Recently, over 8,000 acres of native range burned in the Nebraska Sandhills. These types of disasters often leave producers in a forage shortage for the summer. Confining pairs to keep them off the recovering burned areas may be an option for some producers and does not have to occur in a feedlot.
Alternative locations for confinement feeding pairs can be a pivot corner, fallow ground, or as a last resort, a sacrifice area such as a calving lot. There are several things producers need to keep in mind if pairs have to be maintained in confinement.
Items to keep in mind
Feed bunks are not necessary to feed pairs in confinement. A hot fence can be strung along the edge of a pivot corner or fallow field and feed can be delivered just across the wire, thereby reducing the amount of feed the cattle waste by soiling or lying on the feed. The important point is to have adequate feeding space (2 ft. per cow and 1 ½ feet for the calf) – especially if the pairs are limit fed an energy-dense diet. Pairs should also have 350-400 ft2 of pen space as well.
Lactating pairs with calves require a diet much higher in TDN than gestating cows which are the cows most producers are most familiar with feeding in a semi-confinement situation. For example, a 1200 lb cow in late gestation requires 9-11 lb of TDN per day whereas her lactating counterpart requires 15-16 lb TDN per day (60-80 days postpartum). A nursing calf begins consuming 1% of its body weight in forage before it is 3 months of age and will need to be accounted for as well. For more information on the nutrient requirements of cows see NebGuide 2268 Supplementation Needs for Gestating and Lactating Beef Cows and Comparing the Prices of Supplement Sources (PDF version). For help balancing a diet for confined cows contact a Nebraska Extension Beef Educator or a Beef Specialist.
Another consideration is access to water. This is especially true for young calves. Nursing calves need water not only for hydration, but also for rumen development. If pairs are moved somewhere calves are not normally housed, make sure they can reach the water source. They need to be able to reach the edge of the tank, but also, the tank must be large enough (or the flow of the pipe refilling the tank unrestricted enough) that cows do not drink the tank down below the level the calves can reach.
Confinement feeding cows can be a way to maintain the cow herd while providing much needed recovery time for damaged rangelands. Additional information on confinement feeding cows can be found in NebGuide G2237 Management Considerations for Beef Cows in Confinement (PDF version).