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Montana Ag Network: Fergus County MSU Extension offers Pre- and Post-Calving resources

Posted at 1:28 PM, Mar 01, 2023

LEWISTOWN — “A record year” doesn’t mean what it used to, especially in agriculture. "Record" takes on an entirely new definition when it comes to how bad the drought has become, or high-priced fuel is to the cost of a ton of hay. Cattle producers are facing another record year of having to battle Mother Nature to get healthy calves on the ground this season.

The Fergus County MSU Extension office held a Calving Workshop at the Lewistown Stockyards on Monday, February 27th. Almost ten producers attended a brief lecture where the highlight of the conversation was nutrition pre-calving and post-calving. Dr. Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist held a lengthy presentation that posed valuable to cattle producers.

“Body Condition. Monitoring that pre-calving and post-calving so we can get into the breeding season because it really affects colostrum milk quality for those calves and getting that quality calf on the ground.”

With a never-ending drought among us, the U.S. Drought Monitor for the state of Montana reads that most of Central Montana are sitting at the D1-D-4 level, Moderate Drought. For counties stretching across the Hi-Line from the Rocky Mountain Front to the North Dakota border, Severe and Extreme Drought continue to plague. All of these pose a problem with the producer’s hay production, water, and grazable pastureland.

Dr. Van Emon explains that there are supplements on the market that are great alternatives: “…looking at those commercial supplements like tubs and alfalfa cake…”

All of that comes at a cost and knowing how to split supplementing and feeding quality hay.

In her presentation, she explained the nutrient requirements for a 1,400-pound cow.


  • TDN, lb/d (Energy) = 14.5
  • Protein, lb/d = 2.1


  • TDN, lb/d = 11.6
  • Protein, lb/d = 1.6


  • TDN, lb/d = 20.5
  • Protein, lb/d 3.5

A March calving cow will always need more nutrients from now until May, including its protein and energy intake. Monitoring this intake cycle will help a cow better reproduce for the next year.
Van Emon also offered Feed Management Tips:

  • Feed high-quality feeds when requirements are the highest.
    • Replacement heifers, growing calves, lactating cows.
  • Feed low-quality feeds during mid-gestation.
  • Feed moderate/high-quality feeds during late gestation and early lactation.
  • Economic viability feedstuffs.

Keeping cattle full while thinking two to three years ahead can go a long way.

For any bulking diet, protein is the name of the game, Dr. Van Emon explains, “Protein is our pre-calving concern because we're usually on low-quality pastures. We're feeding some decent quality hay, but we're trying to get them into the calving season where we're going to really focus on those high nutrient demands of lactation. Then we start worrying about the energy because that energy drop is huge for milk production.”

Natural proteins are what Dr. Van Emon recommends, including soybean meal and cotton seed meal versus protein nitrogen, like Urea or Biuret. It’s important to note, that non-protein nitrogen is only available in the rumen.

“Then it goes to the microbes, and then the microbes provide the protein to the cow. Whereas if we feed more of a natural source, yes, those microbes will get their protein need to be met. But then you're also providing more protein into the small intestine directly from the feed source itself.”

Sticking with pre-calving the University of Missouri Extension offers a Body Score Optimum Condition Chart. It is a great resource for 100 pre-calving.

BCS 100 days Pre-Calving


Weight change needed



Gain 350 pounds


Very thin

Gain 300-350 pounds



Gain 200-300 pounds



Gain 150-200 pounds



Gain weight of fetus only


Moderate to Good

Gain weight of fetus only



No weight gain needed



Can lose 100 pounds


Extremely Fat

Can lose 150 pounds

Information courtesy of the University of Missouri Extension, 1993.

This chart remains a great tool for producers looking to judge where their herd is 100 days pre-calving. The red highlighted area is the optimum rating for cattle, while the 7,8,9 rating can struggle in Montana’s terrain and pose issues. When it comes to making the decision of which cows to keep or get rid of, that’s the choice of the producer, who will weigh you down. A body condition score of 5 would visually be a faint line of the ribs visual.

Moving now to post-calving, Van Emon recommends “beefing” up the diet.

“This is the time when I usually recommend, you know, reducing some of that straw to the diet and focusing more on maybe decent quality alfalfa. You know that 13 14% protein.”

The cost of feed and shipping hay can pose questions on whether to feed a quality alfalfa/grass hay or supplementing. Let’s break it down on a basis that a ton of have costs $250 and a ton of Supplement costs $350:

Cost per head post-Calving


·      Feed 10.5 lbs

·      10..5 lbs x 0.2 = 2.1 lb CP

o   2.1 lb CP x $0.88/lb CP =

o   $1.85/hd/d

·      10.5 lbs x 0.65 = 6.83 lb TDN

o   6.83 lb TDN x $0.27/lb TDN =

o   $1.85/hd/d

·      $1.85 x 100 hd x 100 days = $18,500


· Feed 10.5 lbs

· 10..5 lbs x 0.2 = 2.1 lb CP

o 2.1 lb CP x $0.88/lb CP =

o $1.85/hd/d

· 10.5 lbs x 0.65 = 6.83 lb TDN

o 6.83 lb TDN x $0.27/lb TDN =

o $1.85/hd/d

· $1.85 x 100 hd x 100 days = $18,500


  • Feed 16.3 lbs
  • 16.3 lbs x 0.129 = 2.1 lb CP
    • 2.1 lb CP x $0.97/lb CP =
    • $2.04/hd/d
  • 16.3 lbs x 0.546 = 8.9 lb TDN
    • 8.9 lb TDN x $0.23/lb TDN =
    • $2.05/hd/d
  • $2.04 x 100 hd x 100 days = $20,400

Equals a $1,900 Difference

As the price doesn’t differ much between the two other considerations for this would be labor, ease of feeding, fuel, and grazing availability.

Most of this information is only a fraction of what was discussed at the Fergus County Calving Workshop. MSU Extension officials ask that if you have any questions, reach out to them. They are a service to producers across the state and can help in almost any way possible.

Another great resource for a Feed Nutrient Calculator is offered by South Dakota State University:

To find your local extension office, visit, for a state map of counties and anything you need to know to reach out to your Extension Agent.

Click here for another calving resource (PDF).

Questions or comments about this article/video? Click here to contact Ryan.