What do I need to feed from now until turnout?
With current weather conditions getting out to grass is challenging on most farms at the moment. However, where land is dry and free draining there is a great opportunity to start grazing to take advantage of spring grass early. Catherine Egan, Beef Specialist has advice for various cattle groups
On heavier soil types it’s important to walk the farm and asses ground conditions on a weekly basis and target stock to the drier paddocks once ground conditions allow.
The question now is what do you need to feed from now until turnout? In most cases there are 5-6 groups of stock with different nutritional requirements.
At the moment on every spring suckler farm, there are cows and heifers that are yet to calve, cows that have calved and first calved heifers. In some cases there are the yearling heifers and bull/steer yearlings. So what do I need to feed them from now until turnout?
Cows and heifers yet to calve
Cows require a body condition score (BCS) of 2.5 for spring calving herds. Thin cows or cows with a BCS of below 2.5 should be fed good quality silage of 70 DMD along with 1 to 2 kg of concentrates to help improve condition. Where cows are above a BCS of 3 they may need to be restricted as these cows will have an increased risk of encountering calving difficulties. Over fat cows will have fat deposited around the pelvic area thus reducing the amount of space for the calf to come out during calving.
There is a temptation in the run up to calving to try and restrict cows in an effort to reduce calf birth weight and therefore reduce calving difficult. It is important to understand however that the factors affecting calving difficulty are multifactorial. Research has shown that you ‘cannot starve calving difficulty out of cows and heifers’.
Mineral supplementation prior to calving is essential in order to ensure both cow and calf health. It is important that minerals are fed 4 to 6 weeks prior to calving. There are many different methods available when administering minerals to suckler cows.
Cows that have calved
The cow’s feed requirements after calving are for maintenance, some growth (particularly young cows) and milk production. If cows with calves at foot are indoors on a silage-based diet and in good condition, feed moderate to good quality silage, to appetite, for 4-6 weeks after calving before being turned out. However, if silage quality is poor, feed 1-2 kg of meal. Cows going to grass directly after calving don’t need concentrates if there is a good supply of high-quality grass.
The need for minerals in the suckler cow is significantly lower than that of the dairy cow and in general molassed mineral buckets are adequate to supply minerals. Major elements such as calcium, phosphorus and sodium will be adequately supplied in grazed grass and grass silage. Magnesium must be supplied during the tetany risk period.
First calved heifers
After calving, first-calvers require concentrate supplementation in all cases until turnout. This is important to ensure that the heifer does not loose body condition in order to get her back in calf. If silage quality is moderate to good, feed 1-2 kg meal and if silage quality is poor, feed 2-3 kg meal. Pay extra attention to first-time calvers, shy feeders, old cows and thin and lame cows. Feed a high energy (UFL = 0.94+) ration with 16% protein.
Over the winter period most weanlings have been fed silage and depending on silage quality some concentrates to gain 0.5-0.6kg/day. Achieving these targets will allow for compensatory growth when animals go to grass. Once weanlings are thriving and achieving this target concentrates could be withdrawn for a month before turnout.
Heifers kept as replacements should be the first to be turned out when possible. Typical turnout weights should be 380-400kg for continental type heifers. If they get 4-6 weeks at grass pre-mating should mean these heifers are comfortably 420-440kg at bulling.
Find out more aout Beef Nutrition here