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Ration advice dry grass hay and wet distillers for cow/calf producer in Illinois

Q. I am a cow/calf producer in SE Illinois, recently built a monoslope for calving and purchased a Jaylor 5425. I am not having much luck with ration formulation as no one is experienced with feeding cows inside in this area. I thought you may have had some experience and could give me some general ideas in this area. My current ration contains dry grass hay and some wet distillers. Thank you.


A. Good morning. There is little difference nutritionally in feeding beef cows a TMR in a monoslope versus feeding the same ration in the field; in both cases the animals should be fed according requirements, i.e. body weight, body condition, stage of production (e.g. non-lactating mid-gestation vs. late gestation through calving and rebreeding), and to a lesser degree the extent of temperatures below freezing (this is where a building can somewhat decrease the amount of feed required when temperatures are very cold, but the composition of the ration is usually not changed).


Target nutrient levels in rations for cows after weaning (mid-gestation) should be about 55% TDN and 8% crude protein (CP), while during late gestation through calving the ration should contain about 60-62% TDN% and 10-11% CP, when the rations are fed to appetite.


Mid-gestation rations can be comprised mostly of poorer quality forages, or a blend of better quality forages and straw, or even roughages with byproducts or other supplements.  Calving rations will generally require good quality forage as well as byproducts and/or grain, or other supplements, to meet nutritional requirements.


In both cases, more concentrated rations (i.e. proportionally higher levels of energy and protein, as well as all other nutrients, e.g. minerals) can be offered at lower levels (i.e. limit fed) to give the same results, when cost-effective. This can also decrease manure output, which can be helpful when cattle are housed indoors. However, limit feeding generally requires that all animals can eat at the same time, or at least get their proper share, to prevent excessive variation in body condition and animal performance due to variation in intake between animals.

Finally, when making mixes with mostly dry hay, adding water to the ration can help increase the rate of forage processing and help hold the ration together.  The moisture added by the wet distillers grain will be beneficial, but you may find that adding additional water may improve results even further.


If you would like help putting together an initial ration, please let me know. To do so, we would need some basic analyses for the hay and distillers grains, as well as any other ingredient is to be used.  To start with, it is usually adequate to estimate what you have previously fed per head per day and simply put that into the mix, and then observe intake and changes in body condition, being aware that a significant proportion of your forage consumption (disappearance) before using a TMR mixer may have been due to waste. Actual intake of grass hay will usually, on average, not exceed about 30 lbs. as-fed per cow per day, and will decrease as fiber content (maturity) increases.


Best regards,

Dr. Alan S. Vaage Ph.D.

Ruminant Nutritionist