Rumen compaction may occur, if the livestock is only fed straw and no readily available energy and/or protein supply for the rumen microbes.

During cold periods, the energy component of the ration needs to increase by about 15 to 20 per cent, as the temperature goes to minus 20 degrees Celsius or lower. In the last trimester of pregnancy, the cows’ nutrient needs also rise significantly. It’s important to provide higher quality feed, either in the form of good quality alfalfa hay or more protein and energy supplements.

Using supplements

Adding additional protein and/or energy to feed is a viable option, to increase intake and digestibility of poor quality feeds. Current feed grain prices make grain supplements affordable. This year’s rations of barley and oats are averaging $165 and $160 per tonne respectively ($3 and $2.50 per bushel respectively). When you’re sourcing cheaper feed grains, note the test weight of the sample and the presence of weed seeds and/or toxins such as ergot.

Another option is to include ammonization of straw and it will cost about $20 to $25 per 455 kilogram bale (1,000 pound bale). This can increase protein to seven or eight per cent and also improve digestibility and intake. Liquid molasses costs about $9 per 455 kilogram bale (1,000 pound bale).  If it’s distributed evenly throughout the bale, adding molasses may increase protein by 1.6 per cent on a 455 kilogram (1,000 pound) straw bale, from five to 6.6 per cent. It can increase the energy by 49 to 51.3 per cent.

Other options for supplementing feed include hemp screenings, pea flour and oat hulls. These will all work in beef cow rations, but they need to be formulated correctly. Contact your local MAFRD GO Office for help with this and ensure nutritional needs are being met.

These options for feed rations are based on a 635 to 660 kilogram (1,400 to 1,450 pound) cow with a body condition score (BCS) of three out of five. The table lists the approximate feed required pre/post lactation calving in March.

Table 2. Differing wintering ration options for gestating beef cows 635 to 660 kilogram (1,400 to 1,450 pounds)*

Option 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Grass-Legume Hay 7 kg

(16 lb)

6 kg

(14 lb)

4 kg

(9 lb)

Barley Straw 10.5 kg

(23 lb)

10.5 kg

(23 lb)

10.5 kg

(23 lb)

10 kg

(22 lbs)

10.5 kg

(23 lb)

8 kg

(18 lb)

Ammoniated Barley Straw 13.5 kg

(30 lbs)

Barley Grain 0.7 kg

(1.5 lb)

4.5 kg

(10 lb)

4.5 kg
(10 lb)
3.4 kg

(7.5 lb)

32-10 Feedlot Supplement 0.2 kg

(0.5 lb)

0.7 kg

(1.5 lb)

0.2 kg
(0.5 lb)
0.45 kg

(1 lb)

Barley Silage 20.5 kg

(45 lb)

Corn Silage 14.5 kg

(32 lb)

Liquid Supplement 1.3 kg

(2.9 lb)

2:1 Mineral 0.07 kg

(0.15 lb)

0.05 kg

(0.1 lb)

20% Screening Pellets 6.4 kg

(14 lb)

Greenfeed 8.6 kg

(19 lb)

Cost ($/head/day) 1.37 1.19 1.62 1.78 1.63 1.49 1.71 1.46

* Add 5-10% for waste, depending on feeding method


How MAFRD can help

If you are short of roughage this spring, MAFRD staff can help you formulate and develop cow rations with lower quality roughage and grains (pelleted or raw). Table 2 gives you an idea of the amount of cow feed you will need on hand for rest of the winter feeding period – before grass pasture is available. It’s important to err on the side of caution because the rations listed are for a cow in average body condition with a score of three out of five. The extreme cold has left many cow herds across the province in poorer condition, between two and 2.5 out of five. Some are even lower.

It will take higher energy feeds just to maintain and/or increase the condition of these cows as the pre/post calving season begins and the grass season is delayed. Animals with a body condition of two out of five or lower need special attention. This includes better quality feeds and a lack of competition for feed from other animals in better condition.

If you are having trouble maintaining BCS or if you need to move to alternative feeds, you must provide plenty of fresh water. It reduces the chronic dehydration cattle face in the winter and can help stimulate higher feed intakes. Using snow for animal hydration is only acceptable under perfect conditions (loose snow, high quality feed and acceptable BCS). This time of year, snow has a crust which will not allow adequate intake and animals need supplemental water sources.  Providing water is a basic management change that can greatly improve your herd.

Occasional feed testing will give you a baseline of what is in the actual feed you have. Book values are helpful as general guidelines, but if there’s a lack of feed or poor BCS, actual numbers are needed to balance feed rations. Trace minerals are an issue in Manitoba and a simple supplement can also help with that. You must know what is in your feed and water to ensure correct, economical supplements for your animals. A more common 2:1 beef mineral from your local dealer is not always the best choice.

Talk to a veterinarian for information on animal condition and health. For details on feed testing, ration formulation, feeding and availability of hay, go to livestock.


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