Body condition is king on a cow-calf operation. It impacts everything: post-partum cycling, successful breeding, abortion rates, weak calves at birth, birth challenges (dystocia), colostrum quality and weaning weights.
So, when’s the best time to add body condition? Right after weaning when lactation stops.
Understanding Lactation and Energy Supply in Cows
It’s important to understand a cow’s number one energy robber—her milk production.
According to Penn State University, a beef cow produces about 11½ gallons of milk per day during lactation. The requirement to meet this milk quantity is roughly 1-1.2 Mcal/lb. of metabolizable energy from grass, hay and good quality stored forages.
If grazed forages can’t meet this energy requirement, cows will begin to lose body condition quickly as they use energy reserves in muscle and fat to make milk. But, after weaning this energy demand goes away and the cow can start directing those nutrients back to body weight and condition score.
Simply put, energy in a diet = body condition, so focusing on energy is key.
How to Add Cow Body Condition With Waning Forages
When calves are weaned in mid-to-late summer, grass quality starts to wane. So, while this is prime time to add body condition, ranchers must understand how a ruminant diet equates to energy and why supplementation might be needed to gain the appropriate amount of weight for next year’s calving season.
Picture a scale—the kind where you must balance both sides and it’s hard to get it just right. The same applies to understanding energy in a cow’s diet. If the TDN:CP (total digestible nutrients: crude protein) ratio in a forage diet is unbalanced, microbes in the rumen are unable to efficiently break down fiber and cows won’t gain efficiently. Which can inhibit the goal of adding body condition after weaning.
In the rumen, as crude protein, or degradable proteins, are broken down by microbes ammonia-nitrogen (N) is released which helps increase microbial activity and population. A benefit to increasing both microbial activity and population is a more rapid and extensive digestion of forage. This results in both an improvement in digestibility and forage intake, which together can have a marked increase in energy and body condition after weaning.
But, like everything in nature, there needs to be balance. The sweet spot for this balanced energy ratio is 8:1 TDN:CP. Too much TDN, CP (N) is deficient and microbes are inefficient. Too much CP and the animal will excrete excess N.
Fall forages have a higher TDN:CP ratio usually around 10:1 or 12:1 depending on forage type. The best way to balance this ratio is by adding low levels of a highly degradable crude protein or ammonia source to help rumen microbes be more efficient.
How to Increase Cow Body Condition After Weaning
Research from Kansas State University and Montana State University looked at the benefits of adding an ammonia source, Biuret, in grazing scenarios. The study evaluated the effects of Biuret on the intake and digestion of steers on prairie hay. Results showed a 22% increase in forage intake and a 52% increase in digested dry matter compared to non-supplemented steers.
Biuret has a unique ability to slow-release ammonia in the rumen over an extended period of time. This continuous supply of ammonia to microbes enhances their ability to break down forage while cattle are grazing or ruminating, meaning more calories are consumed and cattle gain more.
High-quality mineral like Ralco’s Summit™ Extender is specially formulated to add the needed CP, in the form of Biuret, to fuel rumen microbes and help cows add BCS after weaning. Powered by patented Catyl-Zyme™ technology, Summit Extender is research proven to increase rumen microbe populations and add body condition.
To learn more about Summit Extender and protein supplementation, watch the short webinar below by Ralco ruminant nutritionists.