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Are Your Cows On a Weight-control Program?

Tough days, unpredictable events and keeping in tune with the rest of the world are standard operating procedures for those involved in the process of producing beef.

By Kris Ringwall
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NDSU Extension Beef Specialist
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The early snowfall made headlines. For North Dakota beef
producers, business was disrupted, but disruption is not a
stranger to the world of beef producers. Tough days,
unpredictable events and keeping in tune with the rest of the
world are standard operating procedures for those involved in
the process of producing beef.

What unusual weather does do is serve as a good reminder that
the seasons are changing and a shift in management is in
order. Historically, cattle seem to run the grasslands until
Mother Nature says enough is enough. In fact, in mild winters
some cattle may be seen wandering summer pastures well into
January, seeking enough nutrition to get through another day.

Research by Lee Manske, Dickinson Research Extension Center
range scientist, shows cattle that are maintained under a
six-month grazing system really have harvested the year's
production. As the cows, nursing calves, approach October,
daily nutritional needs are not being met if the cows weight
loss is indicative of nutritional deficiencies.

Weight loss in excess of 100 pounds per cow would not be
surprising as cows are brought in to wean their calves in the
middle of November. Given the downward trend in cow weight and
condition in normal years, this year's weather, such as the
early winter snowfall, does cover up a lot of what is
available to eat. The end result is a rapid acceleration of
weight loss for the cow. The sensible option is alternative
nutrition.

Occasional warm weather may be on the way, but for those tough
weather days, the cows and calves simply rely on energy stored
in their own system. This means the animals supplement what
they eat by breaking down stored fat. Over a short time, this
is simply nature's way of providing energy on which the
animals live.

Over the long haul, however, daily nutritional needs must be
met or the cow and/or calf simply will start to lose weight.
As forage quality declines, the vast majority of cows are
already in a state of nutritional decline. Overlooking what
may seem like a short-term nutritional glitch can escalate
into a major managerial mistake by midwinter.

A very common mistake within the beef business is to let body
conditions slip on the cowherd in the early fall and realize
too late in the season that the cows could use some more flesh
over their ribs. The result is a rush of supplemental
nutrition prior to calving, during calving and during
breeding, all times in the life of a cow that weight gain is
much harder to achieve.

The North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association's CHAPS
records show the five-year rolling average for typical cows
around weaning time in the fall is 1,378 pounds, with a body
condition score of 5-plus. A quick check of the 1996 "NRC of
Beef Cattle" guide suggests a 1,400-pound dry cow needs to eat
26 pounds of dry matter daily to maintain her weight, provided
the diet has 0.8 megacalorie per pound of metabolizable energy
(48.8 percent total digestible nutrients) and 6.9 percent
total protein.

Depending on the moisture level of the forage, the cow needs
to consume 32.5 pounds at 80 percent dry matter forage and up
to 52 pounds if the forage is 50 percent dry matter.

Are your cows getting enough to eat? In a month's time, a cow
needs to graze off almost 800 pounds of actual dry matter. If
each acre of land already has been grazed for the summer and
nothing is growing, the cow has only one option, lose weight.

Again, are your cows getting enough to eat? Odds are they are
not.

May you find all your NAIS-approved ear tags.

Your comments are always welcome at www.BeefTalk.com. For more
information, contact the NDBCIA Office, 1133 State Ave.,
Dickinson, ND 58601 or go to www.CHAPS2000.COM on the
Internet.

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NDSU Agriculture Communication

:Source: Kris Ringwall, (701) 483-2427, kringwal@ndsuext.nodak.edu
:Editor: Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu

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