Winter Feed Supplement Requirements

Published on Wed, 11/07/2018 - 1:10pm

 Winter Feed Supplement Requirements

 By Michael Cox for American Cattlemen Magazine

 Winter feed is typically the single biggest cost for beef producers and has a major influence on the profitability of the business. Harvested forages are at least three times more expensive than grazed feeds, so it is important that producers supplement their herds properly when grass supply runs low.

Nutritional requirements
For the typical 1200 lb cow, Oklahoma State University research suggests that mid-gestation cows require 50% total digestible nutrient value feeds (TDN) and 7.1% Crude Protein (CP). Late gestation cows require 54% TDN and 7.9% CP, while early lactation cows will need 59% TDN and 10.5% CP feedstuffs. The only way to establish if hay quality meets these standards is to send samples for forage analysis. Results are typically returned within and week and allow producers to confidently feed the correct quantity of hay and/or additional supplement.
 Knowing the feed quality of your hay is crucial to ensuring the herd is not only properly fed, but properly nourished, and there is a difference between the two. Intakes are generally limited based on NDF levels of the feed. Having a large stockpile of rounds may not necessarily be adequate for winter if it’s just a collection of very stemmy, high NDF feed. Cows can only eat 1.5% of body weight in NDF daily, so if poor quality, high NDF hay is fed, the cow will feel full, but she will not have sufficient nutrient intake to meet her demands. More supplementation will be required if poor quality hay is the base of the ration. Higher quality forages, typically above 8% crude protein will be consumed at 2.5% DM bodyweight. If forage quality is excellent, it may make financial sense to ration out the high-quality forage to meet nutritional needs, and then ‘top-up’ the diet with lower quality ‘filler’ feeds to keep the animal feeling fully fed.
The aim is to feed to requirement, not feed to fill, particularly with dry cows. Lactating cows require up to 50% more intake than dry cows, while lower BCS cows will also require additional energy intakes. Where possible, group animals according to age and BCS and feed higher quality, more energy dense early-harvested forages to heifers and thin cows.
Supplementation with small grains can be cost effective if cows are continued grazing through winter on corn stalks or deferred grasses. Grain intake should be limited to less than .5% of cow liveweight to minimize risk of acidosis and bloat. Alternatively, if roughage availability is limited, a 20% standard ‘range cube’ can be introduced.

Outside influences
Climate challenges will also play a role in the amount of supplement required over winter. Poor weather can increase passage rate as cows burn more forage to help stay warm. Energy requirement can increase by 3% per degree for wind chills starting at 59 F. Providing wind-break shelter and a ‘dry-lie’ at all times can reduce the effects of difficult weather and help maintain BCS.

Extended grazing
Forage quality in stockpiled forages can be surprisingly high and it’s recommended to test some samples before grazing once frosts set-in. Bermudagrass stockpiled from early Fall can have 55%-60% total digestible nutrients, which combined with a high protein cube, can offer superior nutrition to a lot of hay. Stockpiled forage can be offered a little every day to help maintain quality feed in the diet.
Although it is too late in this year’s season to introduce stockpiled forages unless it has been planned for months in advance, producers should consider ways to extend their grazing season next year. Apart from stockpiled grazing on the home ranch, custom grazing neighboring land in late winter/early spring of crops such as wheat can offer advantages to both beef and row crop farmers. Consulting with local extension officers to learn more about other producers custom grazing can pay dividends in future in terms of lowering hay requirements.
Damaged crops harvested in after weather-stress and/or by-products should be considered for use during winter depending on your local area conditions. These feeds should be economically compared to hay on a dry matter basis. Depending on hay availability and quality, by-products can pencil-out favorably in many cases and improve animal performance.

Regardless of what type of feed is used during the winter, reducing wastage will have a significant impact on the cost of bringing animals through to the Spring. Storage and feeding-out methods will effect wastage and losses of 15% to 30% are not uncommon. For example, as the outside 6 inches of standard sized rounds contain 30% of the total forage in the bale, it is common for poorly stored bales to have significant losses before they are even fed out. Feed losses can be minimized by daily feeding, using electric wire to limit access to large quantities of feed and using feed bunkers, rings or trailers.