The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 31, 2014

Producers need to know cow feed intake

By Dana Zook, Extended Forecast
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Feed costs make up 50 to 70 percent of annual production costs of a cow-calf operation. Purchased feed can account for a large portion of the total feed costs.

With the busy schedule of farming and ranching, how often do producers think about consumption levels of their cow herd?

Here are some questions we might ask ourselves: Are we providing adequate nutrients? Or on the flip side: Is our cow herd consuming beyond what it needs for production needs? It is important to meet cows’ nutrient requirements, but with potentially short forage supplies, we definitely don’t want to over-feed. For this reason, producers may benefit from taking a closer look at feed consumption and allowance on an individual cow by cow basis.  

In order to accurately determine cow intake, one must first understand the difference between dry-matter and as-fed values of a feedstuff. What does dry-matter actually mean? Intake on a dry-matter basis is the amount of forage that does not include moisture. There is a certain amount of moisture in all forages, and not all forages contain an equal amount of moisture. The use of the dry-matter value will allow producers to equally compare forages (as well as concentrate feeds) and determine nutrient value on an equal basis.

Now, let’s look at the factors that determine daily feed intake of a cow. These factors include cow weight, stage of production and forage quality. The largest determinant of intake is body weight of a cow. As you would probably assume, 1,300-pound cows will consume more on a daily basis than cows weighing 1,100 pounds.

Stages of production also will affect intake. Lactating cows have a higher nutrient requirement and will consume a great deal more than dry gestating cows. Forage quality also affects the dry matter intake of cows. As forage quality increases, digestibility also increases. As forage maturity increases, lignin (an indigestible fiber) increases within the plants structure which reduces it overall digestibility.

The Beef Extension groups at Oklahoma State University and the University of Nebraska give us good guidelines to follow when estimating the daily intake of cows consuming forages differing in quality in different stages of production.

• When forage quality is low (52 percent TDN or less) and cows are not lactating, they will consume 1.8 percent of their body weight. Cows that are consuming low-quality forage during lactation will consume about 2.0-2.2 percent of their body weight on a dry matter basis.

• When forages are of average quality (TDN 52-59 percent), non-lactating cows will consume 2.0-2.2 percent body weight while lactating cows will consume 2.3-2.5 percent of their body weight on a dry matter basis.

Oklahoma State University has a variety of tools that can be used to assist producers in making nutritional decisions for their beef herd. The OSU Cow-culator is a great online tool to use when formulating a ration for a cow herd using specific feed sources. Within this program, a producer is able to enter specific animal criteria (such as cow weight, body condition, production stage and breed) as well as feed and forage ingredients that can be customized to each individual operation. I would encourage producers to visit www.beefex to test this calculator and see how their nutritional program meets the needs of their individual cowherd.

As I write this article, much of the district has received some much-needed moisture, but many areas still are far from normal rainfall levels. Due to extended dry periods this past year, our forage base has been affected enough that even with additional rainfall, some pastures may not fully recover this season. For this reason, harvested forages still will be required to maintain cow herds.

Before fully utilizing harvested forages, I would encourage producers to have samples analyzed for energy and protein. With an analysis, producers can more efficiently utilize feed sources and improve their bottom line.

Estimating daily feed intake of our cow herd, analyzing available feed ingredients,and using online production tools is a positive first step in determining the total amount of forage you will need on hand to supplement in the coming season if dry conditions persist.

For questions regarding any information in this article, contact your OSU County Extension Educator for more information.

Zook is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service area livestock specialist.