Explore the nutritional needs of a beef cow based on the stages of gestation with an eye towards improving weaning weights and cow productivity.

Beef producers want a beef cow that produces a healthy, strong calf every year, and one of the keys to achieving good reproduction numbers is nutrition. According to a South Florida Beef-Forage article, poor nutrition can lead to “a low percent calf crop, late calving and decreased weaning weights.” The article shares the different nutritional needs of a beef cow at different ages and stages, so beef producers can form a nutritional program that is best suited to meeting a cow’s nutritional needs with reproduction and higher weaning weights as a goal. See details from the article below.

A Beef Cow’s Nutritional Needs

According to the article, nutritional needs are determined by a cow’s stage of production:

  1. Early lactation/calving to breeding–70-80 days. According to the article, a cow’s nutritional needs are the most critical at this point as she is recovering from the last pregnancy and producing high amounts of milk. Per the article, “Cows that lose weight during this period have lower first-service conception rates than cows that gain some weight. Lower first-service conception rates result in longer calving intervals. A cow’s weight loss at this time also decreases the weaning weight of the calf.”
  2. Breeding to weaningapproximately 120 days. Nutrition is not as important, as milk production is lessening and summer grass is allowing the cow to add weight. According to the article, “Nutrition rarely affects the developing fetus at this stage.”
  3. Mid-gestation with the calf weaned– approximately 100 days. At this stage, the cow needs only enough feed to maintain weight. According to the article, “Requirements for the fetus are small in terms of nutrient requirements. Cows can use lower quality feeds during this period without affecting production.
  4. Late gestation– 60-70 days. Per the article, the fetus gains around a pound a day, so the cow must also in order to maintain her own weight. The article states that “If supplementation is needed, it should begin during this period to ensure the birth of strong, healthy calves and early rebreeding of cows,” as cows that lose weight during late gestation will not be able to begin the cycle anew as soon as if she had not lost weight.

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