Winter still has a hold on much of the Midwest this spring, which means limited forage growth for beef cattle. At this point, many producers are still providing feed. This may not be the norm, so how can you make sure that your lactating cattle are getting all the nutrients they need? Feedstuffs shared important information on the topic from Chris Clark, an Iowa State University beef specialist.
Winter feed diets are usually balanced for gestation, and they may not offer enough energy and protein to meet requirements of early lactation. You may need to supplement with concentrate or feed high-quality hay.
“They really need some good hay and, in many cases, some additional supplementation to keep them on a good plane of nutrition. The challenge is that not everyone has a good handle on the quality of their hay, plus at this point in the season, hay inventories may be running pretty low.”
“Energy and protein requirements are significantly greater during lactation. Many spring calves have been born, but because of the weather, pastures are not yet growing well,” Clark said. “It is important to realize that whether they’re in a lot setting or already on pasture, cows need to be fed well enough to support early lactation.”
The Iowa Beef Center website provides useful information about feed requirements and diet supplementation, and has experts available to answer questions.
David Lalman and Chris Richards, both beef cattle professors at Oklahoma State University, published a thorough article on the beef cattle nutritional requirements in 2016. The article provides tables of nutrient requirements as well as reasons why a balanced and cost effective nutrition program is vital to the success of beef cattle operations. The article covers protein, energy, vitamins, minerals and water, and separates recommendations by growth stage. It also provided solid information about nutritional requirements of lactating beef cows.
Making sure they get enough protein in late stages of pregnancy is extremely important.
Adequate dietary protein during this period also is essential for the cow to produce abundant, high-quality colostrum or first milk, which will influence the newborn’s immune system for the remainder of its life.
Lactation is the most nutritionally stressful activity for the cow. The modern commercial beef cow produces around 25 pounds of milk each day during peak lactation. Milk contains a high concentration of protein. Therefore, lactating cows, particularly during early lactation, require nearly twice the daily protein of dry cows. Research shows cows in moderate condition at calving should at least maintain body weight from calving to rebreeding for good conception rates.
If you don’t take into account increased protein needs during lactation, this could mean longer intervals between rebreeding. It’s also important to note that larger cow breeds and more mature cows have greater protein requirements, but they still don’t surpass the needs of lactating cows.
John B. Hall, William W. Seay, and Scott M. Baker of the Virgina Tech Extension, break the beef production cycle into four stages: pre-calving, postpartum, lactating and pregnant, and gestation. Each of the four stages has different nutritional requirements.
Postpartum- 80-90 days after calving. It is the period of greatest nutritional demand. Cows are lactating, repairing their reproductive tracts, resuming heat cycles, and breeding, All these processes put considerable strain on the cow. Voluntary feed intake is highest during the this period. If she is not fed adequately, she will fail or be delayed in rebreeding and may also lose weight.
Lactating and Pregnant- 120 to 130 days. Nutritional requirements are still very high. Energy requirements decrease around 13% and protein needs about 8% from postpartum period. Cows reach peak lactation and then decrease milk production. Cows may lose weight during this period.
Gestation- 100-110 day period after calves are weaned. Nutritional requirements are at their lowest. Energy needs are 23% less than the previous period and protein requirements drop by 36%. This is a time to gain weight. Heifers need to gain 1 to 1.5 lbs per day. The cow’s voluntary feed intake is low.
Pre-calving- 50 to 60 days immediately before calving. This is the most critical period for nutrition. Energy and protein needs increase by at least 20% compared to gestation. Fetal demands are high. Cows need to gain 1 to 1.25 lbs per day. Heifers and young cows need to gain 2 to 2.5 lbs per day. Feed intake may decrease because the fetus and placenta take up space normally occupied by the rumen.
The VT article also gives sample diets for the different production stages, and describes how to use the requirement tables and calculate requirements for your cattle. There’s a lot of valuable information here.
If you’re looking to find out more nutritional information about what’s in your feed, Beef Magazine has a 2018 Feed Composition Table that lists 280 common feedstuffs with the nutritional breakdown. Read it here.
Knowing how to adjust your beef cattle diets according to their stage of production is vital to keeping your operation as productive as possible. This spring, with limited forage opportunities due to the colder spring weather, you may need to make adjustments to your typical plan to ensure that your lactating cows are getting enough protein.
Image courtesy of Troy Walz