Winter Feeding Preparations Start Now

Posted On October 10, 2014— Written By

As fall is approaching, the cooler weather is a welcome treat. This is also the perfect time for producers to be thinking about their cow herd and the (possible) challenge of winter feeding.

The first step for planning your winter feeding is to figure out where you are today. What does your pasture look like? How is your hay supply? What does your cow herd look like in terms of numbers? How do they look in terms of condition?

A forage inventory should be performed to determine what you have, what you need, and what you can get. Take a look at your pastures and decided how much stockpiled grass you have. How many days can your herd use that forage? Examine your hay supply and determine amount of hay, quality of hay, and feeding/storage methods. The hay is sold in bales but your cows require feed based on pounds of dry matter…having an accurate idea of the weight of your hay is crucial in determining if you have enough to last the coming winter. It is advisable to have 25% more hay than you need to get through the winter. A forage test, performed by NCDA&CS for $10, can tell you the nitrate, fiber, moisture, and protein (plus many more) concentrations of your hay/silage sample.

The way you feed and store hay is vital in getting the most out of your forage supply. Loss is minimized when hay is fed with a ring feeder, and silage supplied in troughs. If fed on the ground, waste has been shown to exceed 30%. Hay should be stored under a shelter or covered in plastic, however this is not always feasible. According to NCSU Extension publication ANS 03-001B, outside storage will result in about 25% loss of hay, while plastic storage results in 10% loss and barn storage 5% loss. Take this into account when determining your hay availability.

The next step in developing a plan for winter feeding should be to examine the cow herd. How many cows do you have? What physiological stage (dry, lactating, developing, etc.) are they in? The body condition of your animals is also critical…they will only lose body condition as the winter progresses. Ideally animals should have a BCS of 5-7; you may have to employ a new supplementation program (starting in the spring/summer of next year) to make sure your cows have the appropriate body condition going into the fall and winter months.

There are several easy methods to determining the amount of hay you may need over the winter. Here is one quick example from NCSU publication ANS 03-001B:

  • Expected feeding period: 90 days
  • Expected cow numbers: 25 cows
  • Expected cow weight in moderate condition (BCS approx. 5): 1100 lbs.
  • Expected cow intake: 2.5% of body weight
  • Expected cow intake in pounds: 0.025*1100 lbs.=27.5 lbs.
  • Expected total hay intake: 27.5 lbs./cow*25 cows*90 days= 61,875 lbs.
  • Hay offered increased by 10% to account for some waste: 61,875 lbs.*1.1=68,063 lbs.
  • Total hay needed (increased by a 25% safety factor): 85,079 lbs.

**Remember the 5 P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance**