By Denise Schwab, ISU Extension beef specialist


A common question this time of year is “Do I have enough feed for the cows for this winter?” It seems I’ve heard this more in 2018 than prior years for numerous reasons depending on location: too dry this spring and summer, too wet all season, excessive rain at silage chopping time, etc. Regardless of why feed quantity is a concern, now is the time to be proactive and manage the feed available.

Here is my list of suggestions for budgeting your winter feed supply.

• Inventory the feedstuffs available and sample to determine the nutrient value. When supplies are short and we are calculating rations with a narrow margin of error, nutrient analysis is critical to ensure we are meeting requirements of the cow.

• Inventory the cattle numbers, body condition and stage of production. When feed supply is tight, pregnancy check and cull open cows and problem cows.

• Calculate rations for each stage of production (second trimester gestation, third trimester, early lactation, developing heifers, bull maintenance) assuming 100% intake estimates (approximately 2%-2.5% of bodyweight on a dry matter basis). 

• Calculate winter feed needs based on daily rations, herd size, and days fed, and determine if feed supply exceeds feed demands. If so, feed accordingly and control feed waste.

• If demand exceeds supply, recalculate daily rations utilizing limited intake diets. There are several approaches to limit feeding cows that have proven successful. Provided nutrient requirements are met by the forage and any additional supplementation, intake can be reduced by 10-20% of the total feed quantity without much problem other than restlessness and fence walking. This works best with a TMR but can also be applied by limiting access to hay. Corn stover can also be used to stretch hay supplies if available.

Whenever normal feed intakes are limited, pay special attention to ensure vitamin and mineral requirements are met. When estimating feed needs be sure to account for feed dry matter levels, storage waste and feeding waste also. If you are unsure about your forage supply and the ability to meet the nutrient requirements of your cow herd, contact your Iowa State Extension beef specialist for assistance on developing rations and stretching your feed supply.