OSU Extension: Producers May Need to Supplement Feed to Ensure Successful and Productive Calving Season



PIKETON, Ohio – Producers who want to assure a healthy, productive calving season may want to consider testing their forage supplies to ensure the feed is of high nutritional value, an Ohio State University Extension beef expert said. 

Otherwise, feeding poor quality forages to cows in the late gestation or early lactation period can have devastating negative impacts on conception rates in the following breeding season, said John Grimes, beef coordinator for OSU Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. 

If producers find they have poor quality forage, they may want to supplement the feed with higher quality corn for those cows, particularly with first-calf heifers, he said.

“In nearly every cow-calf operation, harvested forages are the primary diet component of winter rations, but we typically know less about those forages than any other feed and health products consumed by the herd,” Grimes said. “It’s easy to over-value hay that looks good in the bale while we may have forgotten how mature it was when it was packaged.”

The issue is even more significant this year, considering that the drought of 2012 has been one of the worst on record in Ohio, leaving many livestock producers hard-hit in their pastures and forages, he said.

“The drought caused shorter supplies, so there may be some less desirable hay,” Grimes said. “So if your hay isn’t good enough, you test it and it is nutritionally inferior, you may have to supplement with byproduct feed or corn.”

To that extent, producers should consider sending forage samples in for nutritional analysis before feeding it to late-gestation or early-lactation females to determine its nutritional quality. If the quality is poor, producers may need to balance the ration with corn or grain byproducts to meet the needs of a mature or growing female under production stress, he said.

“Poor quality hay cannot be improved by feeding more poor quality hay,” Grimes said. “If you feed lower quality feed to cows in late-gestation or early-lactation period, they will regress and lose body condition.

“For a cow to calve every year, which producers need in order to pay the bills, the cow needs to rebreed within 90 days of calving, so you need to ensure that females receive feeds that are high in quality and adequate in volume. Producers need to consider when their calving season is and how that relates to the feed they have and how they will distribute that feed.”

To ensure a more successful, healthy and productive calving, cows need to maintain adequate body condition scores during critical production times, he said.

“Body Condition Scores (BCS) ranging from 5 to 6 are considered ideal during late gestation or early lactation in this scoring system where 1 is thin and 9 is obese,” Grimes said. “Poor nutrition and declining BCS during late gestation or early lactation can have devastating negative impacts on conception rates in the following breeding season.”

Within 30 to 60 days of breeding, producers should consider putting the cow on an inclining or improving nutritional program, he said. While that can be expensive, the costs associated with not improving the nutritional value will be much more costly in the long run, Grimes said.

“It may be painful to buy expensive supplemental feed but be more expensive to have an open cow, which won’t be able to breed,” he said. “If the cow is thin or in poor state of nutrition, she won’t breed or it will take multiple services to conceive.

“It’s kind of like the old saying, ‘you pay me now or you pay me later.’ It’s better to supplement substandard hay with expensive corn rather than have poor reproductive performance after calving.”

Tracy Turner
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John Grimes