© Tim Scrivener

Winter feeding tips for beef calves

During the winter, feeding can be a challenge depending on the facilities and availability of forage, but it is an area that should not be overlooked because the fertility and health of the calf depends on getting it right.

Calves in a calf have many requirements as they continue to grow at a rate of 0.5 kg/day, in addition to calf development, readiness for lactation, and readiness to return to the calf.

When feeding these animals, we need to meet their requirements during the winter with the goal of improving BCS (Body Condition Score) at birth and producing a healthy live calf.

See also: How to improve beef rations to improve colostrum in childbirth

1. Body condition

Ideally, beef veal calves want a BCS of 2.75-3 at birth and weigh 85% of a mature cow’s body weight.

If the calves are too skinny to house and need more feed to improve the condition, there is a risk that this will encourage the calves to become too large, which can cause difficulties in calving.

If the calves are too fat in the housing and forage is restricted during the winter, this may have an effect on the growth of the cow and calf.

Therefore, it is advisable to minimize the change in condition and the BCS should not differ by more than 0.5 during the winter.

This will have multiple benefits, including reduced risk of childbirth difficulties, improved colostrum quality and milk production, reduced estrus interval and the calf’s ability to return to the calf for 365 days.

In the last month before giving birth, you should focus on feeding colostrum and milk production because in this period the fodder will naturally switch to the growth of the udder.

During this period, ensuring an adequate level of effective hydrolyzable rumen protein is essential to drive microbial protein production, which is required for milk and colostrum.

Ensuring the quality and quantity of colostrum at birth is the driver of the calf’s health and growth until weaning.

2. Housing

The housing and management of veal calves is just as important as the feed itself.

Reducing stress during the winter feeding and prenatal period will reduce the risk of miscarriage and health problems related to childbirth as well as improve the growth and development of the calf.

Feed space should not be less than 750 mm for the head to allow each animal to easily access the feed, regardless of whether it is located in compartments or loose housing.

Ideally, the cabins should be 90% stocked and the calves should move into loose housing two weeks before calving.

The area of ​​​​loose housing will depend on the weight of the calves, but about 3.5-4 m² of headroom or a total area of ​​​​5-6 m² should be provided.

Ideally, heifers should be positioned separately from mature cows to allow for targeted feeding and reduce the risk of bullying.

3. Feed requirements

Winter rations will mostly be forage-based. In most cases in the UK this will be hay or husks, although wholecrop, corn or hay can also be used.

The feed available on the farm should be analyzed to give an indication of the protein and energy available.

For most of the winter the requirements will be for maintenance and 0.5 kg/head for growth on average. For example:

  • Maintenance = 5 + 0.1 x live weight
  • Growth = 1.5 x maintenance, load = about 5 MJ

Therefore, if a calf weighs 500 kg, on average, about 88-90MJ of Metabolizable Energy (ME) per day will be required.

During mid-pregnancy, the diet’s requirement for crude protein is around 11%, but it is best to increase this to 14% in the last three to four weeks before delivery.

Calves weighing 500 kg are likely to have a dry intake of about 10 kg.

Example of diet

mid pregnancy

mid pregnancy

before birth

before birth

Silage 35% DM, 10.5MJ ME, 14% CP

21 kg

15 kg

25 kg

18 kg

Straw 85% DM, 6MJ ME, 4% CP

3 kg

3 kg

1 kg

1 kg

Wholecrop 40% DM, 10.5MJ ME, 9.5% CP

5 kg

5 kg

Protein supplement (eg, Rapemeal)

0.3 kg

0.5 kg

0.8 kg

Note: DM = dry matter; ME = metabolic energy; CP = crude protein

4. The importance of protein

A protein supplement will be useful near birth to support the production of colostrum and milk.

Reducing hay and increasing silage near calving will also help increase the energy density of the diet and the total protein level to support the cow through calving and prepare it for lactation and subsequent services.

You will also want to consider mineral supplements; This may actually be provided if a compound feed (pre-mixed) is used instead of a straight protein supplement.

Important elements at this time are calcium, magnesium, selenium and iodine.

If there is mineral imbalance or additional peripartum stress, especially with calcium and magnesium, there is a risk of developing hypocalcemia (milk fever), although this is usually more of a challenge in older cows.

If hypocalcemia occurs, even at subclinical levels, this can slow the progression of parturition, increase the risk of fetal membrane retention, increase the risk of meteoritis, and reduce the immunity of the calving cow.

All these factors can reduce the viability of the calf being born and have a negative effect on the fertility of the next service period.

Poor quality and quantity of colostrum affects the calf’s ability to develop immunity by decreasing the protection the calf receives.

This can increase the risk of developing pneumonia in the first few weeks of life, as well as potentially reducing growth rates until weaning.

In general, it is important to ensure that the wheel is managed and fed to minimize stress and changes while ensuring that wheel requirements are met.

Focusing on this important period in these important animals will provide longevity of the herd as well as improved performance and therefore profitability in the long run.

maternity matters

This content was produced as part of farmers weekly and the new AHDB “Maternity Matters” series.

Maternal Matters is an AHDB initiative that highlights the importance of maternal performance in increasing profitability in the infant herd.

Find out more on ahdb.org.uk/maternal-matters

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