Managing Winter Cow Feeding with Weather Impacted Forages

Extension Lead(s)
(name, position, counties served, contact information)

Beth Doran, NW; Russ Euken, NC; Byron Leu, SE; Clint McDonald, SW; Denise Schwab, NE; Joe Sellers, SC; Garland Dahlke, Dan Loy, Campus

Your Position


POW # and Team

­­­­­__x___ 140 Iowa Beef Center

ANR Priority (select all that apply)

­­­­­­­­­­__x___Climate Change

Title of Success Story

Managing Winter Cow Feeding with Weather Impacted Forages

Continuing Story

__X___ No                _____  Yes (If continuing, what story?)

Desired Changes

Learning: Increased knowledge of forage quality changes due to weather impact, beef cow nutrient needs, ration balancing, and body condition scoring.
Actions: Balancing rations to meet cows’ nutritional needs, body condition scoring cows to evaluate nutrition program, separating cow production groups for more efficient use of feedstuffs, reducing feed costs and feed waste.
Conditions: Improved nutritional program for cows leading to better body condition scores and improved return to estrus resulting in cows retained in the herd longer and increased profitability.  Each $1 in cattle sales results in an additional $2.59 economic output in the state. 

(Why is it important to address this issue with education?  What are the desired changes?)

In most winters Iowa hay is adequate to meet the nutritional needs of gestating beef cows when fed free choice.  However the continual rain during the 2010 summer resulted in over mature or rain damaged hay which decreased the feed value.  Almost 75% of the forage samples tested were marginal in energy and almost 20% were marginal in meeting the protein needs of a mature beef cow in late gestation.  Improved management of the feeding program also results in increased profitability to the producer.

(Outputs: activities, numbers reached, publications, products)

Fourteen educational programs were held across Iowa to teach risk management related to weather variability, including forage testing, balancing rations to meet cow needs, allocating feed inventory, and tools to control feed cost and waste, with a total of 300 producers who attended.   171 Iowa producers submitted 465 forage samples affected by unusual summer weather during the 2010 production season.  Extension Beef Specialists educated producers on how to use the results in ration balancing.  Participants received copies of the summary of the forage testing project, as well as four publications created for this series of meetings.

RESULTS (Outcomes:  specific changes that occurred in Learning, Actions, Conditions; how outcomes were measured)

Follow-up evaluations were mailed to 390 participants who either attended an educational program or submitted forage samples for testing.  104 responses were received, of which 60 attended an educational program and 44 tested forages but did not attend a program.

25% of the respondents developed specific rations for their livestock with their ISU Beef Specialist, 42% did so with their feed dealer or nutritionist, and 27% did on their own.  20% did not develop specific rations.  Respondents who attended educational programs were twice as likely to balance rations as those who did not attend an Extension program.

47% of respondents who participated in educational programs evaluated the body condition of their cows to adjust feeding programs, where only 27% of those who did not attend meetings scored their cows. 

Of the respondents who attended educational programs, 47% said they had the same incidence of weak calves at birth, 45% had a lower incidence, and only 5% had a higher incidence of weak calves at birth than other years. Respondents who did not attend an educational program had 51% the same, 34% less, and 7% higher incidence of weak calves.  Of those respondents who attended educational programs 23% said more of their females recycled to stay on a normal 365-day calving cycle, while 70% recycling was about the same as past years.  Respondents who did not attend educational programs said 15% of cows recycled earlier and 75% were the same.  None responded that females were slower to return to estrus than normal.

As a result of testing forage and/or attending a winter cow feeding meeting, did you:

Attended educational program

Did not attend program

1. increase the amount of corn co-products fed based on forage quality



2. increase the amount of other supplements fed based on forage quality



3. compare numerous supplement feeds to determine least cost supplement



4. separate the animals into different feed management groups based on body condition



5. modify feed delivery to reduce feed waste



28% of respondents who attended one of the educational events said they reduced their herd feed costs, while 25% said they increased their feed cost but improved the body condition of their cow herd, and 40% said they maintained herd feed costs but improved body condition.  Those who reduced feed costs did so by about $1250 while those who increased costs did so by about $700.  Only 15% of those who did not attend education events reduced their feed costs by an average of$ 1333, 17% maintained feed costs, and 20% increased feed costs on average $1000.   

18% of those who attended education events said they will retain more animals in the herd due to rebreeding while only 7% of those who did not attend educational events. 

10% said they reduced feed waste by 10%, 13% reduced feed waste by 5%, and 9% reduced waste by less than 5%.  75% of participants in educational events said they have better knowledge of livestock nutrition as a result of participating which should help control feed costs in future year.

Additional comments from participants included:
•              I thought it was a useful meeting, especially the body condition of bred cows, the slides and pictures were very helpful in judging my herd and the feed quality tests helped also.
•              Winter feeding meeting got me looking more closely at winter cow herd management and feed available use.
•              It was helpful to know that my hay from different cuttings and farms tested quite similar-Just wasn’t the variance I thought there would be. 
•              Excellent program that will help keep cows in IA by reducing feed costs.

At least 100 producers called for information on testing forages from the 2011 growing season, and over 140 rations have already been calculated for the 2011-12 winter feeding period.  One participant emailed, “ I would like to take some samples again this year.   It helped me out tremendously in last winter's feeding season to understand what the feed value was on the different bales.  Also last year's research was very interesting if the extension is putting info together again I would like that info or if you are going to host a meeting again please let me know.”

Public Value (now or future)
(Impact:  Who benefits beyond participants and how?  What conditions changed?)

Twenty-eight percent of respondents indicated they reduced their feed costs by $1,250. Considering that this sample is a reasonable representation of all participants in the cow wintering workshops, it can be inferred that 28% of all participants would also show this kind of savings representing $136,500 in reduced costs or increased profits.  With the 2.59 economic output factor this results in$353,535 addition revenue in the rural communities.

Major Partners or Collaborators

Dairyland Labs, forage testing

Where story took place
(Region, campus, multi-regional)


Fiscal Year


Multi-state or Integrated (Ext + Research)


Funding Source

Testing Project Funding: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Iowa Forage & Grazing Council, Southern Iowa Forage and Livestock Committee
Educational programs funded by registration fees


Forage quality, forage testing, winter feeding cows, ration balancing


Page last updated: December 19, 2011
Page maintained by Julie Honeick,