Make or Break: Cow Nutrition Pre and Post Calving

Beef cows need little babying. There is one exception that cannot be overlooked! That is the period prior to calving, and the weeks following it.

Pre Calving Nutrition – The nutrition of the cow in the last 1.5 months of gestation are critical. If at no other time in pregnancy an effort is made to elevate the plane of nutrition it must happen here! Poor nutrition at this point reduces calf vigour, health, survivability and performance. A major reason for this is poor colostrum quality and availability, as well as the calf’s inability to stand and use it quickly. Additionally, selenium as well as other nutrient deficiencies have been linked to poor colostrum production. From a maintenance diet of 50% TDN* and 6.5% CP*, the cow should experience a transition to a diet of 60% TDN and 9% CP by 40 days before the first anticipated calf. Such a diet is possible with high quality forage, or some moderate forage plus 2 lbs. of grain. At calving, BCS* should be equal to 3.5 on the 1 to 5 system. As always, ensure proper mineral supplementation.

Post Calving Nutrition – To maximise calf growth and re-breeding, attention must be given to nutrition. Energy and protein deprived cows (BCS less than 2.5) are less likely to cycle early, and less likely to conceive and retain early pregnancies. The better the nutrition from calving to breeding, the better the calf crop next year. A greater number of fertile cows early in the breeding season means more calves born as a group next year. Shoot for a BCS of 3 at breeding by staying on a diet of about 60% TDN and 9.5% CP or more. Often, well-managed pasture will do.

TDN = total digestible nutrient
CP = crude protein
BCS = body condition score


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Christoph Wand - Beef Cattle, Sheep and Goat Nutritionist/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 01 January 2000
Last Reviewed: 21 January 2010