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Management of limit feeding cow-calf pairs in confinement
Beef producers throughout most of Nebraska are facing crucial management decisions in 2013 as a result of the drought. Updates on drought conditions, information, decision-making tools and other resources are available at several UNL Extension web sites, including:
By Karla H. Jenkins
Cow/Calf, Range Management Specialist
UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center
Nebraska’s continuing drought is limiting residual forage, soil moisture, hay production, and 2013 grass growth. In order to reduce grazing pressure and delay pasture turn out as long as possible, many producers are considering limit feeding cow-calf pairs in confinement.
This can be a viable option, but there are several management considerations that need to be addressed.
Confinement refers to removing cows from the opportunity to graze a pasture that needs rest. Some options include a winter feed ground, pivot corners, crop ground, or a feedlot. Cows fed out on a pasture will continue to graze green grass if it is available. Each pair in confinement will need at least 350-400 square feet of space. Each cow will need about 2 feet of bunk or feeding space, while calves will need an additional 1-1½ feet. If possible, younger cows should be fed separately from mature cows to reduce competition.
Limit feeding refers to providing a limited amount of a nutrient-dense feed. In other words, the pairs are not allowed ad libitum intake of the feed, but rather given a lesser amount that will still meet their nutrient requirements. Mixing nutrient-dense byproducts such as distillers grains, sugarbeet pulp, soy hulls, and/or corn gluten feed with low-quality roughages or crop residues may be more economical than feeding larger amounts of medium-quality hay.
A cow that only needs 11 Mcal (megacalories) of energy per day during late gestation will need 14-15 Mcal per day at peak lactation. It is also important to remember that nursing calves will eat about 1 percent of their body weight in forage dry matter. Additional feed may be added for the calves or a creep feeder could be provided for them as well.
For assistance with ration balancing and feed amounts, producers should contact their local extension office.
Young calves in confinement must be able reach the water tank and feed source. If water flow is restricted into the tank, cows can drink the tank down far enough that small calves cannot reach the water. Additionally, the tank may need to be banked with dirt to ensure calves can reach it. If the 2013 drought is accompanied by the extreme heat of 2012, confined calves may need a source of shade. Creep feeders work well for this, too.
Producers should consult their local veterinarian for the appropriate vaccination programs for their herds. If health issues arise in confinement herds, those pairs should be isolated from the remainder of the herd. If calves are born in confinement, grouping calves with less than a two week spread on age will help reduce the incidence of scours.
For more beef related information visit beef.unl.edu.