TMR Corner:Now Is The Time To Start Planning For Your Next Feeding Season.

Published on Mon, 03/16/2015 - 12:33pm

It may seem strange to suggest starting planning for next year’s feeding season when most cow-calf producers are currently in the midst of calving and this year’s feeding season. Yet, for these exact reasons, it is the best time to ask the following questions:

  • Have I provided adequate nutrition to my cows and first calf heifers prior to calving to ensure smooth calving and the birth of healthy, vigorous calves?

  • Am I providing adequate nutrition to the cows who have calves to ensure optimal milk production and maximal calf growth?

  • Do I have adequate supplies of quality forage to meet the nutritional needs of my herd throughout the entire feeding season?

  • Can I improve the profitability of my herd, either by improving nutritional performance, or by minimizing waste or by feeding more cost-effective, alternative ingredients?

  • Does my current feeding system make the best use of my time, or otherwise limit my herd performance and/or profitability.

  • The following is intended to help you evaluate your current feeding program and consider ways you might improve your feeding system for next year.

The feeding system: An optimal feeding system is a procedural and economic balance, or compromise, between the production, harvest, storage and delivery (feeding out) of nutrients to meet the nutritional needs of the cow-calf herd. Thus, it is helpful to keep the entire system, as well as end goal, feeding, in mind when evaluating and planning each component of the system.

Forage Inventory: While feeding this season, consider whether you had adequate inventories of the various types and quality of forage required to meet the nutritional needs of your herd. Consider what changes could or should be made for next year, and make a note to include them in your cropping plan for the coming year. Perhaps there is a need to adjust the amount of acreage devoted to corn silage, or perhaps one should consider trying a small grain silage in areas where corn silage will not work; perhaps there is an opportunity for double cropping or grazing an annual forage, or even making plans to buy and store a commodity when it is in oversupply, and available at a lower cost, this summer or in early fall?

Forage quality: We often consider forage quantity as the most important criteria when considering feed requirements, when we should think in terms of maximal nutrient production, which is the product of both quality and quantity. Higher quality forage needs less energy and/or protein supplementation, and can always be limit fed if nutritional requirements permit it.

The greatest loss of forage quality, as well as weathering loss, in North American haying programs occurs during the first cut. To counter these effects, consider putting up some first cut forage earlier as baleage, either in round or square bales. The most successful method appears to be to wrap the bales with at least 6 mil of plastic as soon as possible after baling (at least within 24 hours), either at a suitable, well drained site along the edge of the field, or in a designated storage site near the feed preparation area. When needed for feeding, up to a week’s supply of bales can be relocated to the feed preparation area at a time without experiencing appreciable spoilage, especially in the cooler late fall and winter temperatures.

Bale size: While focusing solely on minimizing the cost of baling and handling hay bales, there has been a tendency for cow-calf producers, regardless of herd size, to use as large a bale as possible, such as 5' x 6' round bales. In addition to increasing feed wastage, and/or making it hard for smaller animals to reach the central parts of these bales, their use often requires excessively large and more expensive vertical TMR mixers for processing the bales than would otherwise be required to feed the herd. The size and/or weight of the bale can also make it a challenge to blend bales of different qualities to more accurately meet the nutritional requirements at a given stage of production.

Thus keeping the end goal of meeting nutritional requirements using a “best-cost” approach, it may be beneficial to decrease bale size to better fit individual batch sizes or permit bale blending, and make more efficient use of your vertical TMR mixer. Alternatively, one might consider purchasing a “bale shear” that can be used to cut parts of bales into a TMR mixer. If it is time to buy a new baler, it may be useful to consider buying one with a cutting attachment. The cutter permits the making of higher density bales, usually in a four foot width, that take less time to process, and parts of which are easily added to the TMR mixer when opened on the ground.

Feed preparation site(s): Cattle feeding can be relatively easy and efficient when a well-designed feed preparation plan and site are used. Ideally, all the necessary ingredients should be located in one, or at most two, locations, with minimum travel times between loading/mixing and feeding. Feed storage area should be well drained and maintained so they are clean and have solid surfaces to minimize mud and rutting. Plans and work for these areas generally needs to be done before the year’s harvest begins; it will be too late once the feed starts coming in.

Time to buy or upgrade a vertical TMR mixer: Based on the current feeding season, you have should have some idea whether it is time to consider buying your first vertical TMR mixer, or plan to upgrade your current one. These plans should start now, so there is time to consider which make and/or model to buy, and even arrange an on-farm demo before the current feeding season is over. If you are considering buying a TMR mixer for the first time, remember that the potential return on investment goes beyond simply decreasing feed waste; this has been discussed in previous TMR Corner articles. Regardless of whether you use a TMR mixer, consider using one or more of the suggestions above to improve next year’s feeding program and your herd 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: