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The Cattle Connection

Factors influencing cow nutrient requirements

Cows eating hay on snow covered ground

Drought, elevated feed prices, and overall inflation of costs continue to put financial pressure on cow/calf producers. For these same reasons, cow liquidation has occurred and many economists are forecasting better cattle prices ahead. Thus, cow/calf operators likely have profit opportunity in the coming years if they can maintain production while keeping costs moderated. This is easier said than done!

Formulating a balanced, least cost ration will be vital to controlling feed costs. While formulations can pay dividends, they can also yield disappointing results if they fail to account for cattle characteristics and environmental factors. Certain factors can rob producers of potential profits by causing cow requirements to increase and thus, require more high-priced feed.

A few things to consider when determining if you are meeting cow requirements are:

  • Mature Cow Weights: Cow weights have increased industry wide. Do you know how much your cows weigh? If you do not have a scale can, gauge cow weights by the weights of cull cows marketed. Genetic trends for increasing weaning weight and yearling weight have increased mature cow weights.
  • Stage of Production: Cow requirements will be the highest during early lactation. They will be the lowest at mid-gestation. Thus, utilize feeds and supplements accordingly. Feeding your poorer quality hay during mid-gestation and better quality hay during lactation can help reduce supplementation needs.
  • Milk Production: The more milk a cow produces, the more nutrients needed to support that additional milk production. Genetic trends for your breed of cattle are worth investigating to help monitor if increasing milk production is causing more nutrient requirements in your cattle herd.
  • Temperature: Winter weather can be harsh at times. Cows adapt well to colder weather as long as they are dry. If cows are wet, requirements increase 2% for every degree below 30°. Thus, a cow with a wet hair coat and an outside temperature of 15° would have a 30% increase in requirements. Providing windbreak and shelter help keep outside conditions from increasing requirements.
  • Mud: I recommend you walk the same path your cows walk. If they are walking through mud, requirements will be increased. Mud that is declaw deep is associated with 7% decrease in feedlot ADG, a 28% decline if mud is hock deep, and a 35% decline if mud is belly deep. Mud is a big-time profit robber.
  • Parasites: Internal and external parasites can steal valuable nutrition from cattle. It is a good-practice to delouse and deworm cattle.

Take notice of these factors and adjust winter feeding and management to account for these factors. Keeping your cows in good condition and avoiding weight loss will help increase opportunity for profits. Don’t let these factors reduce performance, lose body condition, and reduce subsequent breed-back.