1. Provide Sufficient Nutrition – A gestating beef cow can utilize some extender feeds such as poor-quality hay or cornstalks, but they also need to have energy to help the rumen utilize these high fiber feeds. Also, protein is needed to maintain the immune system, keep the muscles strong in the cow, and allow for good quality colostrum to be made. The closer to calving, the greater the nutrient demands.
2. Provide Adequate Calcium and Phosphorus – Calcium is needed for good bone structure/strength and muscle strength. Cows low on calcium will have a difficult time calving. You may see a deficiency if you have cows that take too long to calve and have dead calves. Prolapsed uteruses and leg injuries at calving can be other indicators.
Calcium in the ration comes from legumes. Corn and corn silage are very low in calcium, as is old grass. Alfalfa and clovers naturally have higher calcium levels.
Calcium is easily supplemented in a mineral mix. Calcium carbonate and dicalcium or monocalcium phosphate are common sources of calcium. Consider a 2:1 (Ca:P) mineral if not feeding a legume or a 1:1 if feeding alfalfa or alfalfa mixed hay or haylage.
Phosphorus is very important for energy utilization and cell integrity. Grains will contain some phosphorus, but it is also easily supplemented with dicalcium or monocalcium phosphate.
3. Provide Vitamins A, D, and E – Vitamins A and D are important as antioxidants, and Vitamin D is important in Calcium absorption. Those are usually included in prepared mineral mixes.
4. Good Quality Trace Minerals – As the name would imply, these minerals aren’t required in large amounts. The main ones are Copper, Zinc, Manganese, and Selenium. These typically are added to prepared mineral mixes. The quality of these matter. The oxides, sulfates, or carbonates (ex. Magnesium Oxide) are poorly absorbed by the body. Best to use ones that are chelated and say “chelated”, “proteinates”, or “amino acid complexes” (ex. Zinc Methionine).
The other trace minerals are provided best from kelp or ocean originated salts, such as Redmond Salt or Sea-90. Kelp at 1oz per head per day or mixed with salt is good.
5. Vaccination of Cow Herd – If there is a history of calf scours from previous years, it may be beneficial to vaccinate the cows for scour producing organisms. Products such as Scourguard 4(K)C, Guardian, or ScourBos can be given to gestating cows. Follow the vaccine directions but generally 1 dose is given 2-3 months before calving with a booster 4-6 weeks before calving.
6. Plenty of Fresh, Clean, Unfrozen Water – Water is the most important nutrient and is also the cheapest. If using heated waterers, watch how your cows drink. If they are reluctant to drink, sip tentatively, or drink by licking the water, it is a sign of stray voltage at the waterer. The main cause of this is a worn heating element. The donut-type heaters wear quite easily and may need to be replaced annually. Other things to watch are an electric fence or fencer close to the waterer.
7. Source of Salt – Adequate salt intake is important. The cows can regulate their own intakes. Again, use salts such as Sea-90 or Redmond Salt to provide many trace minerals.
8. Watch Body Condition – Sort out thinner cows to provide additional nutrients. Keep heifers separated from cows, if possible.
9. Monitor Parasite Loads – Cows that are excessively licking or have hair falling out over shoulders and flanks would be a sign of lice infestation. This will affect their performance and should be treated.
Internal parasites can give you unthrifty cows. Watch for pot-bellies, loose manure, and poor condition to be signs that you have an internal parasite issue. Usually this will not be an issue in well-fed older cows but more of an issue in heifers or younger cows.
10. Observe Your Cows – Don’t feed and manage your cows just by the book. Nothing beats watching their condition and behavior to know if anything needs to be adjusted.
Having a successful calving season with bright healthy calves can be the reward for preparing prior to the calving season.