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Planning the Feeding of Your Beef Herd This Winter

Authors as Published

Dr. John F. Currin, Extension Veterinary Specialist, VA Tech; Dr. Mark A. McCann, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, VA Tech

Many producers have been asking questions about supplementing their beef cattle herd.  There are three things people need to know when deciding how they are going to feed the beef herd this year.  These questions are:

  1. What are the requirements of my cows?
  2. What do I have on hand to feed my cows?
  3. Where are my cows lacking and how can I supplement what is lacking for my cows?

Table 1 shows the nutrient requirements for a 1,200 pound beef cow of moderate milking ability.  This should represent the average beef cow in Virginia.  Spring calving herds have the lowest nutrient requirements during early winter while fall calving herds are at or near peak nutritional needs.  The nutrient requirements of beef cattle presented have been well established through research but do not account for any environmental factors.  There are many environmental factors that affect the nutrient requirements of a beef cow being wintered in Virginia.  Mud, wet hair coats, and very low temperatures can add significantly to the energy requirements of the beef cow.  Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) is a common measure of the energy density of various feedstuffs.

Table 1. Requirements of a 1200 pound beef cow of average milking ability

Type of Cow

DMI

Pounds

Percent TDN

TDN

Pounds

Protein %

Protein Pounds

Mid-gestation dry cows

23.3

49%

11.4

6.9%

1.6

Late gestation dry cows

24.1

53%

12.8

7.9%

1.9

Early/peak lactation

27.8

61%

16.9

10.6%

3.0

 

The next thing you have to look at is what you have on hand to feed your cows.  This includes both the quantity and quality of what is available.  The level of fiber in the hay can decrease the amount of hay that a cow will eat.  Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) is a measure of the “bulkiness” of the hay.  Research indicates that beef cows will intake a maximum of 1.2% of their bodyweight in forage NDF.  Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) is a measure of the digestibility of the hay.  If the ADF of the hay is high, less of the hay will be utilized by the cow and more will pass through the cow undigested.  Figure 1 shows the relationship between harvest stage and fiber content.

   

Figure 1 Figure 1. Relationship between harvest stage and fiber content

 

In the samples in Table 2, the forage quality can be best described as less than ideal.  The timing of the rainfall made producing quality hay in Virginia a challenge this year.  Many producers have commented that the hay was “actually much greener and better than they thought it would be due to all the undergrowth”.  The hay samples below demonstrate that on a whole that statement is probably not true and we need to take care when feeding this year’s hay crop.  When feeding very poor quality hay high fiber levels serve as a double whammy.  Not only are cows consuming hay with less energy and protein content, but because they will fill up their rumen faster they will eat less total pounds and take in even less total pounds of nutrients.  Hay that is stored outside unprotected or baled when it is too green may have significant areas of mold.  Moldy hay may limit intake as well.  These issues explain why we commonly have problems maintaining weight on beef cows even when we are providing them with all the hay they want (can) eat.  Table 2 contains the Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN), Crude protein, and NDF analysis from 61 hay samples from farms across the state of Virginia

 Table 2.  Nutrient analysis of 61 hay samples from Virginia beef cattle farms

FarmGeographic 
Location
TypeCuttingDry 
Matter
Crude 
Protein
TDNNDF
 1 Northern 
Piedmont
 Grass Hay  88.4 8.1 55 69.3
Grass Hay 86.89.849.171.2
Grass Hay 88.29.657.863.5
2Northern 
Piedmont
Grass Hay2nd86.910.755.968.1
Grass Hay1st85.812.65075.7
Grass Hay 83.79.750.973.9
Grass Hay3rd88.38.854.867.4
3Southern 
Piedmont
Grass Hay1st87.710.257.164.7
Grass Hay2nd87.314.760.951.7
Grass Hay 87.710.558.463.9
4Coastal 
Plain
Clover/
Fescue
1st87.712.154.463.7
Coastal
Bermuda
1st87.17.564.866.2
Bermuda
Coastal
1st87.6661.271.2
Fescue/ Clover2nd87.685374.8

5

Southern
Piedmont

Grass Hay

1st

86.4

7.8

45.9

71

Alfalfa

1st

84.5

17.4

58.5

53.2

Grass Hay

2nd

87.4

9.6

53

74

Grass Hay 
Wrapped

2nd

69.5

8.5

50.8

70.9

Alfalfa

1st

87.7

19.7

55.4

51.7

6Coastal
Plain   
Bermuda
Mix 
 1st 88.2 10.5 55.867.8 
Grass Hay  1st 88.88.3  54.970.7 
 Bermuda (3) 2nd 85.8 10.352.5 75.3 
 7  Southside Orchardgrass/
Clover 
 2nd74.4  13.2 49.274.8 
Orchardgrass  1st87.2  11.5 54.2 70
Orchardgrass1st8714.160.763.6
8Coastal
Plain
Bermuda
Wrapped
2nd49.31157.672.9
Grass Hay1st86.19.752.378.9
Grass Hay1st87.99.653.974.8
Grass Hay 86.35.943.883.9
9

Southern
Piedmont

Orchardgrass/
Clover
1st868.950.472.1
Oats 84.77.556.567.1
Orchardgrass/
Clover
2nd83.59.551.772.3
Halifax Hay1st86.811.658.166.5
10SouthsideFescue/
Orchardgrass
1st87.810.754.272.5
GrassHay2nd84.710.353.972
GrassHay1st87.210.853.872.8
11Southern
Piedmont
Bermudagrass2nd84.9760.470.8
Bermudagrass1st85.911.55866.1
Orchardggrass1st87.513.15664.2
Grass Hay2nd86.29.759.267.6
Grass Hay1st8611.455.667.5
Alfalfa2nd8817.958.351.6
12Southwest
Virginia
Alfalfa/
Orchardgrass
2nd84.616.861.453.2
Alfalfa/
Orchardgrass
1st88.713.455.756.8
Alfalfa/
Orchardgrass
2nd88.11657.356.4
Clover/Grass
Wrapped
1st70.918.156.261.9
Grass Hay
Wrapped
1st60.812.151.968.8
Clover/
Orchardgrass
Wrapped
1st24.517.849.760.9
Grass Hay1st8911.85561
Grass Hay1st889.851.769
Grass Hay1st85.88.351.571.4
Clover/
Orchardgrass
2nd82.917.752.466.2
Orchardgrass1st87.5952.172.3
Clover/
Orchardgrass
Wrapped
1st54.312.954.667.6
Grass Hay1st87.38.149.978
Grass Hay1st87.91054.570.5
13    Blue Ridge
Mountains    
Alfalfa 87.59.355.466.6
Millet Wrapped 52.210.155.461.5
Grass Hay1st85.49.353.771.3
Grass Hay1st86.98.955.466.2
Wheat Wrapped 59.68.758.860.3

 

Graph 1 shows what how many of the hay samples will meet the nutrient requirements of beef cows at three different stages of production.  The samples show that energy is the primary nutrient deficiency in cows in late gestation and early/peak lactation.  Energy demands are very high for beef cows during these 2 stages of production any supplement strategy needs to be designed around meeting the energy demand of these cows.

 

   

GRAPH 1 Graph 1. Percent of samples meeting protein and energy requirements for different stages of production


The effect of fiber on actual protein and energy intake in beef cows

In 51 out of 61 (83.5%) hay samples, the beef cows will run out of room in her rumen before she eats as much as she wants to eat.  High fiber levels in the hay cause the cows to eat less than normal.  While we talk about percentages of protein and TDN, it is important to remember that what is really vital is how many pounds of each nutrient each cow actually consumes.  Graph 2 shows the percent of samples meeting the protein and energy requirements of beef cows when the hay intake level is adjusted for the fiber content of the hay.

   

Graph 2 Graph 2. Percentage of samples meeting protein and energy requirements for different stages of production when adjusting intake for hay fiber levels.

There is a common saying in business school that if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.  Farmers must run their farms like business if they want to maximize animal well being and profit.  Feeding of beef cows generally makes up more than 60% of the costs of keeping a beef cow.  Hay samples can be analyzed for $15.50 per sample and you can body condition score cows while you are running them through the chute this fall.  The chart above shows that it is near impossible to meet the energy needs of cows after they calve on hay alone.  In order to ensure that cows are in adequate body condition so they will breed back in a timely manner producers have 3 choices.

  1. Producers can have cows in a body condition score of 6+ so they can afford to lose 1 BCS
  2. Cows can have access to grazing during this time frame
  3. Producers can supplement cows to meet their needs

Coming next month:

Evaluating the hay feeding on individual farms and planning a supplementation program

Rights


Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, re-print, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Publisher

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Alan L. Grant, Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; Jewel E. Hairston, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.

Date

November 5, 2009