Winter beef cow nutrition strategies

November 28, 2023
Lance Kennington, animal nutrition specialist with CHS, explains what to feed beef cows this winter in preparation for calving and to help them get calves off to a good start.

Preparation for calving season starts with making sure cows get the right nutrients to help them stay healthy through the winter months. Beef cows and heifers need extra energy, protein, vitamins and minerals this time of the year to maintain health and body condition.

“When you feed a balanced diet in the last trimester of pregnancy, you help the cow have a strong calf and also prepare for next year’s pregnancy,” explains Lance Kennington, animal nutrition specialist with CHS. “Good quality hay, silage, grain byproducts and commercial supplements are routinely used to create a balanced diet when feeding cattle in the winter.”

Age-based Nutrition

Unlike mature cows, first-calf heifers are still growing. After calving, they must draw on their reserves to repair the reproductive tract, produce milk for their newborn calves and continue to physically mature.

“The best way to ensure first-calf heifers can do all that and breed again is to manage them separately from mature cows,” Kennington says. “They’ll be better able to compete for available resources if they’re managed separately from more mature and aggressive cows.”

Caring for Cows After Calving

Cow nutrition after calving is just as crucial as before they give birth.

“After calving, a cow has increased needs due to milk production, which is a big drain on reserves and increases the need for more energy and protein,” says Kennington. “In addition, cold weather requires more energy for warmth, so be prepared to increase their dry matter or feed intake to make up for these deficiencies.”

Analyze Feed and Water

To keep beef cows and their calves healthy, Kennington says producers should know the quality of their feed supply and water.

“I recommend having all hay and silage sent to the lab to be analyzed for nutrient content,” he recommends. “Then supplement feed with protein, vitamins and minerals to meet the animals’ nutrient requirements. Also, it’s important to have your water tested to see if you need to make adjustments to your herd’s diet based on water quality.”

Young beef cow nursing from its mother during winter. Their breath is visible.