Determining the Nutritional Status of Mature Beef Cows

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Virginia Tech


Improved prediction of forage quality and cow performance may enhance the nutritional management of beef cows. In two 12 mo trials, mature beef cows (n=136) grazing tall fescue pastures were used to compare estimates of forage quality and animal performance. Forage quality was estimated by proximate analysis of forage samples (FOR) or by near infrared reflectance spectroscopy of fecal samples (FNIR). Nutritional Balance Analyzer (NutBal), NutBalPro and 1996 NRC Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle (NRC) programs were used to predict animal performance. The objectives were to compare FOR and FNIR estimates of CP and TDN and to evaluate the accuracy of cow performance predicted by FNIR-NutBal, FNIR-NutBalPro and FOR-NRC systems. Initial BW, body condition score (BCS), hip height and breed were used to establish cow biotypes for prediction programs. Every 28 d, cow BW and BCS were measured and forage and fecal samples collected. Weather data, cow status and FOR or FNIR results were entered into NutBal, NutBalPro and NRC programs. Forage CP estimated by FNIR (CPFNIR) or FOR (CPFOR) were similar. In trials 1 and 2, correlation coefficients between CPFNIR and CPFOR were r = .24 and r = .43, respectively. Forage TDN estimated by FNIR was greater (P <.05) and lowly or moderately correlated to FOR estimates. Actual BW change between weigh periods (BWCHG) and ADG were similar to NRC predictions, but less (P<.0001) than predicted by NutBal or NutBalPro. The NutBal or NutBalPro mean BCS change between weigh periods (BCSCHG) were greater (P<.001) than NRC or Actual BCSCHG. Actual and NRC BCSCHG were similar (P>.2, trial 1) or tended (P<.1, trial 2) to be similar. Cow performance estimated by NRC was highly correlated to Actual. Absolute differences in animal performance were also investigated for each prediction program. In trials 1 and 2, NutBal and NutBalPro over-predicted BWCHG, ADG and BCSCHG by 40 kg, 1.25 kg/d and .75 BCS, respectively, compared to actual cow performance. It appears that FNIR is a promising predictor of forage CP but not TDN. Also, the FOR-NRC is a satisfactory predictor of cow performance.



Forage, Performance, Cow, Nutrition