Winter 2013 may provide some challenges that ranchers have not faced in the recent past, and managing winter feeding costs is among them. However, proper winter feeding is important to profitable cow-calf production. To develop an effective feeding program, there are some things to evaluate prior to purchasing feeds. Below is a checklist to help develop the best winter rations for the operation.

  1. What are the primary forage sources?
  2. Has that forage been tested for quality? If not, take representative samples for analysis.
  3. What body condition are the cows in?
  4. Does body condition need to increase or maintain?
  5. What are the cow’s requirements based on body condition and stage of production?
  6. Does the forage require additional nutrients (protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins) to meet requirements?
  7. If yes, what feed options are available as sources of needed nutrients? Determine availability of alternatives, as well as feed-delivery equipment needs and availability.
  8. Evaluate feedstuff options on a cost/unit of nutrient basis to determine the most economical option.
  9. Select the option(s) that meet the cow’s requirements at the lowest cost for the operation.
  10. Determine quantity needed and purchase additional feed.

Work with a local Cow/Calf Field Specialist or State Beef Specialist to assist in answering these questions. Rations will be ranch-specific; however three examples of late-gestation rations are outlined below. These should not be utilized without knowing if they match the actual quality of your forages, as there has been wide variation in forage quality this year due to the drought conditions. Samples of grass hay have ranged from 9.5% CP down to 4.5% CP, all dependent on when and how the hay was put up.

Source:  Adele Harty, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist