Year-Round Cow
Mon Oct 27, 2014 10:23 AM CDT
(Page 1 of 3)
Kelly Smith believes fetal programming through good nutrition for dams yields better steers and heifers. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Becky Mills)

Kelly Smith's cow herd has always had his complete attention when dams are in their last trimester of pregnancy. Now, he's focused on every stage, making sure dam and calf are always getting everything they need.

This focus is really a process called fetal programming. The Franklin, Ky., cattleman explained that nutrition throughout a cow or heifer's pregnancy impacts her calf's organ and muscle development after birth, as well as gain, carcass characteristics and reproduction. Shortchange the dam and the calf will struggle from the start.

Here's why. During the very early part of pregnancy, the placenta and the knoblike structures that attach the placenta to the uterine wall are formed. That's how nutrients move from dam to fetus, helping the calf develop. If that calf is a bull, its testicle development begins as early as 40 days; if it's a female, ovarian development begins between day 50 and 60. So, the beginnings of an outstanding bull or a productive cow start within the first two months of life.

Fetal programming isn't just important for breeding animals; it impacts feeder steers and heifers, as well. Between months 2 and 8, a calf's muscle fibers are formed. In the final weeks of gestation, adipose tissue (marbling) is deposited. Muscle and intramuscular fat determine yield and quality grades.


Smith and his family do most of their fetal programming using forage. They feed Kentucky 31 fescue, orchardgrass and clover. They boost productivity of both the herd and pastures by purchasing hay that they unroll and feed in pastures. This adds up to about 600 rolls a year, averaging 11% protein. What isn't eaten stays on the ground to help build soil, fertilizer, seed and mulch.

In addition to the hay, Smith spreads manure from his herd across pastures using a chain harrow and rotary harrow. This is done in the spring and is strictly the manure the cows drop while grazing. He doesn't buy any commercial fertilizer.

Stocking rates run about one cow/calf pair to 3 acres. Smith includes his corn land in the ratio since he grazes cattle on cornstalks. However, that doesn't count the pastures used to develop his replacement heifers. Between the spring- and fall-calving herds, he held back about 80 head this year.


To help ensure his cattle get what they need during all stages of production, Smith adds Purina Sup-R-Lix 2HL, a 32% liquid-protein supplement, to their diet year-round. The intake varies with forage quality, Smith said.

"They don't consume it during good grass times, but they will eat up to 1.5 to 2 pounds per head per day if they are grazing dry, overmature forages," he added.

Along with the supplement, emphasis is put on the herd's mineral program. Smith starts with a Purina All Seasons 4 mineral with a high level of magnesium, copper and zinc, which he feeds free-choice. During fly season, he uses the mineral with fly control in it.

"We feed the high-mag product year-round because we have higher potassium soils in places, and potassium can tie up magnesium," he explained.

In the fall of 2012, he added Redmond Mineral Salt and Redmond Conditioner, which contains clay. He estimated his mineral program costs around $30 a cow per year.

Smith said the clay binds toxins. He added he has seen a "tremendous amount of value in these products. There are very few things I see in the cattle business that make a visible difference, but I have seen a visible difference with these products."

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