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Iowa Beef Center Newsletter,
February 2009 • Volume 1 Issue 7

Nutritional program vital during calving

Grant Dewell, Beef Extension Veterinarian, Iowa State University
Terry Engelken, Beef Veterinarian, Iowa State University
Calving is a critical period for beef cattle producers and proper nutrition is crucial to a successful outcome for the cow and calf.  Body Condition Scoring (BCS) can be used to assess the nutritional program of the beef herd. 

Nutrition effects on calving

Historically, there was some thought that protein and energy supplementation was responsible for dystocia problems.  Actually many studies have shown that cattle fed low energy diets prior to calving have a higher percentage of dystocia then medium or high energy diets unless cows are overly conditioned with fat deposits in the birth canal.  Calves from cows fed adequate energy and protein did have increased birth weights but decreased dystocia rates.  Therefore it is important to remember that you cannot starve calving difficulty out of cows. 

Dam Nutrition on calves

One of the most important factors is the effect of dam nutrition on calves.  Proper energy and protein levels are vital for calf vigor after calving.  Calves from energy or protein restricted dams during gestation have decreased calf vigor and ability to generate body heat.  Weak calves will be less likely to intake adequate amounts of colostrum and are more prone to increased morbidity and mortality. 

Nutritional effects on reproduction

Cows and heifers that calve in a thin body condition will have longer return to estrus period and decreased conception rates compared to females that calve in good body condition.  New research at the University of Nebraska has even shown that heifer calves born to protein supplemented cows have increased reproductive performance compared to heifer calves whose dams did not receive protein supplementation.
Cows should calve at a BCS of 5 (heifers at BCS 6) at calving.  Up to 80% of fetal growth occurs in the last 50 days of gestation.  Females during this period of gestation need approximately 11 Mcal of energy and 1.7 lbs of crude protein per day.  
The entire newsletter is at
February 2009 • Volume 1 Issue 7

 Dr. Grant Dewell

Dr. Grant Dewell

Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine
2412 Lloyd Vet Med
Iowa State University
Ames, IA  50011

Ph: 515-294-2822
Fax: 515-294-1072