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Make preparations now for your winter forage program

With Labor Day behind us we are headed directly into the fall season. A preparation for your cow-herd winter nutrition program begins with knowing the forages that you have to work with. Now is a good time to inventory the forages available and determine how best to match them to your herd. Some factors to help manage through the winter are listed below.

  1. Estimate forage requirements for your herd. A good rule of thumb is to use 2.5 to 3.0% of your cow’s body weight multiplied by the number of days you need to feed supplemental forages and the number of cows in the herd.  This should allow for a reasonable amount of shrink or when quantities are estimated during feeding.
  2. Look for opportunities that reduce stored winter forage requirements by setting aside stock-piled forages or grazing dormant pastures.  These practices can decrease the expense of processing forages and costs associated with feeding.
  3. Consider additional emergency supplies to help cover unplanned storm or weather events that can increase forage needs.
  4. Consider how forages are stored as it will influence not only quantity but also forage quality.
  5. If weather challenges were experienced during forage harvest, consider testing for molds or mycotoxins to determine exposure levels and how best to utilize forages with higher levels.
  6. Use forages from previous years first, early in the supplemental feeding period when cow requirements for mid-gestation are more easily met.
  7. Conduct a nutrient analyses on all of your forage supplies. At a minimum, test for moisture, protein and fiber components in order to estimate an energy value.
  8. Use forage analyses when selecting supplements and when to start supplemental feeding in order to maintain cow body condition.
  9. Estimate the amount of forage and rank by quality for what you have on hand. 
  10. Set aside higher quality forages for pre-calving up to breeding. Consider how long it will take before typical pasture green-up in the spring.
  11. If feeding young and thin cows separately from the main cow herd, set aside high quality forages for this group and start early in order to provide ample time to help increase body condition prior to calving.
  12. Consider how forages are fed as the amount of waste can dramatically affect what is needed to make it through the winter. There has been considerable research evaluating different types of hay feeders compared to unrolling large round bales or feeding on the ground. Using different hay feeders can average around 5% waste while feeding on the ground will be about 18% waste.

There are a number of factors that can help improve the nutritional status of your cow herd over the winter months. Starting with a well-planned forage program is an absolute must for highly profitable cow-calf producers. Start now with organizing your forages and make sure you will get to spring grass without a hitch.