The past summer’s drought could affect the coming beef-calf crop for the next two years because of low hay quality and supplies. So says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri (MU) Extension beef nutritionist.

“Unfortunately, much forage harvested last season does not meet base requirements,” he says. Those requirements allow cows and heifers to maintain body condition, keep fat layers and develop calves. That means grain supplements will be needed if hay quality isn’t adequate.

This year’s drought prevented normal summer and fall grass growth, from which heifers usually gain grass fat by winter. “During July and August, when no grass grew, heifers mined condition off their backs.” Lost fat, Sexten says, affects the vigor of the calf at birth. Adequate body fat adds quality and quantity to the milk the heifer provides her newborn calf, too.

Increasing body condition score by one point requires adding 100 lbs of fat to the mother’s body, which would equal one pound of gain a day for the next 90 days for a March 1 calving, he says. With herds bred to calve Feb. 1, the urgency increases. Gestating cows each need hay with 10% protein, while nursing cows require 12%.

“The only way to know hay’s nutrient content is with a forage test,” Sexten says. “Marginal hay requires supplementation,” possibly up to 4 lbs of corn gluten.

“You can pay now, or you pay later” with aborted calves and/or cows that won’t rebreed, Sexten says.

For more on body condition scoring, see page seven of the Redbook, a herd-owner pocket calendar from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. To buy a Redbook, check with MU Extension regional livestock specialists or local farm service dealers.