If your hay doesn’t test at least 10% crude protein and 60% TDN, it won’t meet the nutritional needs of late-lactation beef cows, warns Rory Lewandowski, Athens County, OH, Extension educator.

He points out that, if a cow is nutritionally deficient during the last seven weeks of gestation, the calf’s long-term performance can be affected. Nutrition affects the nutrient supply to the fetus as well as the quality of colostrum.

“Falling short on the nutritional requirements of the late-gestation cow is not a wise strategy if the goal is to produce a healthy calf that will grow well from day one,” says Lewandowski, a member of the Ohio State University Extension Beef Team.

The first thing that should be done is to have a sample of your hay tested, he says. If the results aren’t favorable, or if you don’t have enough higher-quality hay to make it through late gestation, he offers these suggestions:

● Limit-feeding better-quality hay rather than providing it free choice can help stretch limited supplies while still meeting cow nutritional needs.

“Remember that, although we use percentages as a guide for nutritional needs, the cow eats pounds, not percentages,” he says. “In other words, the cow needs a certain number of pounds of crude protein and pounds of TDN. Better-quality forages allow a cow to increase its intake because the digestibility and passage through the rumen are faster as compared to low-quality hay.”

● Feeding smaller amounts of hay more often results in less waste and again stretches limited amounts of good-quality hay.

● Grinding hay can increase its digestibility by 30-35%.

“This means that a hay that normally would only meet mid-gestation needs could meet late-gestation needs. This is because the cow can eat more of that forage when it is ground. Since cows need pounds of energy, eating more pounds of a lower-energy forage can meet the nutritional pound target. Can you work with an equipment dealer to rent a tub grinder or can you purchase one with several neighbors?”

● Use a feed additive to aid microbial enzyme production and digestion of forage. Several products are on the market.

“Don't let late-gestation nutritional needs catch you unprepared,” says Lewandowski. “Time spent planning and preparing now is time well spent.”