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Plan Now to Avoid Winter Feed Shortages

By Jenifer Heyden, M.Sc., PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, North Battleford

September 2018

In many parts of the province, forage supplies are low. Do you have enough? Do you know how much feed you will need for the upcoming winter feeding period? The first step to plan for the winter is to do an inventory of your available feed supplies. The second step is to feed test. Doing these two things allows you to match the feed you have available with the animal’s requirements. This prevents both overfeeding and underfeeding.

Feed is a large expense; it will be your biggest winter expense. Managing feed resources and formulating rations based on animal requirements is critical to ensuring health and productivity, while maintaining profitability. It is especially important in times when feed is short, quality is questionable, and/or prices are high. Keeping an inventory of feed is critical in planning for the winter. As bales come off the field, make a note of how many there were and their approximate weight. As silage is cut, note the tonnage as it enters the pit.  As the old saying goes, “you can’t manage what you don’t measure”.

Do you have a weigh scale on your farm? Get some of your cows onto it if you do – knowing how much they weigh will help determine how much feed you need. On average, cows will consume 2.5 per cent of their body weight in feed on a dry matter basis; a 1400-pound cow will eat approximately 35 pounds of dry matter. If your bales are 15 per cent moisture, you will need to feed 41.5 pounds of hay on an as fed basis to reach the goal of 35 pounds of dry matter. Keeping this in mind, you would need 4,150 pounds of hay (at 15 per cent moisture) for 100 head per day, or 830,000 pounds (376.5 tonnes) for 200 days of winter feeding. These numbers do not take into account extreme changes in weather or waste, nor do they take quality into account. Feed test, feed test, feed test. Know the quality of the forage you have available. Cross reference your feed quality and quantity with your animal’s requirements.

This fall, as cows come in off pasture it will be critical to take a good look and get a feel for their body condition. Sort animals into groups for feeding to optimize the resources you have. Skinny cows have higher protein and energy requirements; underfeeding will be costly both in terms of health and dollars, and overfeeding cows in superior condition is not feasible either. It is also important to make decisions early on about selecting replacements and cull animals. Without the proper feed resources, animal health and welfare will be compromised. Body condition monitoring is a great resource to use through the winter as an insurance measure to double check rations.

Animal requirements change as physiological status changes. The protein and energy requirements of a cow coming off pasture at five months pregnant are vastly different from a cow that is eight months pregnant. It is costly to overfeed the less pregnant cow like she is heavily pregnant, especially when supplies are limited. Straw can play a key role in rations for cows in early or mid-gestation, saving good quality hay for late gestation and lactation.

Managing and planning your winter feed strategy requires knowledge of your feed inventory both in terms of quantity and quality, an understanding of your animal’s requirements at different stages of production and some leeway with regards to length and severity of the winter feeding period and feed wastage. To come up with a plan estimate the length of the winter feeding period, get a good handle on your feed inventory and match those things to animal requirements.

For more information on this or other livestock related topics, please contact your local Regional Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.

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