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  • Emily Potter, NOFIA Project Development Advisor

3 Tips for Stretching Out Your Feed Supply

With the very wet spring and fall and a bone-dry summer, feed shortage is a major concern for many farmers in the area. Dr. Katie Wood from the University of Guelph travelled up to New Liskeard on October 20th to be a part of Beef Farmers of Temiskaming’s Steak & Egg Breakfast and to share her tips on stretching out your feed supply. Here are a few tips from her talk!

1. Test your feed!

The best way to test forages to get a uniform sample is to use a hay probe/core sampler and sample 15-20 bales. A core sampler can be accessed through OMAFRA or your nutritionist. If one isn’t available, a grab sample works too. Put the sample in a Ziplock bag. If the sample is wet, freeze it. Mail the sample to a feed testing lab to be tested for moisture, protein, energy and nitrates (if it’s an annual forage).

Once test results come back, two things to look at are the Crude Protein (CP) content and the Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN). A general rule of thumb is 8-9-11 for CP and 55-60-65 for TDN (early pregnancy – late pregnancy – lactating).

So how can you use these results to stretch your feed supply? Dilute high-quality forages with crop residues (up to 25-35% maximum). There can be a palatability issue with feeding straws, so you may want to chop it if possible to increase their intake or alternate the days you feed this on. You also need to be cautious and watch for any impacts on health this may be having on the animals. If they start to lose too much body condition score, you may need to add more protein.

2. Body Condition Scoring

Body Condition Scoring Scale:

1: Emaciated – little muscle left

1.5: Very Thin – bones visible, no fat, considerable muscle loss

2: Thin – Foreribs visible; some muscle loss

2.5: Borderline: Foreribs not visible; 12th and 13th ribs visible

3: Moderate – all bones covered, neither thin nor fat

3.5: Good – smooth appearance; some fat on back and tail

4: Very Good – smooth appearance with fat over back and tailhead

4.5: Fat – Blocky appearance; bone over back not visible

5: Very Fat – tail buried and in fat

The ideal body condition score is from 2.5-3.5. Groups of cattle can be separated by body condition scores. You can be a little tougher on over-conditioned mature cows from post-weaning to the “far-off” period with feed, allowing them to use their own energy reserves. A half-condition score loss represents approximately 100 lbs on a 1500 lbs cow and 66 lbs on a 1000 lbs cow. All cows should be in the ideal body condition by the time they reach 60-90 days before calving. After weaning is the best time to do body condition scoring and then separate cows to add or lose body condition.

Check out the Beef Cattle Research Council’s guide for body condition scoring here:

3. Supplementation

Adding an energy supplement can allow you to limit-feed hay. Some options include corn, barley or DDGS (Dried Distiller’s Grains with Solubles).

Adding ionophores such as Rumensin can help reduce feed intake by 5-10% and shifts fermentation in the rumen to produce more proprionate. This can be fed in a mineral premix. Working with a nutritionist can help you determine the best method of supplementation for your herd.

Bonus Tips:

  • Reduce feed waste

  • Wean calves early

  • Limit access to hay to 8 hours per day

  • Graze corn stover/failed cash crops/cover crops

  • Limit feed (ensure adequate bunk space)

  • Use intensive rotational grazing

  • Make some culling decisions (smaller-framed cows have lower maintenance energy requirements)

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