Let’s discuss some winter feeding tips for area cattle producers. Grouping cattle according to nutritional needs will reduce feed costs and improve performance. Females should be separated into at least two groups: (1) calf heifers/ replacement heifers/thin cattle; and (2) mature cows in a body condition score of 5 or greater. The heifers and thin cows often need 0.5 to 0.75% of body weight of supplement per day to maintain a body condition score above a five. Mature cows in a BCS of 5 or greater generally need 0.5% of body weight or less per day. If winter pasture is the supplement of choice, mature cows often require 2 to 3 hours per day of grazing compared with 4 to 6 hours for heifers and thin cows.
The best way to eliminate waste is to store hay under a cover. Expect losses of 20 to 30% for hay that is stored outside for six months before feeding. Hay feeding method can greatly reduce hay losses this winter. Feeding hay in rings results in losses of 5 to 6% compared with losses of 10 to 15% when using trailers or rolling out a one-day supply. Using rings can save $10 to $15 per cow over a 150 day feeding period.
Testing forages for nutrient content can reduce feed costs by supplementing only the nutrients that are deficient in the forage, maintaining acceptable performance, and planning for purchasing supplements. A nutrient analysis will determine the crude protein, TDN, and relative forage quality of hay. These numbers can be used to determine what supplement if any is required. A lactating cow requires about 11% protein, 58 to 60% TDN, whereas, a dry cow needs only 8% protein and 55% TDN.
A rule of thumb to use for hay intake is a dry cow will eat about 1.9 to 2% of body weight in hay daily and a lactating cow will eat about 2.4 to 2.5% of body weight daily. Cows will quickly increase or decrease hay consumption when different quality hays are fed. A quick drop in consumption is a good indicator that lower-quality hay is being fed and supplementation is required.
Cows must be in a body condition score of 5 or greater for high re-breeding rates to occur. Constantly monitor body condition to ensure cows are in the proper body condition at the start of the breeding season. If cows are less than a BCS of 5 at the start of the breeding season, lower pregnancy rates and longer calving intervals are almost certain.
Winter annual pastures are high in protein and highly digestible forages. Limit grazing about 3 hours per day will provide about 30% of the nutrients a cow needs each day. A problem with using winter annuals is that there will likely be little or no grazing at some point during the winter. The best quality hay should be fed at this time, along with supplements if needed.