Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
The wind is blowing and the rain has stopped for now, the fall colored leaves are now dropping faster, winter will be just right around the corner. Last winter was a trying time for everyone, but was especially hard on livestock and their caretakers. I think the severity of winter found many people not prepared, I hope this year will be different! Here are some tips to help you prepare for winter.
The first step to take is to inventory your animals, and identify groups that have like nutritional needs. How many cows in middle gestation, these should be bred 5-7 months. Bred replacement heifers, weaned calves, bulls and lactating cows. Typically 1100 lb. gestating cows will need 26.5 lbs. of dry matter daily, this translates to 31 lbs. of hay daily.
The next step is to determine how many days you will be feeding. If you still have some grazing left you can estimate the amount of forage available. A general rule of thumb is that there is 200 lbs. of dry matter yield per acre of inch of forage height. This is a rough estimate and depends on density of the stand. It is common in our area to feed hay, 150 to 180 days.
The third step is to inventory your hay supply. The only way to truly know how much feed value the hay contains is to have it tested. The hay testing costs $10 per sample with the NCDA. If you do not test your forages then you should at least give them an estimate for quality. Most of the hay tested in our area will be 7-10% CP and 45-55% TDN. This quality of hay will feed middle gestating cows and mature bulls providing sufficient nutrients except for some minerals.
Growing and lactating animals need increased nutrition to be productive. The classes of animals with higher nutritional requirements should be supplemented. There are many byproducts of grain processing that meet the nutritional needs of the beef herd. Some of these products are soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, cottonseed, and many combinations sold by feed companies. The extension service can help you develop a feeding plan including a balanced ration.
The fourth step is to examine your feeding system. Do you simply place round bales out in pastures? Are they fed in rings or bale feeders, or are they rolled out on the ground? Research has shown that by simply placing round hay bales out in the pasture, losses can exceed 30%. If you are storing hay outside and uncovered your total losses could easily be 50%. It will not take very long to recoup the cost of a hay ring, to reduce these losses. There should be enough feeder space to prevent lower status cows from not receiving enough hay. The common practice here in the mountains of unrolling hay can be very effective. If this system is only used when the weather is favorable, then losses can be reduced. Unrolling hay also offers the advantage of allowing all cows to eat at the same time, avoiding boss cows becoming overfed and more timid cows not getting enough to eat.
Take the time to do a little planning to insure you have a plan to feed your cows this winter. A little time spent now can help avoid problems this winter, especially if it turns out similar to last year.