Cattle production: A cow needs special feeding attention before and after calving

The approach of spring signals the arrival of the calving season. Even stockmen who calve year-round will have a naturally greater flush of calving in the spring. Keep a watchful eye on your cows. They need some extra attention.


The post-calving period is the most critical time in the production cycle of the breeding cow. The demands of pregnancy are high and after calving her body must repair worn and damaged tissue. On top of this she must manufacture and supply the right volumes of good quality milk for her calf. And then she must re-conceive for the next season.

It’s a pretty tall order for an animal with depleted energy reserves. She will mobilise stored reserves to deal with the extra demands. Her condition after calving has a solid impact on her ability to perform and produce for the next season.

The two primary measurements of production performance are: the ability to cycle and reconceive within three months, and the ability to wean a healthy, heavy calf.


If the feed isn’t right, or is just non-existent, the mother will not have enough milk and calves will have low weaning weights. The survival of the calf may also be compromised.

The badly- or inadequately-fed lactating cow will not cycle. If you want the scientific term, it is nutritional anoestrous. Commonsense tells us (once again) that a thin cow battling to feed her calf will not re-conceive. You, the stock farmer, will not get your one calf, per year, per cow and this will hit you right where it hurts – in the pocket.

A month before calving the cow should be steamed up in preparation for the demands that lie ahead. There are good supplements available, at the various feed companies, that supply the necessary nutrients she needs.

The post-calver needs a supplement in the form of a production lick that contains energy, protein, vitamins and minerals in the right combination. The lick will help prevent weight loss, replace the depleted reserves and provide the energy needed for milk production.

Molasses is a good energy source energy source for the cow during this critical period. Recommended intakes will be listed on the feed bag information but will generally be around 1.5kg per day per cow.


Steaming-up, or a diet with higher levels of protein and energy to prepare a cow for lactation, should start a month before calving. Steaming your cows promotes milk production from the beginning of the lactation.

The ruminant gut does not like knee-jerk reactions because the gut microbes need time to adjust to changes in the diet. If you don’t steam your cows up you will have problems if you suddenly start feeding after calving.

Grassland quality declines during the dry, cool season and pregnant cows and heifers need supplementary feed at this time. When it starts to rain and the spring grass flushes it may be inadequate nutritionally for the post-calver because of high moisture content.

Ruminant nutrition is complex – that’s why we have nutritionists – but the rules are simple.

During steam-up the cow needs supplementary feeding and decent grazing. A good lick with the necessary protein, energy, minerals and vitamins can be fed out at 1kg to 1.5kg per day, depending on the feed and the nutrition advice.

You can’t blame the cow, the bull or the semen for poor conception rates if your cows aren’t cycling because you didn’t steam them up properly and they calved down in BCS 1.5 on the 5- point scale. (See Use your eyes to condition score your cattle ).

A beef farmer who calves his cow down in this condition should consider an alternative career. Farming like this is unproductive and unnecessarily hard on the animals. They are better off culled. PICTURE: FUTUREBEEF.COM.AU


Pre- and post-calving in beef herds are critical control points. Monitor these points diligently and closely and manage them efficiently. Mismanagement in these two phases can lead to cow collapse, cow death, calf death, failure to rebreed, poor weaning weights, poor calf survival rates and ultimately the collapse of the enterprise.

There is no excuse for not checking on steam-ups and post-calvers every day. Do it. Checking, feeding and breeding are what your business is about.

Links to information on animal feed companies in Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi in that order.

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