Lack of forage (quantity and quality) is the cause of many cattle being in less-than-desirable body condition going into the winter. The months ahead are critical, regardless of whether your cows calve in the fall or spring, to ensure that cows breed back. So what can be done to cushion the wrath of Mother Nature? Well, in some form, we must intervene.

This intervention can come in many way, but one of the easiest, note I did not say most economical, is to implement a supplemental feeding program intended to meet a set of objectives. This does not mean feeding your cows 3 to 6 pounds of 20 percent breeder cubes because that’s what you did last year. What I mean is collecting the necessary information to implement a program designed to meet actual nutrient deficiencies and targeted performance criteria. So what is that information and who do you get it?

1) Start with your forage base. In order to strategically design a supplemental feeding program, you must have an understanding of forage type and its stage of production, due to their influence on forage quality.

It’s important to send in a forage (hay or clipping) sample for a nutrient analysis if you really want to be accurate. Once you have this information, estimate whether forage quantity is limiting.

2) Determine the cattle’s nutrient requirements. These requirements will be affected by many factors such as breed type, body size, etc. However, the most important points to consider are current body condition score (BCS), and physiological stage of production.

3) Consider other management “issues” and/or constraints such as the ability to buy in bulk, if you are limited to feeding on the ground, and whether you need feed additives (antibiotics or ionophores) incorporated.

4) Gather information regarding feeds nearest you, taking into consideration the answers to the above questions. Make sure to ask about the total digestible nutrients (TDN) and the cost and whether the feed can be delivered.

5) Calculate how much feed is needed to meet a defined nutrient deficiency based on the cost per pound of this nutrient. This step is the easiest to accomplish if the input variables are relatively black and white. But very few things in agriculture are without some gray areas, so you may want to contact a livestock professional for help.