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The Cow-Calf Manager:
Cattle Will Need More Than Energy Supplementation In Early Fall

Livestock Update, September 1999

John Hall, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, Virginia Tech

Beef cattle producers need to take a hard look at their cattle and feed supplies when planning the feeding program for this droughty fall. Most producers have been doing a good job of at least "keeping their bellies full" using hay supplies that were originally destined for winter. However, several nutrients may still be lacking for lactating cows, cows in late gestation, and 1-3 year-old heifers.

Analyze cattle and feed. Body condition score cows immediately. Spring calving cows should be BCS 4 or better. Fall calving cows need to be BCS 5 or better. Any cattle that are below these targets need some special attention quickly. Remember that it takes 85 to 100 lbs of gain to increase 1 body condition score.

Hay needs to be analyzed so the exact nutrients that are limiting can be supplemented. Much of our hay probably has enough protein for most production stages if it was harvested early enough. However, you don't know for sure until you test. "Book" values can be used for most grains; however, it is better to test by-products because of their large variability in nutrient content.

Supplement Energy First. For the groups of cattle mentioned above, energy is most likely the most limiting nutrient. Corn, barley and other grains are good sources of energy. Corn and barley are good buys this year. These energy products will also reduce the amount of hay needed by cattle. When grains are fed at higher than 0.5% of BW forage intake is reduced. For example, a 1200 lb cow fed over 6 lbs of grain will reduce the amount of hay she will eat. This can be a good thing if we want to limit feed hay.

Grains can be fed at up to 50% of the diet without causing digestive upsets. Higher fiber feeds like corn gluten and poultry litter can be fed at much higher rates without worrying about cattle getting sick. The basic litter-based cow diet is 80% litter, 20% corn and 5-8lbs of hay. Many places in Virginia are reporting that pelleted soyhulls are available at reasonable cost. This is a good energy source. Consult your county extension agent or nutritionist to help you design a ration.

Protein may be a problem. Crude protein may be deficient in some forages or grain-forage combinations, especially rations with lots of corn. In general, crude protein levels of 10-11% are sufficient for most ages of cattle in most production situations. Most of the hay that was put up this spring is adequate on protein analysis; however some forages may be deficient. Since protein is an expensive nutrient to supplement, you should have your forage tested before you buy a protein supplement.

Vitamins should be supplemented. The drought conditions of pastures and the amount of hay we're feeding results in a vitamin supply much like a winter feeding situation. Vitamin A and E are probably deficient. If you are feeding hay or your pastures have very little green forage available, then you need to supplement these two vitamins. Vitamin A is very susceptible to damage from heat, so mineral mixes or feeds that have vitamin A that are exposed to high temperatures for even a few days will lose much of their vitamin A activity. The best way (and perhaps cheapest) to supplement these vitamins is to give an injection with any of the injectable vitamins available. This injection will supply enough vitamin A and E for 2 to 3 months.

This drought year has made for some truly challenging times for the nutrition of the cowherd. Late summer is usually a time when we only have to worry about forage availability not necessarily forage quality. Producers should work with extension agents or nutritionists to design a program to meet the nutritional needs of their herds. It is especially important to consider all your feed options (see Bill McKinnon's Article) when designing a nutrition program. Many programs being offered by some nutrition sources are good but can be very expensive. Remember in most cases you will pay for convenience. A good nutrition program can help your cows come through this tough time without wiping out your checkbook.

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