WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Cattle producers should know the nutrient contents of their feedstuffs so they can be prepared to help their herds weather the coming winter, a Purdue Extension beef specialist says.
The majority of Indiana producers manage spring-calving herds, so cows are entering the last trimester of pregnancy, and nutrient requirements are increasing. The cold weather that typically comes with the season raises maintenance requirements to another level, Ron Lemenager said.
"If producers haven't analyzed their forages for nutrient profiles, they really need to do that so they can design a supplementation strategy that meets nutrient requirements in a cost-effective manner," he said. "Not meeting animal requirements could very easily cost the producer significantly more in lost calf performance and reproductive efficiency."
The best way to analyze forages is to send samples to certified forage testing labs. Producers can contact their local Purdue Extension educators or visit http://www.foragetesting.org to find a list of labs in their areas.
Lemenager said low-quality forages and short forage supplies, both concerns following drought, will require supplementation. Cold stress adds another dimension to supplement strategies in ruminant diets.
With lower hay inventories, some producers already have started to substitute corn stalks or corn silage. Lemenager said both alternatives have potential challenges this year if they were harvested too wet. He advised farmers to check their stacks and piles for tears in the plastic and bales for deterioration and mold.
"Spoilage and molding problems lower nutrient profiles, which reduces palatability and feed intake. More nutrient variability and lower nutrient profiles in this year's forage supply justify getting an analysis - from both economic and performance perspectives," Lemenager said.
He also cautioned farmers feeding forage alternatives to make sure they're providing essential nutrients to pregnant cows by adding the appropriate nutritional supplement. The amount and type of supplement needed will depend on the forage analysis.
"Producers should be aware that if low quality forages, such as corn stalks, are the primary feedstuffs, then some of the commercially available, self-limiting supplements might not be able to meet the energy or protein needs of the cow during late gestation and early lactation without additional supplementation," Lemenager said.
Lemenager also recommended providing herds with free-choice mineral supplements that fit with the rations they're feeding. For example, when feeding corn byproducts, which are high in phosphorus and low in calcium, producers need to feed a calcium mineral or add limestone to the diet.
"We can justify spending dollars to meet requirements to not only optimize performance, but also capitalize on higher cattle prices that will prevail over the next several years," he said.