The nutritional needs of spring calving cows and heifers should be evaluated before calving begins

While spring calving season is sometime away, it is never too early to start providing your cows with the nutritional extras and energy boosters they will need to birth healthy calves during one of the coldest times of the year.

Part of a successful spring calving feeding program is understanding the cow’s nutritional needs for the entire year.

“The beef cow herd’s nutritional requirements vary greatly throughout the yearly production cycle. Lactation is a major component of that variation,” Andy McCorkill, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension said. “The energy requirements related to milk production increase for the first 60 days or so of the calf’s life and will then start tapering off as the calf gets more size on it and begins eating on its own up until weaning when we take the lactation component out of the nutritional requirements.”

This point in the year is a good time to begin putting weight on cows that are harder keepers, McCorkill said.

“Another group that deserves special care are the heifers that are getting ready to have their first calf; besides taking care of the developing fetus they are carrying, they are still growing themselves. In a perfect world, it is advisable to sort those thinner cows and heifers into groups of their own so we can add energy supplement to them without having the expense of overfeeding the ones that don’t really need it. Not everyone is set up to split the herd like that, but it is something to consider,” McCorkill explained.

Dr. Shane Gadberry, nutrition specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, recommended using specialty software to accurately calculate the nutritional needs of spring calving cows.

“There are ration programs available, like Cowculator, that can help plan for body condition gain. Feeding for body condition early will also help improve the odds of having the cows in the right body condition for calving,” he said.

Some people have concerns about supplement feeding as spring calving draws near.

“A common fear I hear is supplemental feeding during late gestation causes increased dystocia because of increased calf birth weight,” Gadberry said. “Properly supplemented cows aren’t at greater risk for dystocia, but thin cows are more likely to wean off lighter calves and are less likely to maintain a 365-day calving interval.”

If you are unsure of whether your cows need additional supplements, McCorkill suggests using the Body Condition Scoring System as a guide. “The scoring system, runs from 1 to 9, where a cow with a BCS of 1 is very thin and emaciated and 9 is extremely obese. We like to see cows calve in at a 5 or 6. In this range, you likely won’t see any ribs showing at all, the hip bones will be visible but will have a rounded over appearance and a little fat in the brisket,” McCorkill said.

Once you’ve determined whether your cows need some supplemental feed, the next question is what to offer them if they do need it. “The go-to feed for supplementation will depend on where a rancher buys their feed and what’s available from that source. If forage test results indicate energy only is required, ranchers may consider a low-protein grain like corn or a low-protein byproduct such as soybean hulls; if energy and protein are needed, then a higher protein feed like corn gluten feed or distiller’s grains will be needed; however, if the price is right, grain and protein meal blends such as corn and cottonseed meal may be the feed of choice. Feeding rate and method will also play a part in determining the best feed options,” Gadberry said.

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What’s the Score?

Body Condition Scoring

BCS 1 – Severely emaciated; starving and weak; no palpable fat detectable over backbone or ribs; tailhead and individual ribs prominently visible. Normal production systems cannot maintain cattle in this condition

BCS 2 – Emaciated; similar to BCS 1, but not weakened; visible muscle tissue atrophy particularly in hindquarters; backbone, tailhead and ribs prominently visible

BCS 3 – Very thin; no fat over ribs or in brisket; backbone sharp and easily visible, slight muscle atrophy

BCS 4 – Boderline; individual ribs noticeable but overall fat cover is lacking; increased musculature through shoulders and hindquarters; hips and backdone slightly rounded versus sharp appearance of BCS 3

BCS 5 – Moderate; increased fat cover over ribs, generally only 12th or 13th ribs are individually distinguishable; tailhead full, but not rounded

BCS 6 – Good; back, ribs and tailhead slightly rounded; slight fat deposition beginning to appear in brisket

BCS 7 – Fat; cow appears fleshy and carries fat over the back, tailhead and brisket; ribs are not visible; area around vulva, rectum and udder contain moderate fat deposits

BCS 8 – Very fat; squared appearance due to excess fat over back, tailhead, and hindquarters; extreme fat deposition in brisket over ribs, around vulva, rectum and within udder

BCS 9 – Obese; similar to BCS 8, but to a greater degree; majority of fat deposited in udder limits effective lactation. Under normal production systems cattle in this condition score are rare

Klaire HowertonFarm HelpBody Condition Scoring,calving,nutrition,season,springThe nutritional needs of spring calving cows and heifers should be evaluated before calving begins While spring calving season is sometime away, it is never too early to start providing your cows with the nutritional extras and energy boosters they will need to birth healthy calves during one of the...The Ozarks' most read farm newspaper, reaching more than 58,000 readers in Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma