Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Protein and energy essential for healthy beef calves

By David Burton
University Extension

Adequate protein and energy are critical for cows in the last part of gestation if they are going to produce a healthy calf, according to Gary Naylor, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
"Both protein and energy are critical for cows to calve easily, produce an adequate sized calf and to produce enough colostrum to prevent disease in the calf's early life," said Naylor.
An excellent growing season has provided cattle producers with adequate stockpiles of winter forage. However, Naylor warns that as pasture is depleted and hay feeding replaces forage, the beef cow may be short-changed during a critical stage in her production cycle.
"It's important to provide two pounds of protein per head in late gestation," said Naylor.
For a 1,000 pound cow, that's 20 pounds of dry forage at ten percent protein. Studies at many research institutions have shown that cows not receiving adequate protein may have calves that are small and weak at birth (as much as 10 percent of the time).
"Energy requirements are also critical to a late gestation beef cow and are more likely to be deficient in cows fed late cut, mature forages," said Naylor.
A 1,000 pound beef cow needs about 11 pounds of total digestible nutrients (TDN). This means the hay needs to be around 55 percent TDN.
"Many of the forage tests I've seen this winter won't meet that criteria and will need supplements to meet the cow's energy needs," Naylor said.
According to Naylor, energy deficiencies are more of a long term problem. Cows that lose body condition produce smaller calves, produce less milk and will be slower returning to heat.
"The thinner the cow, the longer it takes for the cow to return to heat and get bred back resulting in prolonged calving intervals," Naylor said.
The best way to pinpoint nutritional needs is to spend $15 for a hay test.
"It could be the best money you spend," said Naylor. "Feeding a balanced ration adequate in protein and energy is the best way to produce healthy calves and maintain a cow that stays on course to produce a calf every 12 months."
For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, (417) 466-3102; Gary Naylor in Dallas County, (417) 345-7551; and Dona Funk in Cedar County, (417) 276-3313.

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