Take the Winter Feeding Challenge
It seems that most articles on the winter feeding of beef cows are quite
similar, with minor variations on themes. I hope you will find this article
different! I am going to give you ten feeding strategies or ideas which
I believe cow/calf producers should consider (and feedlot folks could
take note of a few too). Some of the strategies work well together, while
some are very effective on their own. They are all intended to help reduce
that winter maintenance cost which, in the end, seems to be the real make
or break part of the cow/calf production equation.
My challenge to you is to try at least one new strategy from the list
this coming winter!
- Days at Grazing - Still the number one way to reduce
feed costs. Stockpiled perennial pasture is low cost, providing
feed at half the cost of using hay. Grazing a season extending
annual crop is an intermediate cost strategy. There is a large
amount of information available to provide ideas for your location
in the province. One good link is www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/field/forages.html.
Previous issues of Virtual Beef also have excellent articles.
Moderate frame size cows on fall pasture
- Afternoon and Evening Feeding - No one seems to fully
understand it, but the timing of cow feeding can influence the
time of calving. Many producers have successfully used feeding
in late afternoon and evening to push calving from nighttime to
daytime. Using this strategy can reduce overnight (human) labour
needs on the farm. To make this work you should start p.m. feeding
about 4-6 weeks before calving to get the cows adjusted to the
- Reduced-Hay Rations (RHRs) - Hay was plentiful in most
parts of the province this year, but read on! Commodities are
also relatively inexpensive at this point. Might some purchased
barley or corn help reduce your hay use and let you build a little
forage reserve? For the folks where there were regional hay shortages,
this should be a top notch hay stretching method.
- Ethanol By-products - Hand in hand with RHRs based on corn
or barley, how about ethanol by-products? And in cases where a
little extra protein is needed, such as with really bad hay, these
by-product commodities deserve special consideration. For that
matter, consider them in any ration where you'd use grain plus
a protein source. As ethanol becomes more available at the gas
pumps, the by-products from its production will become more available.
Cow rations formulated with distillers' grains were covered in
the Virtual Beef reference for RHRs as well. This topic promises
to be popular at this winter's meetings!
- Bulk Silage - Using corn and forage crops for bulk
chopped silage stored in bunker silos is worth a look. There are
two advantages: in larger beef cow herds labour associated with
harvesting forages in bales is a bottleneck. This limitation was
also encountered in large dairies, many of which have moved to
bulk silage to eliminate the bottleneck. The other advantage is
the ease of mixing various feeds such as straw, grain and commodities
with the chopped forage. Of interest in southern Ontario is that
in many instances corn silage seems to be less expensive than
hay, especially if purchased as a standing crop.
- Alternate Day Feeding - There has been a reasonable amount
of research and enough farm experience to recommend alternate day feeding
as a means to use feeds of differing qualities or characteristics without
using TMR mixers and their associated costs. For example, if the theoretical
ration required ½ poor quality hay and ½ better quality
haylage, it would be best to combine them in a TMR. However, a close
second in effectiveness would be to feed just one type of feed on a
given day, with the other the next day. As an alternative, you could
offer the same feed type for two days in a row (but not for more than
two days.) The poorest strategy would be to put some bales of each type
out each day! This is because of the dominance order in the herd
bossy cows will get all of the best feed and grow fat, while submissive
cows will get only poor feed and suffer because of it. Similarly. corn
silage or grain could be fed every second day as well. Get more details
"Wintering Livestock Using Alternate
TMR mixers are a good tool for blending corn silage and commodity
feeds with forages in reduced hay rations
- Microclimate Management - Especially in the dead of winter,
poor coat condition (caked with mud and or manure), wet wintering sites
and wind can almost double energy requirements (or weight loss) for
cows. In that mid-January to mid-February period in particular, consider
the benefits of wind breaks and clean, dry resting areas. Get cows to
that stressful period with enough body condition and clean hides to
ensure good insulation. Windbreaks and shelterbelts are a science unto
themselves, but a couple of key points are:
- slotted or porous walls are better than solid walls, (so the
old bunker silo wall won't cut it unless you want to dig cows out
of the snow drift).
- wind break fence or treed shelterbelts set at least 15 m (50
ft) from the site are the best way to go
- the Environmental Farm Plan promotes shelterbelts.
Figure 3. Clean
coated cows in good condition at a sheltered wintering site
- Calving Season - There has been a significant
amount of research and discussion on how the season of calving
affects winter feed needs. This is a major topic unto itself but
it interrelates with the other nine techniques listed here. The
OMAFRA site covers research on this topic at: www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/livestock/beef/cowcalf.html
- Reduce Cow Frame Size - The number one predictor
of intake across cattle types is size and weight. The point is,
the bigger the cow, the bigger her feed bill. Consider better
use of terminal sires on smaller (not small) cows to keep calf
yields up while keeping winter cow feeding costs down.
- Information Management - None of these strategies
can be properly evaluated without basic information on your operation,
such as forage inventories, cow weights and recording days at
pasture. This is especially important if a big ticket technology,
such as bulk silage, is being considered. All this information
and much more will be needed to evaluate the potential and allow
you to make sound decisions.
So try one of these strategies
and let me know how it works out!
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