Feed management key to improving poor cattle conditions

Scores of cattle producers will need to offset the impacts of this year’s poor pasture conditions and feed shortages in parts of the Prairies.

Alberta Agriculture recently reported poor pasture conditions in many parts of the province, while Saskatchewan Agriculture disclosed inadequate winter feed supplies and likely shortages in southern regions.

More severe in southern areas, Prairie dryness reduced pasture production and available biomass, resulting in lower quality, higher fibre forages for grazing, according to Western Beef Development Centre’s Bart Lardner.

Feed testing recommended

He suggests farmers feed test to determine nutrient deficiencies as well as the nutritive values of all available winter feedstuffs, and then source necessary supplements.

“It may be pelleted supplements, DDGS (distiller's dried grains with solubles), grain screenings, mixed hay, etc.”

Thin cows

Alberta Agriculture’s beef and forage specialist Barry Yaremcio notes thin cows require more feed to keep warm in winter.

A cow 200 pounds below adequate weight will require 1,400 pounds more hay to stay warm.

That added expense can be avoided with late fall feeding management.


“This is typically the time when guys start moving to swath grazing,” Yaremcio says.

Cattle grazing hay fields in which farmers didn’t take a second or third cut of hay is another option.

Grazing whole plant corn is a system that’s gained adoption in the last five to eight years in western Canada, Lardner adds.

Corn exceeds the nutrient requirements of a beef cow in her first and second trimester of pregnancy, but it’s not without risks. Cattle will pick out corn’s tastier part, the cob, which is starch heavy, and could cause grain overload issues.

Calves and cows

Yaremcio also recommends weaning calves over 150 days old, explaining they can do just as well or better on a hay-grain ration. In turn, the nutrient requirements of the calves’ mothers will fall 25 per cent.

“Anything you can do to have that cow gain weight prior to the onset of winter will save a lot of grief and frustration in the long-run,” Yaremcio says.

Thin cows produce lower quality colostrum and reduced milk volume, will take longer to start cycling after calving, and have lower conception rates.

Cow condition now can potentially impact cash flow and the number of live calves born for the next two years, Yaremcio says.

For more on cattle body conditioning, visit the Beef Cattle Research Council website.

Bottom line

Farmers are urged to take action to keep their cows at optimal winter weight and avert present and future problems in turn avoiding added expense. 

Article by: Richard Kamchen