Put weight on cows this summer

Body scoring cows during summer can help plan for winter

If you follow a body condition scoring system—evaluating the cows to keep them in good flesh—you can likely keep a healthier and more easily bred herd. But if you’re behind now (say you’re looking at a cow that calved with a BCS less than 5), you’ll have a hard time getting her bred, even if pastures are in good shape. If that’s the case, preg-checking cows this fall will be crucial.

On thinner cows, you need to start working them into adequate flesh now—a BCS of 5 or better. We often see the summer as a time to let cows slide—they can eat all they want and there’s no real reason to check on them every day. I have noticed that since I’ve been in Missouri, I’ve probably seen as many instances of feeding hay in the late summer as I do of seeing hay being fed in the winter. That means there is an understanding here that it is important to keep cows on the BCS wagon, if she gets off, her survivability will decline.

The first thing in the process of keeping cows in the right body condition is to understand where you’re at with your herd.

“I am here” and “the cows eat all they want,” are both accurate statements—just not very satisfactory.

You need to evaluate forages: what is the pasture condition, fertility and weed pressure. The MFA agronomy group is tremendously helpful with fertility and weed control recommendations. You can call on them for answers.

By mid- to late-summer, the expected maturity of fescue has resulted in a forage base that is both protein and energy low. Forage availability may also be compromised. This situation will be more troublesome if you calved late, and your breeding season has crept into the summer. If the cows are thin, and still need to get bred, the way you supplement cows becomes paramount.

As the summer wears on, I would expect to supplement protein, maybe not to the extent that I would on an older stockpiled pasture, but I would check and see if the cows will respond to protein. When pasture grasses have become overly mature, a protein supplement is very helpful.

Supplying supplemental protein helps in a couple of areas. First, it supplies protein to the rumen bacteria. This increases bacterial growth and reproduction, and it aids in rumen breakdown of forages, which increases the nutrient yield from mature plant material. This increases energy intake and availability. It leads to increased cow weight gain.

Second, it increases the actual protein available for absorption by the cow. Additionally increasing availability and uptake of protein and energy levels will improve cow reproductive function.

If forage availability is good (i.e. you have plenty of grass, but it is mature as discussed before) a couple of pounds of a supplement is called for. Good choices would be handfeeding Trendsetter or 20-percent cubes, offering MFA Salt mix No. 1 or using 20-percent protein tubs. Any of these products could help meet the cow’s protein and energy requirements.

While on pasture, cows might be able to achieve their energy and protein needs, but it will be impossible for them to meet all their mineral and trace mineral needs. A quality, loose, free-choice mineral such as MFA Fescue Equalizer or Super 10 is always needed. Your mineral should be matched to your forage base and kept available at all times.

In many cases a cow herd will come into summer and gain weight through mid season but subsequently lose some of these gains. In other words much of the ground gained earlier in the spring and summer is lost by late July and August. If cattle are managed to gain and maintain weight through the summer and into the fall, they enter the winter in better condition. That means there’s a chance you’ll need less supplemental feed through the winter to maintain condition and performance. Think of it as a summer savings plan that pays you dividends in the coming winter.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

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