Sustaining optimal body condition from fall calving to breeding season

By Kate Hornyak, Ohio State University Extension program coordinator, Delaware County

Maintaining optimal body condition in cattle from fall calving through to the breeding season is pivotal for the success of any beef operation. In Ohio, with its unique climate and agricultural landscape, this task can present unique challenges and opportunities. There are comprehensive strategies tailored to Ohio’s environment, helping cattle producers ensure their herds are in peak condition, promoting reproductive success and overall herd vitality.

During the fall, fluctuating temperatures and early frosts can impact the availability and quality of pasture for grazing, necessitating the need for supplementary feeding. Farmers must be vigilant to ensure that cattle have access to adequate nutrition as natural forage sources diminish. Additionally, wet conditions and heavy rainfall can lead to muddy and unsanitary living conditions, increasing the risk of disease and foot problems in cattle.

As winter arrives, the challenges intensify with the onset of freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. Cattle require extra energy to maintain body heat in cold weather, and farmers must ensure that their herds have access to sufficient high-energy feed. Water sources can freeze, making it crucial to provide a consistent supply of fresh, unfrozen water. Providing windbreaks and shelter is also vital to protect cattle from harsh winter winds and to reduce the stress caused by cold weather.

Maintaining optimal body condition in cattle from fall calving through to the breeding season is pivotal for the success of any beef operation. In Ohio, with its unique climate and agricultural landscape, this task can present unique challenges and opportunities. This article explores comprehensive strategies tailored to Ohio’s environment, helping cattle producers ensure their herds are in peak condition, promoting reproductive success and overall herd vitality.

Assessing the body condition score (BCS) of an animal before calving and during the transition to the breeding season is crucial for ensuring successful reproduction. The body condition score provides a numerical assessment of the fat content on a cow’s frame, with scores ranging from 1, indicating an extremely thin condition, to 9, indicating excessive obesity. A fluctuation of just one point in BCS (e.g., from 4 to 5) typically corresponds to an approximate 75-pound alteration in body weight. Cows with a BCS lower than 5 at the time of calving are likely to experience delays in returning to their reproductive cycles and will subsequently face extended intervals between calving events.

While body condition is critical for all lactating cows going into the breeding season, this is especially important for the fall calving cow who potentially could be facing a long hard winter in poor condition while still trying to meet the demands of lactation.

Fall management: Transition and preparation

As the season transitions from fall to winter, cattle are recovering from calving and entering the breeding season. During this time, focus on:

• Assessing and adjusting nutrition: Evaluate body condition and adjust feed rations accordingly. Ensure that cows are receiving adequate energy, protein, and nutrients to recover from calving and support reproductive functions.

• Providing quality forage: Preserve and provide access to high-quality hay or silage. Ohio’s fall can still offer decent pasture, but as temperatures drop, reliance on stored forages increases. Have stored forages tested for nutritional value prior to feeding. Test results will help determine how much hay to supply and if additional supplementation is needed.

• Preparing for winter: Winterize water systems to ensure a constant supply of fresh water. Check and repair shelters and windbreaks to protect from harsh weather. Winter in Ohio can be harsh, with snow, ice, and cold temperatures.

During this season:

• Adjusting feed rations: Increase energy density in feed rations to help cattle maintain body heat and condition. Utilize grains and energy supplements as needed.

• Providing windbreaks and shelter: Ensure cattle have access to windbreaks and shelters. Protection from wind and cold reduces stress and energy expenditure.

• Maintaining water supply: Prevent water sources from freezing and ensure that cattle always have access to clean water.

• Monitoring body condition: Continue regular BCS evaluations. Quick identification and correction of body condition losses are crucial during winter.

Maintaining optimal body condition from fall calving through to the breeding season is a critical component of successful cattle production in Ohio. By understanding and adapting to Ohio’s unique climate, and implementing strategic nutrition and management practices, producers can ensure their herds remain in peak condition. Regular body condition scoring, thoughtful nutritional management, and attentive care are essential components of this process, setting the stage for a successful breeding season and a thriving cattle operation. Through diligent management and a deep understanding of their livestock’s needs, Ohio’s cattle producers can overcome the challenges posed by the state’s varied climate, ensuring the health and productivity of their herds year-round.

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