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Thin cows will cost you money

Dry conditions have dramatically reduced forage growth — and that increases the value of a feeding management program.

“Getting the cow through summer in good body condition and maintaining calf growth rates is the first step,” said provincial beef and forage specialist Barry Yaremcio. “Nutritional requirements of a lactating cow are 25 per cent higher than a cow in mid-pregnancy. If the cow does not consume sufficient energy and protein because of limited forage availability, milk production will be reduced. For a young calf, it takes seven pounds of milk to provide enough nutrients to have the calf grow by one pound.”

If cows are thin or thinner than what is wanted, supplementing grain or higher-quality pellets on pasture is an option.

“Feeding three to five pounds of grain every second or third day improves the energy intake of the animal and reduces the amount of forage the cows will eat. If calves are alongside the cow, they will try to eat the grain as well.”

Providing grain or pellets to the calves on the ground makes the transition to a creep feeder easier, said Yaremcio.

“After the calves learn what grain is, scattering some grain around the creep feeder will entice them to eat out of a creep feeder,” he said. “Calves can start receiving a creep ration at 50 to 60 days of age. In (the drought year of) 2002, the difference in weight gain was up to 125 pounds when creep feed was supplied to the calves.”

If cow condition does not improve, or if the calves do not seem to be growing as well as they should, then wean the calves, said Yaremcio. The digestive system of a calf is fully functional at 150 days of age and can be weaned as long as they are fed a good-quality hay and a grain/protein supplement mix to maintain calf growth rates.

“It is important that a thin cow puts on weight and improves body condition prior to the onset of colder temperatures. One body condition score change is roughly 200 pounds. A cow that is in body condition score 3 going into winter (compared to body condition score 2) requires 1,400 pounds less hay to meet energy requirements to keep warm, let alone put on weight. At five cents a pound, that’s a $70 reduction in winter feed cost.”

Cows in good body condition cycle sooner after calving and have a higher first service conception rate compared to thin cows, said Yaremcio.

“The goal is to have 70 to 75 per cent of the calves born in the first cycle or 21 days of the calving season,” he said. “A calf born 21 days earlier than another animal and maintains a growth rate of two pounds per day should weigh 42 pounds more than the calf born one cycle later in the calving season. If a 650-pound weaned calf is worth $2 per pound, the cash value of the calf born earlier in the season is $84 higher than the younger lighter calf.”

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