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Cows eating in winter DarcyMaulsby/Getty Images
COW STRESS: Producers are urged to monitor cows, which may need additional feed during cold months.

Add grain to feed for cows under Mother Nature’s stress

Reproduction could suffer without putting some weight back on cows.

By Stan Maddux

Some cows stressed from Mother Nature’s extremes might not be at the proper weight for the upcoming calving season.

John Grimes, beef coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension office at Piketon, Ohio, says it’s not too late for livestock producers concerned their breeding cows might be getting a bit too thin to add appropriate amounts of feed or other nutrients.

He said adding nutrients to an average to below-average hay crop this year can help, especially if wild swings in the weather ease up in the coming weeks, he says.

Grimes says fields have been especially muddy because 2018 was one of the wettest years in Ohio history.

Since it takes more calories to trudge over soupy ground, he says, cows might not be getting enough nutrients in some of their hay to replenish the extra energy their bodies have expended from such physical exertion.

The recent arctic cold snap didn’t help. Cows had to burn additional energy to help keep warm, with their coats being wet from rain, and then temperatures suddenly nose-dived for several days.

“What I’m worried about is where we’re going to be come springtime,” Grimes says.

Significant rainfall in 2018 pushed back the spring harvest of hay, which had a negative impact on the quality of that crop.

Grimes says he doesn’t know of any seriously underweight cows, but some are reaching a point where reproduction could suffer without putting back some of that weight.

“They’re just thinner than ideal,” he says.

Body fat, he says, is critical during formation of a calf and the production of enough milk for cows to adequately feed their newborn.

If better-quality hay cannot be found, Grimes suggests adding grain to existing feed, if possible, to help bring weights back up for calving season.

Check on bedding, too
Extra bedding, and replacing bedding before it gets too wet — especially challenging in saturated ground — can also help cows stay warm and put on lost pounds.

Most calves are born in February, March and April, when Old Man Winter isn’t always kind.

Grimes says serious financial losses can result from underweight cows not able to breed or to breed on time.

Cows now dry, and late arrivals, also mean livestock farmers normally going to market a certain time of year will be selling a lighter-weight product.

Losses can happen in other ways, he adds, like higher costs from supplementing the efforts of mothers without sufficient milk for their young.

“I’m not saying we can’t overcome it, but we’re in a condition right now [that] if there’s a long winter and it goes into the first of May, it could be pretty tough,” Gaines says.

George Quackenbush, vice president of the Michigan Cattleman’s Association, said he’s not aware of any concerns about cattle in his state maintaining proper weight.

He says weather is always a challenge, though, particularly during extremes or periods of freezing and thawing.

Wet ground marked up by cattle before freezing, Quackenbush says, requires not only more energy for cows to venture across, but also is the cause of leg fractures and other injuries from missteps and spills.

“Those changes in temperature can be taxing,” he says.

Quackenbush says supplementing hay with grain and other feed like cornstalks is pretty common, especially at this time of year — when hay in shorter supply costs more.

“There’s a lot of different ways to feed these cows,” he adds.

Maddux writes from New Buffalo, Mich.

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