Tips and Tricks to Change up your Cool Season Feeding Program

Published on Mon, 08/26/2019 - 11:27am

 Tips and Tricks to Change up your Cool Season Feeding Program

 By Jaclyn Krymowski

 As the warm summer months wane with all their cattle-rearing challenges and benefits, there come some new managerial considerations in the changing seasons. An area where this is especially pertinent is in feeding routine. Feed costs have always been the scourge of livestock production. Various estimates will suggest feed makes up as much as 60-75% of the total cost of production. As feedstuff availability grows tighter through the non-growing seasons, there runs the greater risk of being feed inefficient and excessively costly based on what ingredients you use and what is available to you. Likewise, without the aid of a growing pasture there’s a risk of poor growth in young animals and loss of condition if the feeding regimen grows too frugal. But the thoughtful cattleman need not worry. There are, fortunately, several different options to navigate herd nutrition through the fall and winter seasons. Sometimes venturing from the status-quo will give you better results.

Saving a buck
It has been estimated feeding stored forages, when compared to cattle-harvested pasture grasses, costs three to five times more. It can be tempting to supplement winter hay with grains to ease strain on supply. Is that economically wise? Of course, this depends on the grain prices from year to year. Depending on feed ingredients available in your location, this could be significantly less expensive. During periods when forages may be thin, it may pay to splurge a bit and supplement with grain, so your animals don’t sacrifice condition.
Other ways to help conserve the hay supply are your method of feeding. While it is more labor intensive, some research has found that placing only a one-day supply of hay at a time results in as little as 5% wastage whereas a four-day supply could result in over 30% wastage. Hay offered in feeders or feeding bags also reduces waste by carrying degrees.
An alternative to stored hay are grazing winter forages. This could be as simple as grazing corn stover. Another option is to extend regular fall grazing by planting hearty summer annual forage varieties capable of withstanding frost and snow. Some operations have success windrowing such forages. This keeps the grass from getting beaten down by the snow and harder to graze, and it also encourages the cattle to break up the snow as they move through the rows to eat.
If you do go the grain supplementation route, there are ways you can drastically cut costs here as well. Affordable byproducts include distillers’ grains, beet pulp, cottonseed hulls, soybean hulls, wheat middlings and even wastage from vegetable processing plants are among the many, many options out there. The key to affordability is knowing what is available in your area and how to formulate such ingredients into a ration or feeding regimen that will meet your nutritional needs.

Don’t forget to keep them well-fed
October is a good month to do a body condition score (BCS) evaluation on the cowherd. This way you will know exactly where your herd stands and what needs to be done to keep them in top performance shape during the months ahead. If you are fall or spring calving, a good BCS is about 5.5-6.
To maintain such a desirable condition, a cow should receive at least 0.5% of her bodyweight daily in roughage on a 90% dry matter basis. That would be an estimate of six pounds of roughage per day for an average sized cow. But be mindful this is a minimum, as the temperature drops roughage demand increases not only for nutritional content, but also to maintain warmth. The rumen is a great aid to maintaining body temperature as fermentation digestion generates internal heat. The key source to this fermentation is of course forages.
Mineral nutrition becomes even more important through the fall and winter, especially if snowfall in your region limits access to grazing and natural mineral deposits. In certain areas harvested forages are naturally deficient in certain important minerals such as copper or selenium. Likewise, forages that have not been stored properly can lose their nutritional content, so even if your cattle are theoretically eating enough to meet their needs, they may not be getting what you think they are. This is where it’s important to speak with your nutritionist and consider doing laboratory testing on your forages and other feed ingredients. This can also help in choosing what mineral supplementation is best for your specific region and herd needs.
Fall and winter are pretty critical times from a nutritional standpoint, whether you need your cows in prime condition for fall calving or have a heavily pregnant cow herd to maintain. While you may feel the pinch of a rising feed bill, remember that the nutrition efficiency and usage this time of year will have an impact on the forthcoming productive seasons.