Think Hard About Winter Nutrition for Cows for Long-Term Benefits

US - Providing forage and feed supplies with the proper nutritional value for cows is an important consideration for producers as winter approaches, said Dr Jason Banta, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service beef cattle specialist.
calendar icon 14 October 2016
clock icon 2 minute read

Testing hay for quality can provide information producers need to meet the nutritional requirements of cows and keep them in good condition through the winter, Dr Banta said.

By determining the hay supply’s crude protein content and total digestible nutrients, or TDN, which is the measurement of available energy in the forage, producers can determine whether supplemental feed will be necessary, Dr Banta said. Knowing what type and how much supplemental feed is needed can save producers money long term.

“Sometimes we find hay is better than we thought, and we can save some money on supplementation,” he said. “At other times we find the hay wasn’t as good as we wanted, so we do need to provide our cows with some more protein and energy supplements to make sure they are in the condition we want before calving so we optimise their pregnancy rates in the future.”

Nutritional needs vary for various animals in a herd, Dr Banta said. For instance, lactating cows require more protein and TDN than dry cows.

Tested hay should show a minimum of 11-11.5 per cent crude protein and 63 per cent TDN on a dry matter basis to maintain most lactating cows, he said.

Dr Banta said producers should test each cutting and pull samples from at least 10 per cent of the bales. Bales should be picked at random whether in the field or stacked. Producers should also sample 10 per cent of each load when buying hay.

He recommends using a probe that can be inserted into the hay bale to collect a good cross section of hay for sampling.

The cost of testing hay can range from $25-$60 per sample, but Dr Banta said it’s an investment that will help producers optimise their cows’ nutrition and future breeding success.

“It may sound like a lot of money, but if we can do a better job feeding cattle, you’re going to make that money back on calves in the long-run,” he said.

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