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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
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The Cow-Calf Manager

Livestock Update, October 2001

John B. Hall, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, VA Tech

Supplemental Feeding Needed to Combat Dry Late Summer

While hay making early in the summer was a struggle due to wet conditions, a late summer dry spell has reduced pasture and stockpiled forage supplies for fall grazing. Also, because of poor first cutting hay quality, Virginia beef producers need to analyze their feed situation. Both quality and quantity of feed need to be considered.

Some strategic management practices should be considered as well. Early fall supplementation of both fall and spring calving cows, weaning and backgrounding of spring calves, and early shipment of calves are management options. Careful consideration of the economic and marketing impacts of these decisions is important.

Fall Calving Herds
Fall calving herds should consider supplementing cows now if grass and stockpiled fescue is in short supply. Keeping cows in good body condition (BCS 5 or 6) during late gestation and the first weeks after calving is important for good conception rate at breeding in November, December and January. Good quality hay, corn, poultry litter and corn, corn gluten and soy hulls are good options for reducing pasture consumption and keeping cows in proper condition. Some diets for lactating fall-calving cows are listed in table 1. Feeding cows now will also save stockpiled grass which will respond to needed rains when we get them.

If conditions stay dry until the breeding season, producers may want to consider using 48-hour calf removal to "jump start" cows. For herds using natural service only, calf removal should begin 48-hours before the bulls are turned in. Calves are put back with cows when bulls are introduced. For herds using AI, timing will vary with the estrus synchronization system used but, in general, 48-hour calf removal will start 48 to 72 hours before insemination.

Table 1. Diets for lactating fall calving cows

Diet Ingredients Meets or exceeds needs Increase or loss of body condition in good weather
17.5 lb hay + 14.5 lbs of soy hulls or barley YES +1 BCS in 110 d
16.5 lbs hay + 13.5 lbs corn + 2.2 lbs soybean meal YES +1 BCS in 60 d
5.5 lb hay + 8 lb corn + 21.5 lb Poultry litter YES +1 BCS in 80 d
16.5 lb fair hay + 14.5 lb dry corn gluten YES +1 BCS in 180 d
8.8 lb hay + 22 lb dry corn gluten YES +1 BCS in 60 d, very high energy diet needs to be fed carefully
8.8 lb hay + 95.2 lbs wet brewers grain YES +1 BCS in 175 d; cows may not be able to eat that much brewers grain
36 lbs hay NO -1 BCS in 90 days

Some of the diets will help thin cows gain weight. Others will keep cows in good flesh from losing weight. All diets should be fed with a balanced free-choice mineral. Poultry litter diets require a different mineral mix than other diets.

Spring Calving Herds
Producers with spring calving herds should strongly consider weaning and backgrounding calves this fall. For the last month, calves have been making very little weight gain due to the dry conditions. Weaned calves can better utilize stockpiled fescue and dry cows can then be fed lower quality hay. Remember to consult your veterinarian for a health program for backgrounding calves.

Studies at VA Tech demonstrate gains of 1.7 to 2.2 lbs. per day for steers grazing stockpiled fescue only. When supplement is fed at 0.5% of body weight, weight gain was 2.2 to 2.8 lbs. per day. There was no advantage to feeding supplement in amounts above 0.5% of body weight. The supplement should be primarily an energy supplement as stockpiled fescue has sufficient protein content for growing cattle. For example, 500 lbs. steers would need 2.8 lbs. of cracked corn per steer per day. The added weight gain and increased total value of the calves will exceed the cost of the feed. Contact you Extension Animal Science Agent for assistance with planning a nutrition program for backgrounding calves.

Supplementing cows and calves together is less efficient than feeding weaned calves alone. However, it will add weight to the calves and condition to the cows. Good quality hay, poultry litter corn mix, corn or corn gluten are good choices.

Early marketing of calves is the least desirable option as calves will be marketed at less than desirable weights and return per cow will be reduced. Some producers may have few other options if feed supplies are tight and there are not enough pastures for separating cows and calves. Remember if grazing is extremely limited or the quality is poor, calves may actually lose weight from now until the normal marketing time.

Whether you have fall calving or spring calving cows, supplementing during this dry spell will pay dividends this fall.

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