John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator

You might find the timing of the title of this article a bit unusual. After all, many producers are currently marketing the 2017 calf crop, grain harvest isn’t finished, and winter is nearly two months away. Depending on the starting date of your calving season, the arrival of the 2018 crop is 60 or more days away. Plenty of time to plan ahead, right? Don’t be so sure.

Regardless of when your 2018 calving season begins, management of the beef female during the last trimester (90-95 days) of pregnancy can lay the foundation for a successful reproduction calendar year. Females must reach and preferably maintain body condition score 5 or 6 (on a 9-point scale) during this period. Cows and heifers must calve in body condition score 5 or greater to have healthy calves and breed back quickly. Females below body condition score 5 at calving time will take longer to begin cycling and likely experience lower conception rates.

Energy and protein needs can increase by 20% or more in the last trimester compared to mid-gestation. Fetal growth is rapid. The calf may gain roughly one pound per day in the last 30-60 days of pregnancy and the placenta is also growing. Cows need to gain 1 to 1.25 lbs per day, while heifers and young cows need to gain 2 to 2.5 lbs per day to keep up with with fetal and placental growth and prepare for lactation.

So what can the producer do at this point to prepare for the 2018 calving season? Evaluate whether the majority of the herd is in mid-gestation or the last trimester of pregnancy. Nutritional planning will be much more difficult if the producer has an extended calving season of 90 days or more. Evaluate the body condition of the herd and weigh them if scales are available.  If necessary, divide females into groups based on calving dates and/or body condition scores.

It is important that the producers accurately evaluate the quality and quantity of harvested forages available for the herd.  Hay harvest season is a distant memory and it is risky business to formulate a winter nutritional program based on bale counts and an uncertain recollection of forage maturity and quality at harvest months ago. Producers are encouraged to sample hay supplies and conduct a laboratory analysis to determine the nutritional content of the available feed. Lesser quality hay can be fed to cows in adequate body condition during mid-gestation. The highest quality hay should be reserved for the last trimester and early lactation.

If forage analysis determines that your forage supplies will not support the recommended body condition scores and targeted weight gains for the females, consider the purchase of higher quality forage or supplemental grains or by-products to meet the needs of the herd. Nobody likes extra feed expense but poor body condition, calving difficulties, and poor conception rates are very expensive.

I would like to address a common misconception that I have heard over my Extension career from beef producers. I have heard concerns raised about the possibility of heavier or higher body condition scored females having increased calving difficulties. While it may be theoretically possible to make a beef female so excessively fat that it results in increased calving difficulties, it is simply not something that I have commonly observed in my experiences. On the other extreme, you cannot “starve on calving ease.” The selection of appropriate genetics for matings on heifers and cows combined with proper nutritional management should minimize any calving difficulties.

Producers will experience more positive results during the calving and breeding seasons in 2018 with a little prior planning. Now is the time to get started with your plan.