Stretching Feed When Supplies are Tight

When cattle producers face low feed supplies, different options for wintering cows need to be considered.
Lower quality forages and/or a combination of straw is usually the first option, but they do not have sufficient levels of nutrients. If they are combined with grains, by-products, protein supplements and mineral/vitamin premixes, they can meet the nutrient needs. Animals need all the basic nutrients to maintain good health, body condition, high reproductive rates and desirable weaning weights. The nutritional requirements of beef herds change as the animals move through different physical stages. The general nutritional requirements of the breeding herd are listed here: 

Table 1. Nutritional requirements of the breeding herd1

Class   Total Digestible Nutrients% Crude Protein% Calcium% Phosphorus%
Mid Gestation 50-53 7 0.20 0.20
Late Gestation  58 9 0.28 0.23
Lactating 60-65 11-12 0.30 0.26
Replacement Heifers 60-65 8-10 0.30 0.22
Breeding Bulls  48-50 7-8 0.26 0.20
Yearling Bulls 55-60 7-8 0.23 0.23
   1Nutritional requirement varies with body weight, frame size, predicted average daily gain (ADG) and stage of production. Contact your local Manitoba Agriculture Office for ration formulation services. All rations must be balanced for protein, energy, vitamins and minerals.

 

Meeting Nutritional Needs

Feeding higher quantities of low quality forage can cause issues. The intake of lower quality roughage will be restricted by the fibrous texture of the feed. This can be a problem, particularly when beef cows increase their intake in response to cold temperatures. Rumen compaction may occur, if the livestock is only fed straw and no readily available energy and/or protein supply for the rumen microbes.
During cold periods, the energy component of the ration needs to increase by about 15 to 20 per cent, as the temperature goes to minus 20 degrees Celsius or lower. In the last trimester of pregnancy, the cows’ nutrient needs also rise significantly. It is important to provide higher quality feed, in either the form of good quality alfalfa hay or more protein and energy supplements. 

Using Supplements  

Adding additional protein and/or energy to feed is an option to increase intake and digestibility of poor quality feeds. In selecting the most economical option, a cost per pound of crude protein or TDN should be calculated to make direct comparisons.  Visit Feedplan for assistance with the calculations.  When you are sourcing cheaper feed grains, be aware of weed seeds and/or toxins such as ergot.
Another option is to use ammoniated straw, which will cost about $15-20 per 1000 pound bale to do so. This can increase protein to seven or eight per cent and also improve digestibility and intake. Liquid molasses can also be used to improve the palatability of straw at a cost of $16 per 455 kilogram bale (1,000 pound bale).  If it is distributed evenly throughout the bale, adding molasses may increase protein by 1.6 per cent on a 455 kilogram (1,000 pound) straw bale, from five to 6.6 per cent. It can increase the energy from 49 to 51.3 per cent.
Other options for supplementing feed include, corn cracks, pea flour and oat hulls. These will all work in beef cow rations, but they need to be formulated correctly. Contact your local Manitoba Agriculture Office for help with this and ensure nutritional needs are being met. 

Ration possibilities

Various types of feed rations can be utilized as seen in Table 2.  These are based on a 1,400 lbs cow with a body condition score (BCS) of three out of five. The table lists the approximate feed required pre calving for herd caving in March.

Table 2. Differing wintering ration options for gestating beef cows weighting 1400* lbs 

Pre Calving - Cows
 
 
 
#1
#2
#3
#4
#5
#6
#7
#8
Feed Type
Ration - Feed Per Day (lbs based on 1400 lbs cow)
Alfalfa Hay
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Alfalfa Grass Hay
35
0
0
0
16
0
10
0
Grass Hay
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Barley Straw
0
17
19
23
0
23
15
23
Barley Greenfeed
0
0
0
0
19
0
0
0
Corn Silage
0
0
47
0
0
0
32
0
Barley Silage
0
48
0
0
0
0
0
0
Barley Grain
0
0
0
11
0
10
0
0
32% Feedlot Suppl.
0
0.5
0.5
1
0
0
0
0
32% Liquid Suppl.
0
0
0
0
0
2.9
0
0
20% Grain Pellets
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
14
1:1 Mineral
0.12
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
2:1 Mineral
0
0.06
0.06
0.06
0.12
0.2
0.2
0.06
Limestone
0
0
0
0
0
0.2
0
0.2
Blue Salt
0.07
0.07
0.07
0.07
0.07
0.07
0.07
0.07
 * Add 5-10% for waste, depending on feeding method

 

For a cost comparison on the different ration options, visit the Beef Cow-Calf Production Costs.

How Manitoba Agriculture can Help

If you are short of roughage, Manitoba Agriculture staff can help you formulate and develop cow rations with lower quality roughage and grains (pelleted or raw). Table 2 gives you an idea of the amount of feed you will need on hand for the winter feeding period. It is important to err on the side of caution because the rations listed are for a cow in average body condition with a score of three out of five. If pasture conditions have been less than ideal, cows may begin the winter feeding period in poorer body condition. Animals with a body condition of two out of five or lower need special attention.  It will take higher energy and better quality feeds just to maintain and/or increase the condition of these cows.  As well, these cows should be segregated from those in better condition to reduce competition for feed.
Even more important when you are utilizing alternative feeds or are having trouble maintaining BCS in your animals, ensure you are providing fresh good quality water to your herd. It reduces the chronic dehydration cattle face in the winter and can help stimulate higher feed intakes. Using snow for animal hydration is only acceptable for non-lactating animals in good body condition under perfect conditions (loose snow and high quality feed).  Snow that has crusted will not allow adequate intake and animals need supplemental water sources.  Providing sufficient levels of good quality water is a basic management change that can greatly improve your herd.
You must know what is in your feed and water to ensure correct, economical supplements for your animals. Book values are helpful as general guidelines, but if there is a lack of feed or poor BCS, it is even more critical to use actual numbers from feed and water analysis to balance feed rations. Trace minerals are an issue in Manitoba and a simple supplement can help with that.
For information on animal condition and health, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. For details on feed testing, ration formulation, feeding and availability of hay, go to the livestock webpage.

Other Resources

Extending Livestock Feed Supplies
Manitoba Hay Listing