Limited forage growth this spring means producers may need to supplement cows with some type of concentrate or use high-quality hay.

April 17, 2018

2 Min Read
Feed cows appropriately to meet requirements of early lactation

Prolonged winter weather in the Upper Midwest has limited forage growth so far this season, which means many producers are still feeding cows.

Iowa State University beef specialist Chris Clark reminded producers of the importance of feeding cows appropriately this spring. Nutritional requirements are significantly greater during lactation, and it is critical for producers to adjust rations appropriately.

“Energy and protein requirements are significantly greater during lactation. Many spring calves have been born, but because of the weather, pastures are not yet growing well,” Clark said. “It is important to realize that whether they're in a lot setting or already on pasture, cows need to be fed well enough to support early lactation.”

Typical winter diets, balanced for gestational requirements, may not offer enough energy and protein to meet requirements of early lactation. Producers may need to supplement with some type of concentrate or at least strive to use high-quality hay.

“To help cows milk well and maintain condition, we need to feed them well as we are waiting for the grass to grow,” Clark said. “They really need some good hay and, in many cases, some additional supplementation to keep them on a good plane of nutrition. The challenge is that not everyone has a good handle on the quality of their hay, plus at this point in the season, hay inventories may be running pretty low.”

Corn co-products are low-starch feeds that are very compatible with forage-based diets, and Clark said distillers grains can work well to supplement and stretch hay supplies. Other feeds such as soybean hulls, corn and corn silage also can be used for supplementation. Whichever feed is used, supplements must be fed appropriately to optimize rumen function, digestibility and animal health.

The Iowa Beef Center website has numerous resources available on beef cow nutrition, forages and many other topics. Iowa State University beef specialists are also available to answer questions and help with feeding and supplementation decisions.

The Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It is comprised of faculty and staff from Iowa State University Extension & Outreach, the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry.

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