Keeping cows in good condition when pasture is limited


Source: Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

Supplementing cows is an option to maintain or improve their condition when pasture conditions are poor.

“Feeding cows was a balancing act last winter,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “Lower feed quality, limited feed supplies and the use of non-traditional feeds made it challenging to keep cows in good condition both pre and post calving prior to turn out onto spring pastures.“

Nutritional requirements of a cow is highest the first 12 weeks after calving, and Yaremcio says that it is difficult to have cows gain weight during this time.

“The first step to address weight gain is to make sure that forage availability is high. If forage growth is less than about 1500 (lb.) pound per acre of forage mass, a cow cannot eat enough to meet her dry matter intake needs.”

“That amount looks like roughly one bale per acre of forage cut at one inch above ground level. This is how severely cows can graze a pasture.”

He adds that early season pasture growth typically has more than adequate amounts of protein to meet requirements, but with insufficient amounts of energy to promote weight gain.

“With poor pasture conditions in many parts of the province, supplementing cows is an option to maintain or improve cow condition. It can result in improved reproductive efficiency and calf growth rate. It will also reduce the number of pounds of fresh grass the cows need to consume on a daily basis, which stretches the available forage supply.”

“Supplying a higher energy feedstuff such as barley or oat grain at five to six lb. per head at least three times a week will improve total energy intake and improve digestive efficiency compared to a straight forage diet,” explains Yaremcio.

“By feeding six lb. of grain per head, 25% of the energy requirement is provided by the grain and fresh grass consumption is reduced by 35 to 40 lb. per head per feeding. Feeding the grain should be done midafternoon or towards evening. The grain can be fed on the ground but it is important to spread out the grain in windrows or in piles so that all animals have equal access to the grain at the same time.”

By-product feeds such as grain screening pellets, bakery waste, cull potatoes, or distillers’ grains can be another source for animals on pasture.

“Consider cost, availability of the product and hauling distance when evaluating the overall usefulness of the alternate feed. Concerns with importing weed seeds is a consideration when using screening pellets.”

He notes that most of the by-product feeds contain higher amounts of phosphorus, and it may be necessary to increase the calcium and magnesium content to provide a balanced mineral program.

“Calves at 45 to 50 days of age have a digestive system that can digest grains very efficiently,” says Yaremcio. “These animals can consume two to three lb. of grain per day, which reduces the demand for milk from the cow.”


To connect with the Alberta Ag-Info Centre:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Phone: 310-FARM (3276)