How Today’s Cow Nutrition Impacts Next Year’s Calf Crop

By Chris Cassady, Ph.D., BioZyme Inc.

It’s well established that the nutritional requirements of cattle fluctuate throughout the year and depend on the production cycle of the cow. Although the nutritional cost for maintenance remains somewhat constant, there are many factors that influence these added nutritional “taxes.” Growing heifers have elevated needs to support their development, yet the lactating cow has extra milk production that’s further competing for nutrients.  

Producers tend to focus nutritional management of the cow and her own needs but fail to think about the requirements of the developing fetus. Considering the time from conception to consumption or first service, it’s important to realize that a calf obtains a huge portion of its nutrition from its mother. Dam nutrition has a huge impact on the future success of her calf. 

Maintaining optimum nutrition is important for the cow during late gestation. Cows in a proper body condition score (BCS 5-6) have less problems with dystocia because their energy reserves are built up for the intensity of parturition, even though they tend to have heavier, more vigorous calves. Throw in the fact that properly conditioned cows produce higher quality colostrum, it’s easy to see how gestational nutrition impacts calf immunity and health. Cow condition is a great way to assess the nutritional status of your herd, and it has more implications than just for the benefit of the cow and her calf at parturition. 

A pregnancy is the result of a genetic investment in the dam and sire, and reproductive failure is the first observed outcome when nutritional demands aren’t met. Therefore, it’s important to give that developing fetus every tool to be successful for its production purpose. Gestation is typically divided into trimesters based on time. However, producers should look at gestation from a nutritional sense in the form of early-, mid-, and late-gestation.  

The development of the placenta and vital organs occur during the early stages, so inadequate nutrition can lead to intrauterine growth restriction and early embryonic loss. Mid-gestation is associated with lowest nutritional demands for the cow, yet this isn’t the time to cut corners. From month 2 to 7, the development of muscle fibers occurs in the calf, and energy/protein deficient dams can inhibit their calf’s ability to reach their muscular genetic potential. Exponential fetal growth and adipogenesis occur in the fetus during the last three months of gestation. Research has proven that dams that can’t meet their nutritional demands deliver smaller calves with more health problems that finished with reduced marbling scores at harvest. Considering the correlation between birth weight and weaning weight along with a loss in quality grade potential, improper nutrition leading up to calving can severely limit calf value.   

The widespread drought has made it challenging for producers to keep their cows in the proper nutritional status, subjecting them to these potential concerns. Feed additives like Amaferm® can help improve digestibility of drought-stressed forages, helping producers unlock more energy and protein from their available forage. Keeping these cows in the right condition during this tough time is important, not just in the upcoming calving season, but when it’s time to breed or market their offspring in the future.  

Amaferm is a prebiotic designed to enhance digestibility by amplifying the nutrient supply for maximum performance. It is research-proven to increase intake, digestion and absorption. When added to feedstuffs or delivered through a mineral program like VitaFerm®, it can help your cows maintain the best condition possible, while passing those nutrients on to their progeny.  

VitaFerm makes a variety of products with the producer in mind from Concept•Aid® formulas that promote effective, easy breeding to Cattlemen’s Blend, more of a maintenance mineral to Conserve, a more economical option. 

Whatever you feed, remember that the mineral you deliver to your bred cow now will have a significant impact on your calf once it is delivered and even as you take it to market. Skimping on nutrition will impact future generations and your bottom line. 

To discover the BioZyme mineral that is right for you and to find a dealer, visit

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