Jaylor TMR Corner:Fall Cow-Calf Feeding Opportunities

Published on Fri, 10/03/2014 - 1:28pm

Traditionally, most cow-calf producers consider feeding total mixed rations (TMR) only during calving and early lactation, as well as perhaps, ideally, during late gestation. However, there are a number of other opportunities during the fall for supplemental feeding with a vertical TMR mixer that can be used to extend the grazing season, as well as improve calf health and growth performance post-weaning.

Extending the grazing season and/or capacity:
Towards the end of the grazing season and prior to weaning, forage growth and quality decline simultaneously at a time when the combined requirements of the cow and calf are still relatively high. While still lactating, the cow’s requirements remain about 30% higher than maintenance alone, such as after weaning, and yet milk supply only meets about 10% of the calf’s requirements for maintaining its rate of growth. Thus, the remainder of the calf’s nutrient requirements (90%) must come from grazing at a time when forage quality is usually inadequate to support normal growth, while also having to compete with mature cows for an inadequate supply of forage. As a result, if weaning is delayed at such a time, calves will begin to lose weight and disease resistance will be compromised. This is why many later weaned calves experience much higher levels of respiratory and other health problems post-weaning, and especially after shipping and entry into a feedyard.
To avoid these problems, one can consider field supplementation with a TMR mixer using a partial mixed ration (PMR). In short, the quality and availability of grazing forage is determined or “set” at an amount of dry matter supply per day. Then , using conserved forages, available byproducts and remaining ingredients such as grain, protein supplements and minerals (as needed) are combined and fed on pasture to supply the remainder of the required nutrients on a daily basis. In this way, the nutrient requirements of both the cows and calves can be met until the desired weaning time without loss of calf growth performance or cow body condition.
When feeding a PMR on pasture it is important to distribute it in a way that there is plenty of room so all the animals can eat at the same time and get their share. Feeding on the ground is usually acceptable with minimal waste as long as the ration is palatable and desirable and the ground is dry or frozen (avoid using straw when ground feeding); if wet ground is a problem it may be beneficial to construct a fence-line feeding area or a feed-pad in a specific area to avoid damaging the field(s).
The above principle of feeding is used extensively in the southern United States, as well as in other countries, to get through periods of poor pasture growth during periods of warm weather or drought. Furthermore, there are now specialized small vertical TMR mixers such as Jaylor’s A50 and A100 Mini-Mixers that can be fitted to small trucks for supplementing concentrates or PMRs on pasture that are ideal for these situations.

Supplementing calves separate from cows on pasture:
Depending on the age and physical size of calves relative to cows on pasture, it may be possible to supplement calves with a PMR or full TMR separate from the cows prior to weaning. One method is to use an electric fence that the calves can walk under, while the cows cannot, to provide a grazing area separate from the cows. Then a PMR or TMR can be fed on the calf side to provide supplemental nutrition. For this to work, it is usually best for the feeding to be done in relatively close proximity to the cows, and to have the feed well spread out to permit all the calves to eat at the same time, unless a fully balanced TMR is used. An alternative is to provide an adjacent feeding area with a restricted access that only the calves can pass through. Alternate day feeding can even be used in some cases.

Improving weaning performance:
Research has shown that adapting calves to novel feeds, even hay, and novel feeding practices prior to weaning helps maintain DM intake and decrease post-weaning health problems. Calves learn fastest from their mothers to accept novel feed. Thus feeding a limited amount of weaning TMR ration on pasture to the entire cow-calf herd prior to weaning enables the calves to become familiar with the feeds and feeding method prior to weaning. When the calves are subsequently weaned, they will already be familiar with the feed and method of feeding and will go on feed much quicker and avoid the potential weight loss and related health problems normally associated with weaning. Post-weaning, cow nutrient requirements drop and there is also more grazing available per animal once the calves have been removed, thus extending the grazing season for the cows.

Having a TMR mixer on a cow-calf operation enables calves to be fed for a period of time prior to being sold, usually 60 to 70 days. This practice, which includes completing the weaning process and administration of vaccinations, called preconditioning, enables cow-calf producers to sell calves at heavier weights, as well as higher prices. Feeders pay a premium for preconditioned calves because they go on feed easier, perform better, and have fewer health problems and lower death loss. There are even select sales for preconditioned calves in certain states, while some operations may have their own local or online auctions, or be able to deal directly with individual feedlots, due to the improved quality and feeding performance of their calves.

Feedyard receiving and backgrounding rations:
Many calves entering feedyards have never experienced silage or other feeds normally used in backgrounding and feeder rations and are slow to go on feed. And, since most feedyards traditionally use horizontal mixers for feeding, it is common practice and necessary to grind large quantities of dry hay to get calves on feed, as well as limit rates of growth early in the feeding period or when backgrounding to go back on pasture at a later date. Vertical auger mixers enable the processing of baled hay and TMR mixing to be combined in the same machine to decrease feeding costs while preparing rations that encourage optimal dry matter intake, and at the same time minimize sorting and feed waste. For example, a 1,500 head capacity feedlot operator in North Dakota eliminated the need to have a contractor pre-process his hay while average daily gains improved when he switched from using a horizontal auger mixer to a Jaylor 4850 twin-auger vertical mixer. The improvement in gain appeared to be due to a more uniform ration and less problems with sorting. The producer estimated that he would pay for the new machine within about 6 months of use.

The addition to a cow-calf operation of a TMR mixer that is capable of processing long forage provides potential for increased returns beyond just feeding the cow herd before and after calving. By taking advantage of opportunities to keep animals on pasture and increase the quality and weight of calves marketed each year, a vertical TMR mixer can potentially improve overall profitability — “Because Nutrition Matters.”

Dr. Alan Vaage is a Ruminant Nutritionist with over 30 years of experience in the beef industry, and currently provides technical support for Jaylor, in Orton, Ontario. Dr. Vaage can be contacted by email: