Cow nutrition is critical to calf health

Staff writer

Special conditions such as drought and extreme cold temperatures require that special attention be made to the nutritional needs of cows and calves.

“Nutrition is the foundation of anyone’s health,” veterinarian Jessica Laurin of Animal Health Center said.

It’s true for people, and it’s true for animals.

A new software program acquired by Laurin allows her to help cow-calf operators determine the correct rations for their cattle under all circumstances and in all stages of production.

Rations will vary according to weather conditions, type of feed, stage of production, and breed type. Even such things as whether or not cattle have protection from the wind can make a difference in what animals need to maintain their health.

When temperatures are below zero, all cattle need more nutrition. Laurin said temperatures between 32 and 55 or 60 degrees is known as the “thermal neutral zone.” For each degree under that, an animal needs 1 percent more energy.

A cow needs more nutrition during the last trimester of pregnancy and after calving. The ration may vary depending on if the cow is a first-calf heifer, second-calf heifer, or mature animal.

Laurin said grass has the best nutrition. Some of that is lost when it is made into hay. Not all of the protein is available to break down the fiber in the hay.

She said alfalfa is the best source of protein in the winter. Drought conditions have made alfalfa more expensive, so more cattlemen are using byproducts such as distiller’s grain. It has a lot of protein but lacks several amino acids that have to be supplemented in one way or another.

Drought conditions have contributed to mineral deficiencies in cattle. Laurin said cattle buyers and feeders are having more problems than usual this winter with sickness in calves. Sometimes, even with the use of medicine, calves can’t survive.

She said it might be because the cows that produced them weren’t fed adequately. The drought made feed more expensive, so cattlemen may have cut back on mineral supplementation, which affects the immune system. Cows need minerals such as selenium and copper to produce calves with strong immune systems, Laurin said. Calcium is important, too.

With the new software program, Laurin can develop a feed ration for cow-calf operators that will take into consideration body condition, production stage, and feed stuffs and can be adjusted as conditions change.

She said that, with the current market price of calves, it makes sense for producers to give their cattle all the nutrition they need to produce healthy offspring.

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