Feed Cows to Meet Requirements of Early Lactation

Drylot cows
( John Maday )

Prolonged winter weather has limited forage growth thus far this season, which means many producers are still feeding cows. Iowa State University extension beef specialist Chris Clark reminded producers of the importance of feeding cows appropriately this spring. Nutritional requirements are significantly greater during lactation and it is critical for producers to adjust rations appropriately.

“Energy and protein requirements are significantly greater during lactation. Many spring calves have been born but because of the weather, pastures are not yet growing well,” Clark said.  “It is important to realize that whether they're in a lot setting or already on pasture, cows need to be fed well enough to support early lactation.”

Typical winter diets, balanced for gestational requirements, may not offer enough energy and protein to meet requirements of early lactation. Producers may need to supplement with some type of concentrate or at least strive to use high quality hay.

“To help cows milk well and maintain condition, we need to feed them well as we are waiting for the grass to grow,” Clark said.  “They really need some good hay and in many cases some additional supplementation to keep them on a good plane of nutrition. The challenge is that not everyone has a good handle on the quality of their hay, plus at this point in the season, hay inventories may be running pretty low.”

Corn coproducts are low-starch feeds very compatible with forage-based diets, and Clark said distillers grains can work well to supplement and stretch hay supplies. Other feeds such as soybean hulls, corn and corn silage also can be used for supplementation. Whatever feed is used, supplements must be fed appropriately to optimize rumen function, digestibility and animal health.

The Iowa Beef Center website has numerous resources available on beef cow nutrition, forages, and many other topics. Iowa State University beef specialists are also available to answer questions and help with feeding and supplementation decisions.  Feel free to contact Clark or a regional beef specialist for assistance.

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