Forage and hay production continues to suffer in Nebraska, and for much of central and western Nebraska the precipitation situation has improved very little, if at all.
That's why Karla Jenkins, UNL Extension cow-calf range specialist in Scottsbluff, recommends reducing grazing pressure and delaying pasture turnout as long as possible. Many producers, she adds, are considering limit feeding cow-calf pairs in confinement.
Doing so is 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, she says. 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, she says. 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 unlimited amounts in which to 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," she says.
Energy is the key to making a limit-fed diet work, Jenkins says. The energy density of the diet must be high enough to meet the needs of the cow when intake is cut back. "Once a cow calves and begins lactation, her energy needs increase considerably," according to Jenkins. "Additionally, she must rebreed within 83 days of calving to stay on a 365-day production cycle. It is also important to remember that nursing calves will eat about 1% 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," Jenkins says. "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.