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Developing a feeding program for your herd can be overwhelming, without the right tools. But not all producers utalize the tools they have at their disposal to their fullest potential.

As winter approaches, cattle producers should prepare for the cold by examining the changing nutritional needs of their herd, but according to Johnny Gunsaulis of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension agent, different producers take different approaches:

1. Some producers begin by taking a sample before the feeding season and sending it to a lab to determine the protein and energy content of their hay. Then this test result can allow the hay to be fed to the animals it is most suited for or allow the manager to make decisions about what should be fed along with the hay to either maintain condition or support desired gains.

2. Others begin putting out hay when grass seems to be getting low and also begin putting out a supplement, based on either a recommendation, what they fed in previous years, what seems to be the cheapest option, or what seems to be the amount to spend to ease their conscience, based on how the hay looks and then adjust this program as the animals either fatten or appear to be losing weight.

3. Some producers put out hay and monitor the body condition of animals, and height of the manure piles left and use this information to decide whether they need to supplement or not.

4. Then there are producers who simply feed what they have and hope they make it through the winter fine.

Which approach is the most beneficial for the producer? Testing the hay is the place to start in developing a feed or suplement program for the winter months.

According to the University of Missouri Extension, in beef cows, body condition affects the amount and type of winter feed supplements that will be needed. Fat cows usually need only medium-quality hay and small amounts of supplement plus mineral and vitamin supplementation. Thin cows usually need high-quality hay and may also need supplements that are high in energy (+70 percent TDN), medium in protein (12 to 15 percent CP), plus mineral and vitamin supplementation.

Gunsaulis said a beef cow will lose 100 or more pounds before she is obviously one body condition score lower.

When checking cattle daily, it makes it hard to notice that the cattle have lost a body condition score.

The cattle could slowly lose weight through the winter without the producer knowing.

Once they lose one or more body condition scores, the winter is a tough time to regain that condition, Gunsaulis said.

So testing the forage before feeding or supplementing will receive the best results.

So like anything else, preparing ahead of time, and being educated on what the animal nutrition needs are will be the most beneficial.

Meghan AndersonFarm Helpfeed,producers,program,winterDeveloping a feeding program for your herd can be overwhelming, without the right tools. But not all producers utalize the tools they have at their disposal to their fullest potential. As winter approaches, cattle producers should prepare for the cold by examining the changing nutritional needs of their herd, but...The Ozarks' most read farm newspaper, reaching more than 58,000 readers in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma