Spring calving season is already upon many Missouri beef producers. Still, some may be chomping at the bit waiting for that first set of spring calves to arrive. Whatever your situation, one thing remains true this time of year — a beef producer's immediate focus is on calf health. However, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Gene Schmitz says now is not the time to neglect cow nutrition.
Spring is a difficult time to feed beef cows as they begin to chase the new grass, even though there isn’t enough available to meet their nutrient needs, Schmitz says. And hay quality might not be adequate to meet the nutrient demands of lactating cows, either.
Time to supplement
"Milk production increases mature cow energy requirements by over 30%, and protein requirements by 50%," Schmitz explains. "These nutrients are usually supplemented by grain or grain byproducts, but these supplements are expensive."
He says that even though supplementation is expensive, "allowing lactating cows to lose body condition now is even more expensive, due to the reduction in reproductive performance in the upcoming breeding season."
He suggests beef producers invest this year in supplements for cows struggling to maintain condition. Research by Oklahoma State University Extension backs his recommendation. The OSU Extension trial shows the vulnerability of cows that calve with a body condition score of 5.
According to the study, two groups of cows began the winter feeding period in similar body condition and calved in very similar body condition. However, after calving and before the breeding season began, one group was allowed to lose almost one full condition score. The other group of cows was fed adequately to maintain the body condition that they had prior to calving. The difference in the rebreeding rate was dramatic — 73% for cows that lost body condition vs. 94% for cows that maintained body condition.
According to Glenn Selk, OSU Extension animal scientist, the study illustrates that cows that calve with a body condition score of 5 are very vulnerable to weather and suckling-intensity stresses, and ranchers must use good nutritional strategies after calving to avoid disastrous rebreeding performance.
While supplementation is expensive, farmers should consider the losses of next year's calf crop due to rebreeding failure without it.
Schmitz says that if cattle producers need more detailed information on beef cow supplementation programs tailored to your operation, they should call their regional livestock specialist.