Preparing cows for winter calving

January 25, 2022
Cash Yount, animal nutrition sales manager with CHS, shares how delivering good nutrition and maintaining optimal cow body condition can help you achieve a successful winter calving season.

As we head into winter calving season, maintaining proper body condition in your cows through good nutrition is critical to having a profitable year, says Cash Yount, animal nutrition sales manager with CHS.

Cow body condition is an important consideration that occasionally gets overlooked when it comes to herd health management. For many producers and ranch management consultants, body condition is correlated to the appetite of the cows. Often, the thought is, ‘Well, I fed them so many pounds and they cleaned it up so that must be the right volume.’ Understanding what energy values and calorie density are in that forage is critical to an optimal cow body condition going into winter.

In beef production, it’s key to maintain the body condition and body reserves producers have put on before that time period, says Yount. “There are many environmental factors during the winter months that make it unrealistic to have cows put on condition then,” he notes. “Zeroing in on third-trimester nutrition and doing what we can ahead of time to feed cows well pays dividends throughout the course of the program.”

Achieve optimal body condition

What’s considered a desirable cow body condition score varies by region, says Yount, depending on the grass and forages available. Some ranches operate cow herds at about a 4 on the body condition scale; most of the producers in Montana, where Yount lives, like to see them at about a 5 or a 6-body condition.

There is a correlation between a cow’s body condition score and the time it takes her calf to stand up and get its first delivery of colostrum. “There’s data that says it takes the calf of a cow with a body condition score of 3 about 60 minutes to stand up and get its first intake of nutrients and colostrum from its mother’s milk,” says Yount. “If we bump that cow’s body condition up to a 5 or 6 by feeding her a bit more aggressively, that time is cut in half, with a calf standing up and taking milk in about 35 minutes.” That 30 minutes is vital to get that calf’s immune system going so it can remain in production for the rest of its life.