PIKETON, Ohio -- As livestock producers move from winter feed to spring grazing, they should pay extra attention to spring-calving beef cows to make sure their nutritional needs are met, says a beef cattle expert with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.
That could mean leading the animals away from early green grass this spring, said John Grimes, beef coordinator for Ohio State University Extension and a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.
If spring-calving beef cows’ nutritional needs are not adequately met from calving to breeding, it can cause a reduced body condition score, he said. And that can result in a disastrous rebreeding performance.
Livestock generally are assigned a body condition score on a scale of 1 to 9, where 1 is an emaciated animal with skin and bones and 9 is rated as obese, Grimes said. A score of 5 to 6 is typically the goal for cows that calve to be considered healthy and in optimum breeding condition, he said.
“Studies have shown that body condition scores of 5 to 6 at calving and through the breeding season give females the greatest opportunity for reproductive success,” he said. “Cows that lose nearly one full condition score from calving to the breeding season experienced lower rebreeding rates, at 73 percent versus 94 percent, compared to cows that were fed the right nutrition for them to maintain the body condition scores they had prior to calving.”
That means producers may need to feed their calving cows quality grass hay, high-energy feed grains or both to ensure the lactating cows get the energy and protein they need, Grimes said.
“It’s been a long winter, and while the calving cows may prefer the lush, moist, green growing grass over the dried hay they consumed all winter, it would be more nutritionally beneficial to offer them grains,” he said. “These early grasses are full of moisture now and won’t provide the females the nutrition they’ll need in order to get them rebred to keep them on schedule to give a live birth every 12 months.
“Yes, it’ll be an extra expense now, but the cost of an open cow is a more costly expense. Don’t be afraid to spend an extra dollar now to avoid the loss of income next year with a cow that isn’t producing any calves. Your feed bill might get higher now, but the more open cows you have will significantly reduce your income later.”