December is the perfect time to evaluate your cow's body condition. Cows that will be calving should have a body condition score that is between 5 and 7. Cows that have scores of less than a 5 should be on a separate diet to condition them with adequate nutrition for calving. If feasible, separate your cows into production classes and feed according to their body condition score and production needs.
If you have not already started, prepare your winter feeding program for your cows. Hay and feed supplements are usually the most expensive in your budget. Evaluate your winter forage supply by determining lowest to highest quality hay. Mid-pregnancy cows should receive the lowest quality of forages while late pregnancy cows should receive medium quality and the highest quality hay should be given to calves, lactating cattle, and replacement heifers. Cows should receive 25 to 30 pounds of hay per day.
Feeding corn silage is also a good way to make sure your cows stay at a healthy body condition score. Pregnant heifers and dry cows in mid pregnancy should receive 45 to 50 pounds of corn silage plus 0.75 pounds of soybean meal or cottonseed meal. Dry cows in late pregnancy should receive 50 to 55 pounds of corn silage and 0.75 pound of soybean meal while lactating cows should be given 60 to 80 pounds of silage and 1 to 2 pounds of soybean meal. Another important part of the feeding program that sometimes is neglected is the mineral mix. All cattle should receive a free choice balanced salt mineral mix. Also, avoid underfeeding heifers or cows to achieve decreased birth weights. Doing this could cause a longer pregnancy and reduction in calf survival. Research has proven that there is no difference in birth weights or calving ease in comparing cows that are underfed and cows that are fed adequate diets.
For many producers, winter marks the start of calving season. Be sure to check all facilities and equipment that will be used during calving. If calving pens are available they should be clean and dry. A warmer environment should be prepared just in case you have chilled calves. Make sure that all calving assistance equipment is in one location and in working order. Producers should have all of these calving supplies in a 'calving kit' to easily grab when a cow is calving. Be prepared to check your herd frequently and keep a close watch on first time calving heifers. These heifers should be moved into a smaller area so you will be able to check them more frequently.
Be sure to prepare your herd for the winter by evaluating your winter feeding program, body condition score your herd, and organize your calving kit. For further information on winter preparation for your cow/calf herd, contact your local Penn State Extension office.
Prepared by Morgan Firestine