Proper winter feeding can optimize future breeding

Supplemental feeding during winter is critical to ensure cows are in optimal condition for pregnancy, calving and future breeding.

December 12, 2016

3 Min Read
Proper winter feeding can optimize future breeding

Getting or keeping cows in proper body condition throughout the winter can optimize pregnancy rates the following season, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service beef cattle specialist Dr. Jason Banta said.

Banta said cows with proper body condition scores at calving are more likely to breed back and produce healthy calves in the future. Proper nutrition and supplementation are two keys to keeping cows in good shape.

Banta said two- and three-year-old cows should have a body condition score of six or better at calving, and cows four years old and up should be in a body condition score of five or greater at calving.


Cows with a body condition score of five should display abundant muscle tissue. Ribs should be noticeable but with overall fat cover lacking. Hooks and pins should be less obvious, and hips and backbone should be slightly rounded versus a sharp appearance, according to the AgriLife Extension overviews.

A body condition score of six represents cows that are ideal at calving. Ribs should be covered completely with fat that's beginning to cover the rump, and muscle tissue will be at its greatest.

For more body score information, go to

Hay should be tested for nutritional quality, which will give producers the necessary information to help determine supplementation requirements, Banta said. Any supplementation plan should be based on three primary criteria: the nutrient requirements of the animal, the quality of available hay or roughage and the current condition of the cows.

Winter supplementation will depend greatly on what stage of production the cow is in, Banta said. Lactating cows require different amounts of supplementation than dry cows, those pregnant but not nursing a calf.

“When evaluating pasture or hay, consider the nutrient requirements of the cow,” Banta said.

For example, to maintain body condition, a lactating cow would require hay containing about 11.5% protein and 62-63% total digestible nutrients (TDN). A dry cow in late gestation would need about 8% protein and 55% TDN.

Producers should select supplements based on the cost per unit of nutrient needed, Banta said. Cubes are a common supplement used by many producers. If both energy and protein supplementation are needed, a 20% cube would likely be most cost effective, he said. However, if only a protein supplement is needed, then a 40% cube is more cost effective.

Banta said producers should start slowly and build up with supplements, such as concentrates and grains, because cows are designed to consume grasses. It’s also important to feed them supplements consistently each day to avoid digestive problems such as acidosis, which can lead to founder, foot abscesses, damage to the rumen lining or death.

He recommended starting with no more than 2 lb. of supplement per cow per day and slowly building up from there.

Banta said producers should watch manure patties to monitor cows’ protein intake. “If patties look like they are stacking up and are firm, that tells us we need more protein supplement,” he said.

A 40% cube is a good, concentrated supplement source of protein, Banta said. Generally speaking, if cows are in good condition, then a good place to start is 1.0-1.5 lb. of a 40% cube or something similar for dry cows, and 2-3 lb. per day for wet cows, Banta said. If cows also need energy, then something like a 20% cube could be a good option. With average-quality hay, a common feeding rate for dry cows would be about 2-3 lb. per cow per day, or 4-6 lb. for wet cows.

“Feeding amounts really depend on hay quality and other factors, so for more information, I recommend visiting with a nutritionist or an AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist,” Banta said.

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