Conditioning cows before winter important

Beef specialists say cattle producers still have a number of options available to get their animals in condition before winter strikes.

Some cows might be thin this year, particularly in the southern parts of the Prairies, due to reduced pastures caused by dry conditions.

To help get thinner cows back onto a good weight, farmers and ranchers can add hay to the cows’ diets, said Karin Lindquist, a beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

She said rations for cows in poor condition should be roughly three-quarters hay and one-quarter straw, as well as about five pounds of grain. She said feed tests are important to determine the exact amount that is needed.

But hay might be difficult to come by this year, she said, and producers should also take trucking fees into account if they plan to haul it in.

If it looks like getting hay will be problematic, Lindquist said they can turn to good-quality green-feed or silage if they have access to it.

“In the ration for the cows in poor condition, they need that extra protein from a green-feed, silage and some grain,” she said. “A grain will help them gain a little more, but the thing is, they need to get a feed test going and talk to a nutritionist.”

She said good condition cows rate an average of three out of give on the body condition score (BCS) model. Anything less than three, or in the 2.25 range is poor.

“If they are a little excess in weight, producers can look to get them to lose some weight,” she said.

Another method to get a cow in good condition is weaning early, said Travis Peardon, a livestock and feed extension specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture.

He said calf prices are strong right now, so it might be beneficial to sell them sooner. As well, when a calf is no longer attached to a cow or the herd, he said nutritional needs drop considerably.

“It’s more easy to put weight on a cow that’s without a calf than a cow with a calf,” he said. “A cow heading into winter in good shape requires less feed than a cow that is not in good condition.”

Lindquist echoed that sentiment.

“In the winter time, where you get the colder conditions, it’s always harder to get a cow to gain weight, especially when the quality of feed is limited,” she said.

Creep feeding is also an option, but Peardon said it can be expensive to do if cashflow is tight.

“You can start supplementing cows on pasture with grain anytime this fall, but be careful,” he said. “You want to make sure nobody is getting too much. I’ve seen cows bloat before.”

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