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The Cattle Connection

Budgeting feed needs for the winter

The dry fall weather has been optimal for farmers harvesting crops. However, it has left pastures without needed moisture to grow fall forage. As a result, it is becoming glaringly evident that cattle producers need to inventory feeds and make sure they have the needed amounts of stored feed in case they are forced to start feeding cattle earlier than expected.


A cow will eat 2.5% of her body weight in hay. That means a 1300 lb. cow will eat 32.5 lbs. of hay. When offered free choice waste can be 25% or more. That means she will use ~40 lbs. of hay per day. A month of hay for that cow would be very close to 1200 lbs... Thus, the old rule of thumb is one big round bale per cow per month.


The amount of supplement required is directly linked to the quality of the forage. If you have stockpiled fescue to graze or good quality hay, then supplement needs may be fairly small. However, the wet spring and early summer forced many farmers to bale hay late, and often after being rained on. This will result in poor quality and the need for supplement. Obviously, you need to sample your hay and have it tested for a nutrient analysis.

Table 1. Amount of corn needed per cow for 150 day feeding


Corn supplement, lbs.








Table 2. Amount of DDGS needed per cow for 150 day feeding


DDGS supplement, lbs.







Table 1 and 2 show the amount of corn or Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles (DDGS) needed to supply energy at maintenance requirement for a 1400 lb. cow with average milk production. It is assumed she is calving in the middle of the 150 day feeding period, eating 2% of her body weight in hay, and not in need of increased diet energy for cold stress, increased mud, or long distance to travel to water or feed. If your cows are thin, heavier in weight, do not have shelter or wind breaks then you will need to allocate more supplement for added energy requirements. Very poor quality hay may cause lower intakes, which would result in more supplement needed. For example, if hay TDN is 46% and the cow only eats 1.5% of her BW, then the budget for DDGS needs to increase to 1384 lbs. per cow for the 150 day feeding period.

Remember, it is recommended that corn not be fed over 0.5% of a cow's body weight to avoid acidosis and negative associative effects. If hay is of such poor quality that cows will require over 0.5% of their body weight in supplement, a co-product or blend of fiber-based supplements should be used. Corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, distiller's grains, and wheat midds are likely candidates for a mix.


After you have a feed inventory, it is important to identify what feeds fit different stages of production. For instance, baled cornstalks will fit best with the nutrient requirements of a mid-gestation cow. (March calving cows in Sept., Oct., and Nov.) Baled cornstalks would be far from meeting requirements of a lactating cow.

Utilize poor quality forages like cornstalks and rained-on hay when cows are at their lowest nutrient requirements (mid-gestation, dry). By simply matching your feeds with the nutrient requirements of the cow you can avoid paying for high priced supplement.

At the same time, save your good quality forages like your better hay and corn silage for closer to calving. These higher quality forages will offer more nutrition. They are also more palatable and thus higher intakes help achieve proper nutrient requirements.


All in all, cow/calf producers need to be aware of their stored feed needs. As always, extending the time a cow spends grazing and harvesting her own feed will reduce costs. However, when the time comes to supply harvested feeds to meet the cow's nutrition requirements… producers need to be prepared. Take a look at your inventory of stored feed and make sure you have enough for the winter feeding period.