Suckler cow Nutrition and management to reduce costs

Updated: Apr 30, 2020

As we move towards spring calving and lambing our minds are focused on nutrition and the feed, we have available on farm.

There are many steps that can be taken to ensure home ground feed is utilised efficiently and the cost of bought-in feeds is reduced to a minimum without compromising performance. These being:

  1. Analysis – By now all forage should be analysed to assess the dry matter available and the energy and protein content of this forage.

  2. Targeted forage use – Based on this analysis forage can be targeted carefully to ensure the stock are fed with the forage that best meets their nutritional requirements

  3. Supplement – Supplement to balance the forage being fed

  4. Measure

Suckler cows and utilising body condition

As we experienced a relatively wet autumn many cattle were housed early to ensure they didn’t do too much damage to grassland.

Cows were in good condition. This offered many opportunities. Firstly, this condition needed to managed to ensure cows are not calving above condition score 2.5 - 3 meaning cows could be fed a diet to remove some of this condition.

Targeting lower energy (8.5 – 9ME) lower protein (above 9% CP) silage at these cows makes sense a 650 kg cow requires 75MJ of energy per day for maintenance. This is 9kg of silage Dry matter.

Fed unrestricted, a suckler cow will eat 2% + of its body weight in dry matter which equates to 13kg.

This provides 110 MJ meaning the cow will be gaining weight. By doing this we are providing the cow with energy it doesn’t need and we are not utilising the cow's body condition that it gained cheaply at grass. On a restricted diet, all cows need to be able to feed at the same time. Straw can be fed to satisfy the cow's appetite remembering this adds come energy but also, importantly, adding straw reduces the protein in the diet so it is important not to go too far so as not to compromise colostrum quality. It is also important not to alter diets to reduce condition quickly in the last 2 months of pregnancy, if cows are too fit at this point it is generally too late and mistakes were made earlier in the grazing season.

Weighing & using EID in suckler cow nutrition

1 body condition score equates to 13% of body weight. For a 650 kg cow this is 84kg. if a cow at condition score 3.5 can lose half a condition score, this is a 0.25kg loss per day over a 150-day winter which further reduces its energy requirements.