There are extra challenges in wintering cows this year

Early weaning, supplement feed, and feeding vitamins earlier should be considered

With feed quality and quantity “all over the map this year,” producers face challenges weaning calves and maintaining cows, says a provincial beef and forage specialist.

“If calves were not provided with creep feed over the summer, weaning weights will be lower than in most years — as much as 150 pounds per animal,” said Barry Yaremcio.

He suggests weaning calves 30 to 60 days early if cows have lost condition and are thin.

“The calves can then be put on a good ration to maintain good rates of gain,” he said. “Nutrient requirements for a dry cow are 25 per cent lower than for a lactating cow. Having lower requirements may result in the cows gaining back the weight prior to the cold setting in. It is much easier for a cow to gain weight in the fall than in the cold winter months.”

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Thin cows are another concern.

“If a cow is 200 pounds lighter than normal, a majority of the weight loss will be fat,” said Yaremcio. “The loss of fat reduces the amount of insulation the cow has to shield itself against the cold. Heat loss increases energy requirements, which in turn requires the animal to eat more feed.”

A thin cow will need an extra 1,400 pounds of hay just to stay warm over the winter.

“For every 10 C drop below -20 C at noon, an additional two pounds of grain above the regular ration should be fed,” he said. “Over a three-week cold spell, it is possible for cow weight to drop 100 pounds or more if additional grain is not fed.”

Poor conditions this year may have lowered vitamin levels in hay.

“Instead of waiting until the cows are in the last trimester, feeding of vitamins should start now to prevent deficiencies and nutrition-related problems.”

Another issue is that most forages are very low in protein and energy this year. In addition to supplemental feed, consider “feeding of an ionophore such as Rumensin or Bovatec (that) will improve digestive efficiency and allow the animals to get more out of the feeds they are eating.”

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