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Winter Feeding For Cattle

As we hunker down for a frigid cold snap in late February, we need to keep an eye out for issues with winter feeding programs. A potential perfect storm of events may occur over then next several days that can cause serious health issues and potential death.

1. Cattle nutrient requirements increasing. As many are in full swing of their winter/spring calving season, nutrient requirements for brood cows are increasing as they get closer to peak lactation. In addition, cattle consume more forage in cold weather to help stay warm.

2. Forage quality. The 2014-2015 hay crop was a major improvement from the previous year’s. However, due to challenging winter annual production this year (e.g., very cold weather, major problems with barley yellow dwarf virus, too much rain washing N away, etc.), in combination with hay supplies being low in many parts of the state, producers may rely on hay left from last years crop. We all remember the low RFQ issue we had with our 2013-2014 hay crop (on average bermudagrass hay was a little better than wheat straw).

3. Water intake. During cold weather water intake often decreases. Additionally, water may be unavailable for periods of time when temperatures stay at or below freezing for prolong periods due to water sources freezing.

These events together can lead to impaction and starvation of cattle consuming low quality forage. Very similar to the problems we saw last year. Dr. Lee Jones, Extension Veterinarian and Case Investigator with the Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, has received several cases and reports of beef cattle suffering from gastrointestinal impaction, similar to the severe problems that we had last year. Additionally, with the severe low nutrient content of some hay, some animals may literally be starving to death, despite being full of hay.

Potential Solution:

1. Test hay. As with any nutritional situation, our best starting point is to know the nutrients we have available in our forage. This will allow us to effectively select a supplementation strategy to meet the brood cows nutrient requirements.

2. Explore other forage options. If other higher quality forages are available, such as winter grazing, baleage, silage, etc., consider utilizing or purchasing these. Although they may appear to be expensive, they may be more economical than other supplementation options.

3. Understand all supplements available. Fortunately, feed prices are relatively lower than in previous years. This should allow us more options for supplementation. Liquid feeds are an excellent tool, however DO NOT rely solely on liquid supplementation for lactating cows if forage TDN is below 50%.

This info was provided by Dr. Lawton Stewart, UGA Extension Animal Scientist and the UGA Beef Team.