Spring Calving – Don’t Stop Feeding Too Early

As we begin the new calendar year, it is worth discussing and focusing our attention on preparing a plan for providing adequate nutrition to spring-calving cow herds. The time period prior to calving provides an opportune time to alter the nutrition and management program to match nutrient requirements based on the stage of production, age, and weather.

If it is not currently a common practice in a producer’s protocol, it is prudent to visually appraise cattle and collect body condition scores (BCS; scale 1-9) prior to calving. There is a strong relationship between BCS, reproduction parameters, and subsequent calf performance and having this data near or at calving provides producers with critical information to make necessary adjustments1. Additionally, research would suggest body condition at calving is a useful tool to manage subsequent reproductive performance relating to days until cows return to estrus and the proportion of cows cycling2,4.

Table 1. Relationship of Body Condition Score (BCS) to Beef Cow Performance and Income.

BCS Pregnancy rate, % Calving interval, d Calf ADG, lb Calf WW, lb Calf Price, $/100 lb $/cow Exposeda
3 43 414 1.60 374 96 154
4 61 381 1.75 460 86 241
5 86 364 1.85 514 81 358
6 93 364 1.85 514 81 387

a Income per calf x pregnancy rate.

(Adapted from Kunkle et al., 1994)

In other research, it has been suggested that pregnant beef females provided low-energy diets prepartum can negatively affect calf birth weight, PPI, and cycling activity3. It is imperative to support moderate body condition to promote a profitable cow herd, as thin and fleshy cows can have deleterious effects on your bottom line. By modifying the nutrient supply or feeding rate for thin cows prior to calving, producers can influence the number of females with an improved PPI and promote optimal fetal development. After calving, cows require a greater plane of nutrition than during gestation due to the increased biological processes taking place, which creates the urgency to correct any deficiencies prior to this event. Ultimately, by fine-tuning your feeding program to not underfeed thin cows and continue to maintain cows with adequate BCS, this can aid in decreasing unnecessary feed costs.

Table 2. Effect of Body Condition Score (BCS) at parturition on Postpartum Interval (PPI)

BCS PPI, days
3 88.5
4 69.7
5 59.4
6 51.7
7 30.6

(Adapted from Houghton et al. 1990)

Feeding below beef cow requirements during gestation and lactation can lead to decreased birth weights, milk quality and quantity, the longevity of cows in your herd, and long-term profitability. To ensure you do not stop feeding too early, be sure to contact your nearest LNC location to work with our Feed Consultative Sales Representatives and Nutritionists on devising a successful plan.


Kunkle, W. E., R. S. Sand, and D. O. Rae. 1994. Effects of Body Condition on Productivity in Beef Cattle. M. Fields and R. Sands (ed.) Factors Affecting Calf Crop. Pp. 167-178. CRC Press.

Morrison, D. G., J. C. Spitzer, and J. L. Perkins. 1999. Influence of Prepartum Body Condition Score Change on Reproduction in Multiparous Beef Cows Calving in Moderate Body Condition. J. Anim. Sci. 77:1048-1054.

Houghton, P. L., R. P. Lemenager, L. A. Horstman, K. S. Hendrix, and G. E. Moss. 1990. Effects of Body Composition, Pre- and Postpartum Energy Level and Early Weaning on Reproductive Performance of Beef Cows and Preweaning Calf Gain. J. Anim. Sci. 68:1438-1446.

Derouen, S. M., D. E. Franke, D. G. Morrison, W. E. Wyatt, D. F. Coombs, T. W. White, P. E. Humes, and B. B. Greene. 1994. Prepartum Body Condition and Weight Influences on Reproductive Performance of First-Calf Beef Cows. J. Anim. Sci. 72:1119-1125.