Looking at Winter Supplementation as an Investment more than an Expense

October, 2023
Hannah Baker, UF/IFAS Beef and Forage Economist

There are several reasons for supplementing during the fall and winter months on cow-calf operations. Forage quality and quantity start to decline for most forage species as the growing season comes to an end, but the nutritional requirements of cows who are expected to calve during these same months are not declining. As a result of compensating for the lack of nutrients from forages through starting supplementation early, producers can maintain cows’ body condition scores (BCS), improve pregnancy and calving rates, and increase weaning weights. The health of your cows plays a major role in the health of their calves. If all of mama cow’s nutritional needs are met, she can focus 100% on raising a healthy, marketable calf. According to “Implications of Cow Body Score on Productivity (Matt Hersom, Todd Thrift, and Joel Yelich, 2018), cattle with a 5-6 BCS had higher pregnancy rates and weaning weights than cattle with a BCS below 5. If her needs are not met, she first must focus on surviving, with the needs of her calf being met second, and being bred back is placed on the back burner. This results in lighter weight calves at weaning and lower pregnancy rates, both of which affect profitability. Therefore, it is important to know what your cows need so that they can give you what you need: a stable and profitable income.

Knowing what your cows need starts with knowing what they already have: forage. Sampling your forage/hay is the important first step in calculating how much supplement to feed. Once you know the protein and energy that is supplied through forage consumption, you can then work with your nutritionist, feed rep, and/or Extension specialist to know how much of a certain supplement you need for the fall and winter months based on the stage your cows are in (gestation, lactation, dry, etc.). For more information about forage sampling and south Florida forages, visit https://rcrec-ona.ifas.ufl.edu/forage-extension-lab/ and https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/AA192 .

Now that you know what your cows have and what they need, you have a decision to make. Do you want to take a risk and let your cows get by on just forage or do you want to invest in your cows so that you can benefit from the return? Let’s create a scenario and pencil it out!


supplement table


Visit https://rcrec-ona.ifas.ufl.edu/about/directory/staff/hannah-baker/ under “Presentations” for a step-by-step walk-through of building a supplementation plan and the economic benefits that follow.

With calf prices on the rise, invest in your cows now so that they can raise and wean a larger and heavier calf crop in the spring!


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