NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Beef Cow Nutrition and Feeding

beef cow nutrition, beef cow feeding

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources   

When cows are unable to meet their nutritional needs through grazing, either some supplemental or all of their nutritional needs must be met through the delivery of harvested roughages, commodities, or other feedstuffs.  The challenge is to meet this need efficiently by managing costs, investments and losses.  Feeding infrastructure and equipment utilized can vary greatly depending on types of feedstuffs utilized and the scale of an operation.  At the least, a single feed of baled hay may be periodically fed on the ground with a loader or pickup, versus blending multiple feed ingredients into a mixed ration and delivered from a feed box into bunks on a daily basis.  

Grinding and processing corn silage and grain byproducts as wheat midds or distiller’s grains, can easily be incorporated into mixed rations and efficiently utilized without any further processing.  There are possibilities and situations to consider when chopping long hay or rolling/cracking grain as it is fed. Shredding or grinding hay will not improve digestibility to any significant degree but often can increase intake and reduce feeding waste.  Whole grains have improved rumen digestibility if cracked or rolled to break the seed coat and increase surface area.  Improvement with corn and oats is considerably less than for barley and wheat and often not processed.

Feed baled hay is often delivered by loader tractors and bale carriers and fed as long hay. Rolling out bales provides greater access and opportunity to all animals and can reduce waste from trampling and bedding if it’s not being fed in feeders and on dry or frozen ground.  A very popular method is to utilize a bale shredder/processor to carry hay to cows and shred long hay which falls into a windrow on the ground.  Advantages of processing bales includes improving palatability and consumption of coarser lower quality roughages while minimizing waste and refusal and providing equal feeding opportunity to cows regardless of pecking order.  Other reasons for use include limiting waste and debris on feeding fields to be subsequently farmed and eliminating a chore of hand removing twine and net from bales. When substantial amounts of wet feeds as silage, beet pulp, or wet distillers grain are being fed, a feed mixer as a tractor towed or truck mount is utilized. Delivering feed with a mixer box not only allows for great versatility of feeds that can be used, it is a method that delivers feed to large numbers quickly and is a means to be more precise in meeting nutritional needs.

For cattle yarded in corrals or being fed under wet/muddy conditions, feed is typically placed in bunks and racks to minimize waste and loss. Baled hay should be fed in rings, racks, or wagons to restrict access and reduce feeding waste. Self-fed feeding systems deliver feed to the herd daily as a means to reduce losses and manage nutrition. With the use of bale feeders to control waste, bales could be provided to cover several days feed needs and only replenished when consumed. The practice of bale grazing, in which cattle may get access to a supply of bales to meet their needs for several days to several weeks, is an alternative.

Strategies to manage waste include bale placement (30 ft. apart), mix of forage quality (little waste of high quality expensive feed), limited allocation (40 pounds per cow for 4-5-day supply of bales), and feeding on sites where residual will improve soil fertility.  Although mineral supplements can be allocated daily in delivered feed, many are provided as free-choice, self-fed supplements, some of which included limited protein and energy.

Source: John Dhuyvetter – NDSU Extension Livestock Specialist – North Central Research Extension Center

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