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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Proper Nutrition Vital for Livestock in Late Gestation

January 19, 2012

WOOSTER, Ohio -- As livestock managers anticipate the beginning of the spring calving season, it's vital that they make sure their cows and heifers are getting the proper nutrition.

Rory Lewandowski, agricultural and natural resources educator for Ohio State University Extension, discussed the issue in a recent Ohio Beef Cattle newsletter, available online at

"We have some poor-quality hay out there this year, and that's not what you should be feeding cows in late gestation -- or if you do, you need to supplement it," Lewandowski said. Unusual weather in 2011 is the most likely cause of so much hay with lower-than-optimal crude protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN) values, but first cuttings often have lower-than-desired nutritional values, he said.

Lewandowski drew upon information from a presentation done by Ohio State animal scientist Francis Fluharty last February, in which Fluharty warned that nutritional deficiencies during late gestation can have long-term impacts on a calf's health and productivity. During the last trimester, the fetal calf needs to gain an average of about 0.9 pounds per day. This is when the majority of fetal growth occurs, including the number of skeletal muscle fibers the calf will have at birth.

This means that during the last seven weeks of gestation, cows and heifers need feed with crude protein levels at 9 to 10 percent and TDN at 57 to 60 percent or higher, especially with adverse weather.

Lewandowski strongly encourages livestock managers to collect hay samples and send them to a lab for testing. If results show that the feed doesn't meet the crude protein or TDN standards required for late gestation, Lewandowski said supplementation should be considered. Also, he offers some additional strategies to reduce waste, stretch any limited supplies of higher-quality hay and other ideas to provide for the cow's needs in late gestation.  

For more, see the Dec. 28, 2011, BEEF newsletter at To subscribe to the free weekly newsletter, send an email to editor Stan Smith at



Martha Filipic
Rory Lewandowski