Cow Calf Management Tips For The Winter

Cow-Calf Management For December December is a critical time for cow-calf producers. How critical depends primarily on the weather. December can be a “tricky” month when it comes to weather. The environment during November is a good example and the variation in temperature, rainfall and as this is being prepared, warm weather is in the forecast for parts of the state. The weather will dictate the start of winter feeding.  With a mild December, feeding can be delayed due to the availability of some grass. A few days of grazing can lower the winter feed bill. The next four months, December through March, is the most expensive phase in the production of feeder calves.  This due to the fact that 92% of cow-calf producers use hay as the winter feed source.  Review your management practices of feeding hay and implement ways to reduce the waste that occurs. Wasted hay means reduced returns and profitability. A University of Missouri worker reported that 50% of the hay harvested is never consumed bythe cattle.Late Winter-Early Spring Calving Herds
These herds will be a couple of months away from being in the midst of calving requirements will increase the last third of the pregnancy. Cows should currently be in a “good” body condition score (BCS). There are lots of cows that are in a BCS of 3 and 4, whichis not good for future reproduction.

Mature cows should be in a BCS of 5 at calving. Results of research trials conducted across the nation have produced the same results. If cows are now in a BCS of 3, they will need to improve by 2 condition scores. Provide these cows extra feed now. The “rule of thumb” that can be used to determine the weight gain to increase body condition one score is 80-100 lb.  For example, a cow in a BCS of 3 at the first of December to be in a BCS of 5 at calving the first of February 1, a period of 60 days, the cow would need to gain 160 to 200 lb. to achieve this, she would need to gain 2.66 to 3.33 lb. per day. It will be difficult to make this gain on the quality of feed available on most farms and as the weather gets cold. These “thin” cows might be candidates for marketing when the expense of improving condition is considered. A report by Extension Beef Specialists of Michigan State reported that one BCS score was worth $58.00 in reduced winter feed costs. It will be more now with the added cost of producing and harvesting hay.

Bred replacement heifers should be in a body condition score (BCS) of 6 at calving. If not currently in a condition score of “6,” these females need to be fed and managed to be in a BCS of 6 at calving and breeding for the replacement heifers.  These females will require a higher quality, more expensive feed than cows.

If available, dry and mature pregnant cows can utilize corn crop residue and low quality hay.  Cows in a BCS of 3 or 4 would need to be supplemented. If there are plenty of shucks and leaves as well as some grain, cows in a BCS of 5-6 can do okay. Some grazing would probably be available around the edge of the fields. Frequently observe the cows’ condition. Don’t let them lose weight and condition. Check label on herbicide used last spring for precautions.

The cattle in the herd that require the greatest level of management and care during this period are the weaned and replacement heifers that will be approaching first calving. These females should be separated from the mature cow herd and fed the better quality hay. These animals will be expensive to maintain and develop into replacements.  They might be evaluated for marketing.

The young, weaned replacement heifers should be on a management program to reach 650- 750 lb.  British breeds and larger-framed heifers should weigh 700-750 lb. and cycling by March 1 and ready for breeding. What do they now weigh?  Based on the current weight, producers should develop a feeding and management program to get the job done. Generally, these heifers will need to gain 1.5-1.75 lb. per day up to breeding the first of March. Again, consider the economics.

If cows still have late calves on them, wean them.  Get them off the cows so that they can gain condition before winter sets in. Delayed weaning will result in poor body condition and delayed rebreeding. These cows should be considered for marketing in that they calve out of season.  “Out of season” calving cows create management problems and increase costs for the producer.

Now would be a good time to review the weight, grade and price of the last calf crop as well as the marketing options. Would a genetically superior bull, a shorter calving period, cooperative marketing or improved forage production improve both performance and the value of the calf crop? Plan and start the development of a short calving season.
Late Fall-Early Winter Calving Herds
Generally, these cows should calve in good condition and have adequate forage to meet lactation requirements and rebreed. However, based on personal observations, lots of allcalving cows are in a poor body condition. Some are already in a BCS as low as 3’s and 4’s. Cows should be in a BCS of “5” to successfully rebreed. If the weather gets colder, coupled with low quality feed, poor reproductive performance can be expected. These herds are in the midst of calving. Even under normal conditions, management needs for this group will be the greatest than at any time in their production cycle.

Water needs increase greatly following calving. Mature cows will need about 25 to 40 gallons per day. Water availability can be a challenge during the winter but with rainfall experienced in recent times, it should be in good supply.

Both the quality and amount of feed should be increased 20 to 30 percent following calving to ensure milk production, reproductive performance of the damns and calf performance and survival.

The females that calve in a body condition of 4 or less at calving, will have trouble rebreeding.  To improve BCS of the cows, consider weaning the calves and place them on a high quality feed. This will help the cows improve in condition and the calves to improve in gain.
Suggestions For Both Groups of Cows

Dry beef cows will need a diet that is at least 7% crude protein in the middle third of pregnancy and 9% protein in the last third of pregnancy. Pregnant yearling heifers will need a diet that is at least 11 to 12% protein, and heifers and mature cows nursing calves will need a diet that contains at least 11% protein.  Remember “7 come 11” as a rule of thumb.

If heifers and young cows are not separated from older cattle, they may be pushed aside when given supplemental feeds and they may not receive the protein or energy they require.

If producers need to purchase hay or other feed resources, do it soon because it will be more expensive as the winter progresses.

Approximately 2.25-2.50 tons of good quality hay will be needed to winter one animal unit (1,000 lbs.) for 150 days. If practices are not followed to reduce waste during feeding, this can increase from 2.9 –3.3 tons of hay.

Corn, corn gluten, and soy hulls are alternative feeds to substitute for forage. Consider the cost of transportation, storage as well as feeding methods of these feeds.

When purchasing hay, if possible buy it based on weight. Results from “hay days” have shown that beef producers do a “poor job” of estimating weight of large round bales.

With hay purchase and that on-hand, have a forage test done on both sources.

Treat cattle that will remain in the herd for both external and internal parasites. The effect of parasites will be greater during the winter.

Soybean meal is an excellent protein source with low-quality forages, because approximately 80 percent of the soybean meal is degraded in the rumen, and the rumen microbial population must be given a source of nitrogen so that they can reproduce, before they can digest the low-protein forage.

If producers are using corn stover as the main source of forage, it will be necessary to supplement a high-energy feed to the lactating cows such as dried distiller’s grains, corn gluten feed, or pelleted soybean hulls in order to keep the animals in the proper body condition.

If labor is an issue, and it is not feasible to feed protein supplements daily, it might be appropriate to use protein tubs for supplementation with low-protein feeds such as straw, corn stover or soybean stubble. However, expect to pay more for the same amount of protein if a soybean meal and distillers dried grain combination had been used.

Feeding low-quality feeds that are low in crude protein, below 7 percent, will result in reduced digestion and possible rumen compaction. Addition of protein supplementation to the ration will improve the digestibility of poor quality forages.

Protein supplements can be fed on alternate days if an adequate amount is provided to meet the nutritional requirement for the two days. UT research also shows that mature beef cows can be fed hay every other day when provided an adequate amount. Alternate day feedings will save labor and reduce costs but observation time of the cows is reduced.
Candy Fed to Cattle
Because they are ruminants, cattle can consume chocolate bars, gummy worms, ice cream sprinkles, marshmallows, bits of hard candy and even powdered hot chocolate mix.
Cows have been fed candies and other byproducts for decades. However, feeding candy to cows has become a more popular practice in recent years with the rising price of corn.
Producers are considering purchasing the obscure market for cast-off feed ingredients. Cut-rate byproducts of dubious value for human consumption seem to make fine feed for cows. While corn goes for about $315 a ton, ice-cream sprinkles can be had for as little as $160 a ton. A word of caution, encourage producers to calculate the available supply, storage, dry matter content and the value of the nutrient given to the cow.
Source: November 17, 2014. Universities Form Task Force on Antibiotic Resistance
The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Association ofAmerican Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) announced the creation of the Task Force on Antibiotic Resistance in Production Agriculture the past month.
The task force is comprised of representatives from U.S. agriculture colleges/land grant universities and veterinary colleges as well as key representatives from the production animal agriculture community and the pharmaceutical industry. The goal of the task force is to help advise the federal government on a research agenda and also help publicly disseminate information on the use of antibiotics in production agriculture. Officials from key federal agencies are expected to serve as observers to the task force and leaders from public universities in Mexico and Canada will serve as ex officio members.
Scientists and the public have grown increasingly concerned about the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria in veterinary and human medicine. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have expressed serious concerns as well. Some bacteria have developed defenses against different classes of antibiotic compounds.
 Tyson Foods Concludes Strong Year and Sees Stronger Times Ahead
Despite a weak fourth quarter, Tyson Foods Inc. concluded a profitable fiscal 2014 and has expectations for fiscal 2015 as the company reaps the benefits of its acquisition of Hillshire Brands.
For the year ended Sept. 27, Tyson Foods net income rose to $864 million, equal to$2.48 per share on the common stock, an increase compared with the previous year when the company earned $778 million, or $2.26 per share. Sales for the year totaled $37.6 billion compared with $34.4 billion the previous year.
Chicken sales rose approximately 3 percent during the year to total $10.98 billion, and Prepared Foods sales rose 10 percent to $3.32 billion. Pork sales rose less than 1 percent while Beef business unit sales fell less than 1 percent.
Source: Keith Nunes. November 17, 2014.
 Early Cold Blast Prompts Cattle Cold Stress
An early blast of cold weather has landed in Tennessee and the Southeast, and that puts pressure on producers to make sure their cattle are ready for the environmental. Some locations may even see the livestock cold stress index dip into the emergency category earlier than normal this winter. This cold weather will continue to build over the course of the upcoming winter.  Wind-chill could very well dip into the single digits at times and create great stress on cattle.
Temperatures about 20 degrees below normal for this time of year and will create dangerous conditions for cattle.  Cattle producers should make sure animals have adequate shelter, water, dry bedding and feed to make it through a cold spell. Ambient temperatures can impact the amount of feed cattle eat, providing an opportunity to compensate for increased maintenance energy needs.  Producers either need to increase their animals’ feed intake or increase the energy density of the diet by feeding higher quality hay or adding more grain or fat to the grain mix.
Monitor cows during the wintertime and make sure to maintain the animals’ body condition. Poor quality hay may not provide adequate energy to maintain gestating cows that are entering the third trimester. Consider having the hay tested to determine if supplements are necessary. Consider separating younger and thinner cows that may not have the same internal insulation as conditioned older cows and supplement them accordingly or offer them higherquality forage if available.  Producers should move cows to fields with natural windbreaks or provide man-made windbreaks, which are not the same as a barn. Poorly managed barns may actually hamper efforts to improve the environmental conditions. Lastly, remember it is energy or calories that are really needed.  If the protein level in the forage is adequate, do not make supplement decisions based on protein level; rather purchase the most affordable energy source. The lower critical temperature (LCT) value for cattle is the lowest temperature or wind chill at which no additional energy is required to maintain functional body temperature. As the temperature declines below this lower critical value, the maintenance energy value for the animal is increased to maintain core body temperature. Animals maintain core body temperature by increasing their metabolism, resulting in greater heat production, as well as other heat conservation strategies, such as reducing blood flow to the extremities, shivering and increased intake. Both external and internal insulation influences the LCT. External insulation is basically the depth and thickness of the hair coat, condition of the hair coat and thickness of the hide. Thin-hided breeds such as dairy breeds tend to have a lower insulating factor than thick-hided breeds like Herefords. The condition of the hair coat is extremely important as an external insulation barrier.
If the hair is wet and full of mud, air is excluded, reducing the insulating value and in- creasing heat loss from the skin to the environment. As little as 0.1 inch of rain can immediately impact cold stress severity by matting the hair down reducing its insulating ability. Acclimation time, hide thickness, fat cover and other factors will also influence the degree of cold stress that animals experience.
Source: Jeff Lehmkueller, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, University of Kentucky.
 Feed Levels for Cows During Winter
Beef producers have known that cow energy requirements increase in cold weather.
There is not much we can do about the weather; however adjustments in the diet of beef cows can reduce the effects of the winter weather.
Results from an experiment at Kansas State University suggest several advantages for adjusting energy levels for cold weather.  This information was gathered during the 1979 – 1980 winter. The K-State researchers used 60 commercial cows fed in dry lot and fed one-half of the cows a steady diet based upon the thermal neutral requirements for body weight maintenance; the other 30 cows were fed a ration adjusted for 1% more feed for each degree of coldness.
Thermal neutral is generally considered to have its lower limits at 32 degrees wind chill index on cows with dry hair coats. For each 1 degree decrease in wind chill index, the feed would be increased 1%. Beef cows exposed to cold require more energy for maintenance therefore the results below indicate the effectiveness of making those adjustments.
There are several key implications from the results of this experiment. Cows that gained 115 pounds in the last 4.5 months of gestation should be in one full body condition score better at calving. This explains the increased cycling rate by 60 days after calving. In addition the 103 pound weight difference in the following fall indicates that the cows will go into the next winter in better body condition. The amount of additional feed (in the Kansas State study) to account for the cold weather events that winter would be equivalent to 125 pounds of corn per cow. The current prices of winter supplements must be considered when adjusting the ration to match the weather.  HOWEVER, the expected continued high prices of calves in 2015 – 2016, means that every advantage to improve calf crop percentage or weaning weight should be utilized.
Source: Glen Selk, November 19, 2014. Oklahoma State University.
 Cattle Care During Winter Weather
The long range weather forecast is calling for some extended cold temperatures.  Over the course of winter cold temperatures, wind chill, snow, freezing rain and mud are all possible. All of these winter weather conditions can negatively impact livestock performance and in- crease the energy requirement of the animal.

All animals have a thermo neutral zone, that is, a temperature range that is considered optimum for body maintenance, animal performance and health. The lower boundary of this zone is referred to as the lower critical temperature (LCT). Livestock experience cold stress below the LCT. An increase in the metabolism of the animal, generally by shivering, in or- der to maintain body temperature is one method of dealing with cold stress. This requires more    energy, either from fat stores or more energy intake in the diet. The general rule of thumb is that energy intake must increase by 1% for each degree of cold below the LCT.

As hair coat thickness is increased, the LCT decreases. For example, in cattle, the LCT temperature for a summer hair coat or a wet hair coat is 59 degrees F. The LCT temperature for a winter hair coat is 32 degrees F and for a heavy winter coat it is 18 degrees F.

The producer needs to realize that once an animal’s coat is wet, regardless of how heavy it is, the lower critical temperature increases to that summer hair coat LCT. This is because hair coats lose their insulating ability when wet. Sheep are the exception, since wool has the ability to shed water and maintain its insulating properties.

Mud can also reduce the insulating ability of the hair coat. The relationship between mud and its effect on energy requirements is not as well defined, but depending upon the depthof the mud and how much matting of the hair coat it causes, energy requirements could in- crease 7 to 30% over dry conditions. In addition, there is research that suggests that mud may also be associated with decreased feed intake.

Wind speed produces wind chill and can further increase energy requirements for cattle when those values are below the LCT.
Following are several management options to help cattle cope with winter weather stresses, including:

Provide windbreak protection to reduce the effects of wind chill on energy requirements.

Increase access to better quality forage. Cattle can increase intake to some extent under cold conditions and if forage is of good quality, then energy intake is also increased. Grinding poorer quality forages to decrease particle size can allow more intake and increased digestibility.

Limited feeding of corn, or use of a high energy, non-starch feedstuff.

Move livestock out of muddy conditions or take steps to reduce the mud by utilizing a feeding pad.
Source: OSU Extension Beef Team, Submitted by Jim Neel