During a 12-month period, there are specific physiological stages a cow progresses through and certain opportunities, challenges and goals we need her to navigate to ensure we optimize our productivity, which simply stated is to produce a weaned calf every year.
In today’s beef industry, we just don’t have the luxury of making a mistake. Unlike the poultry and hog industries, we get one progeny per year in the beef cattle business and it is incumbent on us to ensure our cost decisions are properly balanced with our production goals in order to optimize performance and profitability.
Period 1: The Calving/Post-Calving Period is approximately 80 days in length and the single most important objective is for the cow to give birth to a live and healthy calf. There are many things to consider in advance of this period, but this calf is our revenue from this cow for this year. Our feeding program needs to be at its best during this period as the cow’s nutrition requirements are at their highest due to lactation. Additionally, it is one of our major goals that this feed program be strong enough to sustain peak lactation as long as possible. In beef cows this is normally 75-90 days. A final challenge during this period is to recondition the reproductive tract for breedback. All elements of the feed and supplement program (protein, energy, minerals and vitamins) must be in the right amounts and proportions to ensure optimum nutrition during this critical stage.
Period 2: During the next 125 days, we are concerned with Maintaining Lactation. Nutrient requirements, while lower than the previous period, still remain high as we try to sustain lactation as long as possible. My assumption has always been that a cow can grow a calf much cheaper than buying feed to grow the calf. Therefore, ensuring nutrient levels remain high through good supplementation practices on emerging forages is critical. Cows should also gain weight and increase body condition during this period. Finally, and most importantly, for future profitability, this is the period in which we breed back and need to maintain early pregnancy.
Period 3: Mid-Gestation is the period I have always felt we can catch up. This is primarily because we will wean our calf during this period, and as the cow dries up, because of reduced calf demand, we are able to utilize mature forages to increase cow weight, flesh and body condition before entering the last stage of production. Adding critical body condition at this time is optimal because there are plenty of days between now and calving so that the daily requirements for gain are smaller. However, if we cheat the cow nutritionally and don’t take advantage of our opportunities during this period, then our average daily gains must increase as we get closer to the pre-calving period in order to achieve the body condition to ensure successful calving and breed back for the future.
Period 4: As we reach the Pre-Calving Period (60-90 days prior to calving), we see a significant increase in nutrient requirements for the cow. 70%-80% of fetal development occurs during the last trimester of gestation which results in a tremendous spike in fetal protein requirements. If nutrition from the combination of our feed and supplement program does not meet this increase resulting from fetal development, we run the risk of poorly developed calves, reduced vigor, reduced colostrum value to properly develop the calves immune system and a host of other problems. Additionally, the body condition of the cow at calving dictates the ability to return to estrous in 90 days following calving to ensure we have that 1 calf every 12 months.
In the final analysis, every producer must weigh the available nutrition from the feed program to determine the level of supplementation required to optimize performance. Each of us may define optimum cow performance in many different ways, but I am confident we all agree that profitability starts with a live calf on the ground. Feed quality and quantity will vary from day-to-day and property-to-property, but the consistency and continuity of your supplementation program can give you the level of comfort and nutrition necessary to be confident that productivity and profitability will be optimized.
To find out what supplements Performance Feeds have for each period, please call our National Sales Manager, Peter Cush on 0408 607 558.