When Do I Feed the Good Hay?

If you are monitoring body condition of your cows each month, you’ll likely see subtle changes as the cow grows the developing fetus.

After you calculate your average feed needs for the season, now it’s time to prioritize your hay supplies based on nutrient quality for the cow and her growing calf.

It’s not just about quantity, but also quality of hay supplies. In the chart below, see how crude protein needs increase as an average 1,200-lb. cow is closer to calving. If you are not meeting the crude protein requirements during this critical time, supplementation is needed.          

As the cow continues through late gestation, be mindful of her increasing nutrient needs and manage your hay supplies accordingly. There are two take home messages here, says Amy Radunz, University of Wisconsin associate professor.

  1. Feed your highest quality hay when it’s most needed

“You don’t want to feed your best quality forage to cows five months prior to calving,” she says. “You want to save that higher quality feed for when the cow is closer to calving, because her crude protein and energy needs are going to increase.”

  1. Be ready to provided additional feedstuffs as the fetus is growing.

“On the flip side, as those cows get bigger with a growing fetus, they are going to eat more," she says. 

Producers know an estimate of cow size, but as animals grow in later gestation, producers might not realize how big their cows really are at the point of calving. 

“Even if producers have bred for more moderate frame size, they may consume just as many calories as a cow that is a frame size larger,” Radunz says.


How do you best utilize whatever forage you have or are going to purchase?

  • Forage test.
  • Match your hay with the appropriate nutrient content to the stage of production or month prior-to- or post-calving.

“Knowing accurate calving dates is going to be the key factor,” she adds. “Some producers calve in January or February and others are pushing it back to April or May. So in reality, those cows in mid-gestation are not going to need a lot of calories until they get to those last three months.”


Nutrient requirements for 1,000-lb., 1,200-lb., and 1,400-lb., dry cows

Nutrient requirements for dry beef cows chart
As cows move closer to calving, energy and crude protein needs dramatically increase. Prioritizing the highest quality hay for the two months prior to calving is more cost efficient for cattle producers.



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