Forage quality tough on nutrition

Production of quality beef starts at an early age for calves. Adequate nutrition from birth — and even before birth — is vital to production of beef that will yield well and meet end-user requirements.

Given the recent growing year, the high quality forage beneficial to lactating cows, growing calves and replacement heifers is likely to be in shorter supply than usual, said Alberta Agriculture livestock and forage specialist Barry Yaremcio.

“This year the quality of the forage is very poor, probably the worst that I’ve seen since I started working 34 years ago,” he said during a recent Alberta Agriculture webinar.

Producers have to be strategic with available feed supplies to ensure healthy animals and quality beef are the outcome.

“Rule number one, provide the highest quality feed to the animals with highest requirements, and those are lactating animals, growing calves, replacement heifers. So those are the ones that should get the best groceries that you have available.”

A number of factors dictate what ration is required, he added. Those include age and weight of the animal, stage of production, body condition, proximity to calving, health status in terms of being dewormed and vaccinated, level of stress from weather or pen competition and management expectations.

“It all comes into play when you build a ration,” said Yaremcio.

Winter temperatures require attention to rations so cattle get adequate energy and maintain their health.

“When it gets cold, energy requirements of the animal go up. … When the animal eats and digests the feed, it generates a certain amount of heat. And down to -20 C, the heat produced from the digestion is enough to meet the requirements of that animal as long as they’re over 450 pounds and with a good developed hair coat.

“Now they’ll need extra energy to keep warm below this point. Bedding helps but for every 10 degree drop in temperature, you should increase the amount of grain fed by two lb. per day. So if you’re feeding four lb. of grain at -20 C, increase that to six lb. at -30 C and eight lb. at -40 C.”

When temperatures rise, that ration will require adjustment as well, said Yaremcio. Grain will have to be reduced to avoid heat stress and a resulting lower feed intake.

About 75 percent of calf growth occurs in the last three months of pregnancy so feeding rates and feed quality should be increased in that period. Cows produce colostrum in the last six to eight weeks of pregnancy and need high nutrition.

After calving, cows’ nutrient requirements rise by about 25 percent. Adequate protein is vital to cow and calf health at that point.

Inadequate protein can be identified by pyramid-shaped manure patties. Flat and smooth manure pats indicate the cow is ingesting enough protein to meet rumen requirements, Yaremcio said.

In the case of feeder and backgrounder calves, smaller calves need more protein than larger ones, he added. For every 100 lb. of difference in weight or size of animal, increase protein in the ration by one percent.

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