Beef Cow Rations and Winter Feeding Guidelines
Feeding beef cattle during Saskatchewan winters can be a challenging experience. Frame size, body condition, feed quality, types of feed and fluctuations in air temperatures all impact on feed consumption and rates of gain.
Over-feeding is costly and wastes feed while underfeeding affects body condition and may cause poor performance in the breeding herd.
The Cowbytes® Ration Balancing software, available from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, was used to develop the rations in this guide. It utilizes prediction equations based on the National Research Council "Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle - 2000 Update". Long term average feed nutrient values were used.
More accurate rations can be developed by having your feeds analyzed at a feed testing laboratory. The results of the feed analyses can then be incorporated into the Cowbytes® software. The services of a beef nutritionist can assist in developing rations.
The rations contained in this guide were designed to provide an acceptable level of nutrients required by 1,200 lb. and 1,400 lb. cows. The following information and rations are intended to be used as general guidelines. Responsibility for interpretation of the rations rests with the user.
Body Condition of the Cows
The body condition of cows at the start of the winter feeding period has a major affect on the amount and quality of feed required. Cows have greater difficulty gaining weight in cold winter conditions than during fall when temperatures are warmer. Thin cows must gain weight throughout the winter feeding period. They require a good quality forage or average quality forage with supplemental grain or pellets.
Cows in good condition in the fall do not need to gain actual body weight. They need enough feed to gain weight equal to the weight of the calf and calf bed. This usually amounts to 150 to 180 lb. of gain in an average sized cow. This mass is lost the day the calf is born. Average quality hay fed with small amounts of grain or pellets should meet the winter feed requirements of these cattle. If your cows are in good condition (a body score of three to 3.5), select rations that will give zero lb. of average daily gain. The rations in this guide have been designed to account for the weight of the fetus and calf bed.
Low Quality Feeds - Cold Weather Feeding
Sudden drops in temperature during the winter months will cause cows to consume more feed. If cows are fed poor quality feeds such as straw, they will attempt to consume more than they can digest and may become impacted. Processing the poor quality feed through a hammer mill or tub grinder will only increase feed intake which increases the potential for impaction when sudden drops in temperatures occur.
During periods of cold temperatures, increase the energy component of the ration by feeding additional grain or pellets at a rate of one lb. per head per day for every -5º C that the temperature is below -20º C at midday. For example, if the afternoon air temperature was -35º C, feed an additional three lb. of grain or pellets per cow.
Divide the Herd into Different Feed Groups
If the ration is based on straw or low quality hay, or if feed intake is limited, separate the herd into different feeding groups to match the nutritional needs of each group. Feed analyses provide important information on the nutrient levels of the feeds and should be used to accurately formulate rations.
Group I - Mature Cows in Good Condition Average quality hay supplemented with grain or pellets, minerals, fortified salt and vitamins, will generally meet the nutritional needs of this group.
Group II - Bred Replacement Heifers and Second Calf Heifers These young growing animals do not compete effectively for feed with the mature cows. The heifers require good quality hay and extra grain to meet their needs for growth and development. These animals are gaining body weight in addition to the developing fetus.
Group III - Thin and Old Cows These cows will need extra energy to get them through the winter. Some older cows may have hardware disease or may not have sound teeth.
If the cow herd cannot be divided into three groups, heifers and the thin or old cows could be fed together. A second option is to cull the thin or old cows rather than trying to feed them over the winter.
Salt and Minerals
Nearly all winter feeding programs for cows require the use of additional salt and minerals. Trace Mineralized Fortified Salt (TM Fortified Salt) has gained widespread acceptance. It contains similar levels of iodine and cobalt as found in blue salt. In addition, it contains a number of important and necessary trace minerals (copper, zinc, manganese and sometimes selenium). These trace minerals are commonly deficient in Saskatchewan grown forages and grains used for beef production.
Grass or legume-hay rations generally require the addition of a 1:1 mineral (equal parts of calcium and phosphorus). Rations based on greenfeed, cereal silage, straw-grain mixtures or rations containing high amounts of grain or pellets, often require additional levels of calcium. Provide a 2:1 mineral (two parts calcium to one part phosphorus) or a 3:1 mineral. Most cows require 1 to 2 oz. of mineral per head per day. Some producers provide a 1:1 mineral and add additional limestone which contains about 36 per cent calcium. Feed grade limestone is available at most feed supply outlets and is inexpensive.
TM Fortified Salt can be mixed with the minerals. This will encourage the cows to consume the mineral on a free-choice basis. A common mixture is one part loose salt to two parts mineral. All other sources of salt must be removed from the cows to ensure that they will consume enough of the salt-mineral mixture. Commercially available minerals can be purchased that have salt premixed with the mineral.
The cow's daily requirement for mineral increases after calving and throughout the milking period. A 1:1 or 2:1 mineral is usually required. Heavy milking cows may require additional calcium and phosphorus. Feed grade limestone or 3:1 mineral can be used. The mineral should be mixed with grain or concentrate to ensure adequate intake. Another option is to feed fortified pellets. These pelleted products are fortified with minerals, trace minerals, vitamins and salt. They are often competitively priced against barley.
Remember, "Cows eat what they like, not what they need". Cows will eat until full, given voluntary free-choice access to feed. Cows do not balance their nutrients or nutritional needs, only their intakes. In fact, cows can only balance four things:
On a free-choice basis, feed supplements and minerals are consumed in a "hit and miss" fashion. Some cows will eat the required amount, some cows will consume excessive amounts and others will ignore the supplement or mineral. It is better to mix the feed supplement or mineral into a small amount of grain or pellets (three to four lb. per head per day). Ensure that each cow receives her share. The other option is to feed fortified pellets containing a balance of minerals, vitamins and supplements.
Having the feeds analyzed will give a much more accurate account of the amount and type of minerals and supplements that your cows will require.
Trace Mineralized Fortified Salt was used to formulate these rations. If selenium is being supplemented, use a single source of selenium. If selenium is contained in more than one source of supplement (example : fortified salt and mineral), check with a beef nutritionist to ensure that a safe level of selenium is being fed. Excessive amounts of selenium can be toxic.
Vitamins are measured in International Units (IU's). Grains contain little or no vitamins. Forages and silage contain highly variable levels of vitamins.
Vitamin levels decrease as storage times increase. It is best to assume that cut forages supply no vitamin A. Prior to calving, beef cows require 40,000 to 50,000 IU's of vitamin A per head per day. After calving and prior to grazing green grass, each cow needs 70,000 to 90,000 IU's of vitamin A daily. Vitamin A is stored in the liver and is used when needed. It can be fed daily, weekly, monthly or it can be injected once every two to three months. Feed the required amount daily or once per week. The vitamin pre-mix can be blended with grain or concentrate. Many mineral and beef supplements also contain varying levels of vitamins.
A common source of vitamin A is a pre-mix of vitamin A-D-E containing 10,000,000 IU's of vitamin A per kg. One-quarter (0.25) oz. of this vitamin supplies 71,000 IU's (1.0 oz. of this vitamin pre-mix supplies 284,090 IU's). Exercise caution if using "triple strength" vitamin. These products contain 25 million to 30 million IU's of vitamin A per kg. They often contain high levels of selenium (1,000 to 1,200 mg per kg). Over feeding this material can lead to selenium toxicity problems in cattle. Ensure that proper levels are being provided.
The vitamin A-D-E pre-mix used in these rations contains 10,000,000 IU's of vitamin A per kg. Vitamin pre-mixes from different manufacturers contain varied levels of vitamin A-D-E. Follow label directions carefully. Measure and be sure.
Analyze the Feeds and Monitor the Cattle
The rations provided in this package of information were formulated using long-term average feed values. It is advisable to feed test each of the feed components prior to the start of your winter feeding program. Analyses of the hay and silage are most important as the nutrient levels can vary dramatically. The nutrient levels in straws and grains tend to have less variability but a feed analysis is recommended for these feeds as well.
During the winter feeding period, the condition of the cattle must be observed. Adjust the rations to accommodate the body condition and appetite of the cattle, changes in the weather and differences in feed sources. Watch for moldy feeds which can cause serious problems in pregnant and lactating cows.
Cold Weather Feeding
The sample rations in this package are based on feeding cattle during normal winter temperatures which range from -10 degrees to -20º C. Feed an additional one lb. of grain or pellets per head per day for every five degrees that the temperature is below -20º C at mid-day.
60 Days Prior to Calving
Decrease the amount of roughage fed by approximately 15 per cent and increase the amount of grain or pellets fed by 15 per cent. The capacity of the rumen decreases as the fetus develops, especially during the last half of the third trimester. As the unborn calf develops, it occupies more and more space within the body cavity.
After Calving - Lactation
Milk production places a significant increase on the cow's requirements for energy, protein and minerals. When feeding high grain rations or high volumes of pellets, feed one-half of the grain or pellets in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. A 1,200 lb. cow can safely eat about seven to eight lb. of grain or pellets at one feeding. Ensure there is adequate feed bunk space to minimize crowding. The larger or more aggressive cows will often eat more than their share of concentrate. Smaller or less aggressive cows may not have access to their share.
Reduce or eliminate forced feeding of straw after calving. Most straw rations do not provide adequate levels of energy during the lactation period. If cattle are fed a straw-grain ration, provide a good quality protein supplement such as canola meal, alfalfa pellets or a commercial beef protein supplement after calving. Adding any type of hay, even slough hay, to a straw ration will improve the nutrient supply to the cow.
Make Allowance for Feed Wastage
No allowance was made for feed wastage in these rations. Wastage can range from five to 25 per cent or more depending on the type of feeding system in use.
Limit Feeding or Restricting Feed Intakes
Molds and Molded Feeds
Feeding Considerations and Precautions
Alfalfa - Grass Hay
Example rations utilizing alfalfa grass hay (pdf file 19KB)
Lentil, Pea or Chickpea Hay
Lentil, Pea or Chickpea Straw
Bryan Doig, Provincial Feeds Specialist