Grazing, feed intake, and milk production differences in beef cows of varying efficiency classification and size

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


Metrics that identify beef cow efficiency in extensive rangeland environments has long been desired in both beef cattle research and production settings. However, research is limited relative to matching cattle metrics to western production systems. Previous research has suggested the ratio of calf weight weaned to cow weight, or weaning weight ratio, is an accurate estimate of cow efficiency. Furthermore, milk production has been attributed to influence calf pre-weaning average daily gain. Few studies have evaluated how cow type or cow characteristics influence grazing distribution and supplement consumption on native landscapes. The objectives of this study were to assess cow feed intake, grazing behavior, supplement intake, and milk production differences between cows of differing weaning weight ratio and body weight classification. Individual cow average daily feed consumption, average daily feeding bout duration, number of visits per day, and total time spent eating per day were collected during a feed intake period and a supplement intake period. Total distance traveled and time spent grazing were collected on individual cows with global positioning system collars. Milk samples were analyzed for fat, solids not fat, total solids, protein, and lactose content, and milk yield was calculated as the change in calf weight following a weigh-suckle-weigh procedure. High weaning weight ratio cows consumed more feed when expressed on a g/kg bodyweight basis (P < 0.001) but did not differ in supplement consumption (P > 0.10). High weaning weight ratio cows produced more milk both in total kg (P < 0.03) and when expressed as /kg bodyweight (P < 0.001). Heavy bodyweight cows tended to consume more feed than light bodyweight cows (P < 0.09) but neither bodyweight group ate more supplement than the other (P > 0.10). High weaning weight ratio cows spent an hour longer grazing per day than low weaning weight ratio cows (P < 0.02). Total distanced traveled per day did not differ (P > 0.10). Results suggest weaning weight ratio and cow size are not accurate metrics of cow efficiency and the use of weaning weight ratio may unintentionally favor cows with higher milk production and higher feed requirements.




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