General Feeding Information

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Knowledge Nuggets

  • Feeding beef cattle during Canadian winters can be a challenge. Frame size, body condition, stage of gestation, feed quality and type and fluctuations in air temperature and wind speed, all impact nutritional requirements of cattle.
  • Over-feeding is costly, while under-feeding restricts rates of gain and reduces current and future reproductive performance in the breeding herd.
  • Body condition of cows going into the winter feeding period will affect the amount and quality of feed required. A 1300 pound cow that is thin (condition score 2) will require an additional 1700 pounds of hay compared to a cow in good condition (score 3).
  • When temperatures drop, cows consume more feed to keep warm. Cows fed poor quality, low protein feeds, will attempt to consume more than they can digest and experience impaction. Processing poor quality feed through a hammer mill or tub grinder will increase feed intake but increases the potential for impaction. Pay strict attention to the cow condition and their manure.
  • During periods of cold temperatures, increase the energy component of the ration by feeding additional grain at a rate of 1 lb of barley or oats per head per day for every -5C that the temperature is below -20 C at mid-day or accept weight losses during those colder days.
  • Allow for feed wastage, which can range from 5 to 25% or more. Waste is usually higher than expected.
  • Feed test each of the feeds prior to the start of your winter feeding program. Feed tests provide important information on the nutrient levels of the feeds and should be used to accurately formulate rations. Feed the mature cows, replacements, and first calf heifers separately to match feeding programs to the nutritional needs of each group.
  • All winter feeding programs for cows require the use of salt and minerals. High Trace Mineralized Salt with selenium is a necessary choice. Blue salt only provides iodine, cobalt and salt. Not only does high trace mineralized salt provide cobalt and iodine but it also contains copper, zinc, manganese and selenium which are deficient in western Canada.
  • All animals require vitamins for normal metabolism. Green forages containing carotenoids supply Vitamin A and some Vitamin E. Unfortunately after 60 days of storage, the vitamin A content of the forage is decomposed because of the exposure to air. Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin because ultraviolet light acting on a compound on animal skin changes that compound into vitamin D. Vitamin D is found in sun-cured forages. Vitamin D must be supplemented in winter rations.
  • Vitamin E, along with selenium, is required for proper development of muscle tissue, immune function and reproductive performance of animals. Nutritional muscular dystrophy, commonly called white muscle disease, silent heats, longer periods to time of first heat, and higher incidences of disease can occur if selenium and Vitamin E are deficient in the diet.
Fact Sheets

Beef Ration Rules of Thumb

20 Tips to Make the Best Use of Your Winter Feed

Feeding The Beef Cow Herd-Part I: Factors Affecting the Cow Nutrition Program - available in PDF format only

Feed Value Calculator

Limiting Feed Intake with Salt - available in PDF format only

Net Feed Efficiency in Beef Cattle

Winter Grazing vs. Feeding Harvested Forage

Research Papers

Let us know of good research papers for this topic.
  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Linda Hunt.
This information published to the web on March 20, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on May 14, 2014.

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