Mud Reduces Beef Cow Performance
By : Alvaro Garcia, SDSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Director & Professor, Courtesy of extesion.sdstate.edu
Reducing Energy Losses
There are some options in order to cope with this situation. Producers can reduce cattle energy losses by convection by using permanent or moveable windbreaks. These can be tree/shrubs shelterbelts, a metal or wood structure or even stacked round bales (two rows high). Wind shelters can reduce calving losses and speed-up cows’ return to normal cycling activity. The windbreak design will depend on its intended purpose, snowdrift protection, wind, etc. They allow some air to go through which makes them more resistant to strong winds. According to research, the optimum open spacing to protect from both wind and snowdrifts is roughly between 25 and 33% of the total area covered by the windbreak. Research also suggests that a windbreak 10 feet high will protect an area of roughly 80 to 100 feet.
There is not much to do in order to reduce energy losses by conduction except to have drier ground. The obvious solution would be to move the cows to a drier lot together and add a portable shelterbelt. Not every rancher has the means to accomplish this. However, putting together a temporary shelterbelt with round bales in a drier spot is an option to explore. If deciding to go that route the shelter should be two bales high, with the bottom bales upright and the top bales horizontal to reduce the chances of them tipping over. Another alternative is straw bedding to provide some insulation from the ground.
Increasing Energy Supplied
When there is excessive mud cows reduce intake, which results in more wasted feed, particularly of forage. To improve their energy balance, there is a need to offer a feed of higher digestibility. According to research 4-8 inches of mud, reduces intake by 15 percent when compared to drier ground. If mud increases by an additional 50 percent, feed intake drop doubles (30%). For cow-calf pairs early in the calving season, the negative effect on intake affects the cows more, since claves are eating very little forage at the time. The performance of young calves’ can also suffer at this stage, since they still rely heavily on the cow’s milk as the main source of nutrients and this one drops as a result of less feed intake.
One approach to improve intake is to reduce the distance the cows travel to the feeding area. Similarly, access to relatively close, clean water improves intake. Providing access to fresh trace mineral supplements also enhances feed digestion and intake. When left on the ground, rain, snow, and pooled water washout white salt and essential minerals from mineral blocks and reduces their acceptability by cattle.
Supplemental forages for beef cows are usually high in fiber and as a result low in energy and borderline to low in protein. Examples of such are mature grass hay, ditch hay, cereal grain straws, and corn stalks. In addition, even if an analysis of the roughage in question contains borderline adequate percentages of crude protein (i.e. 10 %) and energy as TDN (i.e. 58%), remember cows do not eat “percentages” but “pounds” of nutrients. A 1,200-pound lactating beef cow needs 3 pounds of protein and 17.6 pounds of TDN. Under good environmental conditions, she can eat 2.5 percent of her body weight as dry feed or 30 pounds. If the diet contains 10 percent protein and 58 percent TDN, the cow eats 3 pounds of protein and 17.4 pounds of TDN, almost exactly what she needs.
Muddy conditions do not just mean dirty looking beef cows. If not adequately, supplemented nutrient uptake will not meet the requirements of the cow in early lactation. Under these conditions, not only calf growth but also rebreeding are negatively impaired affecting the farm bottom line.