Time to think winter feeding strategies

Tony Nye - OSU Extension

The cold weather this week was a real reminder to livestock producers to consider winter feeding strategies. This is very important for this year, especially with higher feeds costs.

The following information is part of an article in the Ohio State University Beef online newsletter and comes from Dr. Katie VanValin, Assistant Professor of Beef Nutrition, University of Kentucky.

Even though this was aimed at beef production, I believe much of the content can be applied to sheep and goats alike.

1. Body condition score the herd: For cows that have been recently weaned, they are at their lowest nutrient requirements. Now is the time to efficiently add condition to thin cows to set them up for success during the 2023 breeding season. It is much more challenging to add condition to cows as they approach calving or have a calf at side.

Beef condition scores are based on a range of 1 to 9, with 1 representing very thin cows and 9 representing very fat cows. The ideal body condition score for mature cows is 5, while targeting younger females to a BCS 6 can ensure they have the extra condition required to meet their additional nutrient requirements for supporting growth.

For sheep and goats, a condition score ranging from 1 to 5 is utilized with 1 representing very thin does and ewes and 5 representing very fat does and ewes.

Sorting breeding females by body condition score can allow for more efficient herd management and for those thin animals to receive the extra nutrition they require without overfeeding them in adequate condition.

2. Test your hay: This is something always recommend, but in years like 2022, this becomes even more important. Hay tests provide valuable information about the energy and protein concentrations in the sample.

All lots of hay should be tested, and a lot is defined as hay harvested from the same field on the same day and stored under the same conditions.

Testing all lots of hay allows producers to match lots of hay to the herd or flock so that the lowest quality hay is being fed when the nutrient requirements are the lowest while saving the best quality hay for when nutrient requirements are their highest.

Feeding the right hay to the right animal at the right time can drastically decrease the amount of supplement required to maintain body condition.

3. Evaluate supplement costs: At some point throughout the year, some supplementation is likely required to meet the energy and protein requirements of the herd/flock.

Using hay test results can help determine the most efficient supplement to match the energy and protein deficits in the hay. Your local county extension agent or nutritionist can assist in interpreting hay test results.

Now is the time to sharpen the pencil and determine which supplement options will be the most economical to pair with available forage.

Remember, the feed that was the most economical last year may not be the most economical choice this year. Just because one feed costs more on a $/ton basis does not mean it is the most expensive supplement to feed. The amount of a particular supplement required must also be considered.

4. Feed hay efficiently: Regardless of quality, when the quantity of hay is tight, available hay stores must be fed efficiently. Research has shown that feeding hay in a hay ring prevents feeding waste, especially rings that contain a solid skirted bottom.

Hay feeding pads and fence line feeders can also reduce hay feeding losses. While these measures will not completely reduce hay feeding losses, these losses can be reduced from 45% to as little as 6% by using hay rings.

Moving hay rings or utilizing bale grazing can help to limit trampling damage around these hay feeding sites and help to distribute manure evenly across the feeding area.

5. Stockpiling forages: Although nitrogen application can increase the amount of stockpiled forage available to graze during the winter, tall fescue can still stockpile even without a nitrogen application. Closing off certain fields during the fall growing season can allow the forages in these fields to stockpile, which can then be grazed during the late fall and early winter.

While the nutrient quality of stockpiled fescue declines over time, nutrient content can remain adequate for supporting dry cows. This can also be a successful management strategy for sheep and goats.

Consider setting up a simple strip grazing system using temporary electric fencing to prevent trampling losses when turning animals out on stockpiled forages.

Tony Nye is the state coordinator for the Ohio State University Extension Small Farm Program and has been an OSU Extension Educator for agriculture and natural resources for over 30 years, currently serving Clinton County and the Miami Valley EERA.


Tony Nye

OSU Extension