Cattle Nutrition: Tips and Reminders for Spring

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Katie Mason

Dr. Katie Mason
Assistant Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist
Department of Animal Science
P: 865-974-8941

Originally published in Progressive Cattle magazine:

As the grass begins to green up, there are a few considerations about grazing management and nutrition. Here are a few tips to keep in mind this time of year:

Do you have enough grass? Cool-season pastures are coming out of dormancy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that forage is plentiful. When cattle graze forage plants too early, animal performance suffers, but also plant persistence may be negatively affected since plants have not had enough time to develop adequate energy reserves. If possible, wait until fescue canopy height is 10 inches before you move cattle fully to pasture, or at least limit graze and provide hay as well. Take it slow with the transition from a mostly dry diet to fresh forage. High-moisture, low fiber forage can result in increased passage rates and diarrhea. Slowly remove hay from the diet while adapting cattle back to fresh pasture.

What is the body condition of your herd? In the winter, low or moderate quality hay without proper supplementation may have caused cows to drop body condition. For cows that are close to calving or have just calved, we want to see a BCS of about 6.  This allows them to have plenty of energy stored in the form of fat to pull from while lactating. If cattle have been “roughed” through the winter, you may want to provide supplements to meet their energy needs. Body condition score at calving has an impact on the post-partum interval, meaning if BCS is too low, post-partum interval is longer, and it takes cattle longer to breed back. This results in extended calving seasons the following year. First-calf heifers especially need extra nutritional support during this time because they are still growing while lactating.

How can you improve next year? It is a great time to reflect on the winter-feeding system that you used over the past few months and determine what worked well and what did not. Think ahead to next winter and decide what you may want to change. Unfortunately, we cannot control input prices or how much we receive at the sale barn; however, we can adapt our management and production strategies. Reducing inefficiencies in nutrition and grazing management are an important part of the profitability equation. As we look forward to warmer temperatures and greener grass, take some time to reflect on ways you can reduce inefficiencies to be prepared for when winter inevitably comes around again.