Thin cows create long-term problems

  From the August 20, 2018 issue of Agri-News
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 With poor pasture conditions in many parts of the province, some beef cows are not receiving the level of nutrition that is required to keep the animals in good shape prior to the onset of winter. Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre looks at the problem and offers some solutions.

“Thin cows require more feed to keep warm,” says Yaremcio. “A cow that is 200 pounds lighter than what is considered to be adequate will need an additional 1,400 lb. of hay per cow to stay warm. In a year when forage supplies are tight and expensive to purchase, this is an expense that can be avoided with late fall feeding management.”

Thin cows in late pregnancy do not produce a high quality colostrum and the volume is also lower. Explains Yaremcio, “Without adequate colostrum, calves are more at risk to become sick at birth or shortly thereafter. The cows aren’t able to mobilize fat off of their backs to provide energy to help increase milk production, especially in the first 8 to 12 weeks after calving. If peak milk production is lower than optimum, the loss of milk production continues throughout that lactation.”

Reproductive efficiency is also impaired. Thin cows take longer to start cycling after calving and first service conception rates can be 10 to 40 per cent lower than cows in good shape.

Yaremcio says that calves should be weaned now to help get the thin cows back into proper condition prior to the onset of winter. “Nutritional requirements for a non-lactating pregnant cow are 25 per cent lower than for a lactating cow. Calves over 150 days of age have a fully functional digestive system and can handle dry feeds. If the cows cannot be weaned, provide a creep feed to the calves to help maintain growth rates on the calves and reduce milk demand.”

As well, Yaremcio suggests moving cows to higher quality pasture. “If there are hay fields that weren’t harvested for a second or third cut, this high quality forage can be grazed now. The higher protein, higher energy forage will help cows gain weight.”

Yaremcio recommends that supplemental feed be given to cows on more mature pastures. “A grain/protein combination works well. Feeding three to four pounds of grain and two pounds of peas per head every two to three days is one example of a possible program. Another option is to provide baled hay or silage to the cows on a daily basis. If it isn’t possible to provide a grain mix, supplying a 30 per cent protein tub is another option.”

Move cows onto swath grazing that was intended for use later in the year. Says Yaremcio, “It may change how the feeding program evolves over the winter, but the important thing is to get the cows into good condition prior to the onset of winter.

“It’s difficult to notice a change in cow condition when you look at the animals daily or every few days,” adds Yaremcio. “Have a neighbour look at your animals to provide a second opinion of how they look. The second set of eyes can help spot and prevent problems.”

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Alberta Ag-Info Centre
310-FARM (3276)

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Barry Yaremcio.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on August 10, 2018.