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Are your cows dealing with a nutritional cliff?

It is almost Christmas time.  Before you know it, the holidays will be over, and some of you may actually be looking forward to this!  You may also be wondering if we will go over the Fiscal Cliff.  As I write this, no one seems to have any answers.

Back to cows…. come January 1st, 2013, many of you will be within 60 to 90 days of calving.  So, your cows are approaching a “Nutritional Cliff”.  For the brood cow, calving through re-breeding is a high stress time, coupled with high nutrient requirements.  The final 3 months of gestation see somewhere around 70% of the total growth of the fetus.  Several key nutrients are transferred from the cow to the calf during the final 3 months of gestation.  If cows are short on protein, weak calves can often result.  Good quality colostrum is a must for healthy calves.

For spring calving cows, most forages are deficient in the trace minerals and vitamins necessary for production of good quality colostrum.  Supplementation of trace minerals, vitamins and phosphorus is then absolutely essential to building the quality of colostrum that will provide the calf with a robust immune system necessary to avoid scours.  This transfer of nutrients to the newborn calf puts a drain on the maternal reserves at a time when she needs them to recover from calving and then breed back.

Another factor to consider this year is how the impact of recent drought conditions and dry summer/fall pastures impacted your cow herd.  Limited forage availability as compared to typical grazing conditions may have resulted in less energy converted to cow weight gain.  Are your cows coming into the winter with their normal body condition stores or are they a bit thinner than normal?  Given the time of the year you still have ample time to influence fiber digestibility and harvest more energy from your current forage supplies.

How can you avoid this nutritional cliff?  It is not hard at all.  Make sure you ramp up your cow herd supplementation at 3 months prior to calving.  If your cows are not going to calve at a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 5 or better, you will need to feed more energy to get them to a BCS of 5 by calving.  Failing to have your cows in this good of condition will often result in poorer conception rates this spring and summer. 

There may be some of you thinking that you don’t want to make a drastic increase in the plane of nutrition for cows late in gestation as it may result in more dystocia or calving difficulty.  There have been a number of studies that refute this observation when elevating the nutritional plane for cows prior to calving. Generally you may see a small increase in Birth Weight of the calves but more importantly, you find that cows are much better prepared physically to handle the birthing process and are able to calve unassisted when compared to under fed cows.  I would caution anyone who wants to use this reasoning to not supplement their cows prior to calving if they indeed want to have cows that will provide high quality colostrum milk after an unassisted calving followed by producing strong healthy calves that can face the uncertain spring environmental conditions with minimal health concerns.  Simply put, don’t let your cows go into calving underfed!

If you are concerned that you have not prepared your cows for the upcoming nutritional cliff, take steps to provide supplemental nutritional well ahead of the cliff.  CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements are an easy way to affordably provide protein, trace minerals, vitamins and phosphorus in a supplement block that’s available 24/7, while minimizing your investment in time, labor and equipment.