MANHATTAN, Kan. -- After this summer's drought, many cattle producers have had to start feeding hay earlier and, with the recent hay shortage, have had trouble finding enough to last all winter.

Producers can, however, successfully winter their cows in drylots on high-concentrate diets and maintain desired body condition scores, said Twig Marston, Kansas State University Research and Extension cow- calf specialist.

Feeding a limited, but high-concentrate diet will require greater monitoring to help avoid problems such as rumen acidosis -- a decrease in rumen pH causing diarrhea and decreased feed intake; bloat -- a swelling of the rumen that occurs when feed fermentation creates a foamy layer at the top of the rumen, which traps gasses; and founde -- an increase in rumen acid production and a decrease in pH, he said.

The amount of forage a cow should consume daily ranges from .5 percent to .75 percent of her body weight. This will equal about 5 percent to 7.5 pounds of dry hay, or 30 to 45 pounds of silage daily.

Producers should provide 2.5 to 3 feet of bunk space per animal and make sure the diet is properly mixed and delivered evenly in the bunk, Marston said. This allows all cows to have access to the feed they need to meet their nutritional requirements.

Cows also can make eating a habit so they need to be fed at the same time daily. If they're hungry, they will tend to seek weak spots and holes in fences in search of food.

Cows can founder on shelled-corn-based diets when starch digesters dominate in rumen fermentation, he said. To help avoid founder, producers should take a week to 10 days to slowly adapt cows and their rumen microflora to the high-concentrate diets. Another solution is to feed whole corn, which will shift more of the starch digestion from the rumen to the small intestine.

"Normally, cows will need about 12 pounds of corn daily to meet their energy needs," Marston said. "Whole corn will actually help with rumen health as it adds some 'scratch factor' to the diet -- acting in a small way like forage."

High-concentrate diets are non-traditional and usually fed for economic reasons, he said. Therefore, producers will need to balance these diets for cow nutrient requirements (protein, energy, vitamins, minerals and roughage levels) and for least-cost value.

Nutrient ratios also need to be analyzed. Examples of nutrient ratios are: calcium to phosphorus, rumen digestible protein to rumen "by-pass" protein, acid load to energy density, and roughage type to roughage levels.

Producers feeding high-concentrate diets will need to increase management and monitor cows more closely for cold stress, pen conditions and herd health, and changes in nutrient requirements from mid to late-gestation to lactation. Cold stress increases energy demands and an increase in mud affects both maintenance energy requirements and feed intake.

Producers should clean pens as needed so cows will have comfortable and sanitary living conditions, Marston said. As cows make the transition from mid-gestation to late-gestation to lactation, the feed nutrient density and amount of feed fed will need to be increased.

Remember to add trace minerals and vitamin A to the feed ration also, he said. These nutrients should not be expensive and can have long-term benefits.

To improve feed efficiency, one option producers have is to feed an ionophore. An ionophore is a type of antibiotic that depresses or inhibits the growth of specific rumen microorganisms. Ionophores generally decrease feed intake, improve feed conversion, maintain or increase daily gain and do not affect carcass characteristics.

"Some producers are reluctant to feed cows ionophores, but research has repeatedly shown that their addition will be economically beneficial," Marston said. "An ionophore should improve feed efficiency by 8 percent to 10 percent, so it will be quite cost-effective."

SOURCE: K-State Research and Extension news release.