Cows/Cattle/Skinny cow


Johnson County, TX.
Howdy. I just bought a 3 year old Charolaise cow with a 2 month old bull calf this past weekend. The previous owner has several properties he leases & when he moved one of the herds, she was not with them & the guy's missed getting her. With the drought she had very little to eat & then on top of that had the calf during that time. He said she may be bred back. I would describe her conformation as somewhat sickly looking. She's nonaggressive, gentle, & seems to she gets around normal, grazes on the short winter grass, seems to drink a normal quantity of water. The calf is nursing/grazing. I have a healthy Holstein/angus cow also. In the morning I put out some alfalfa for them. I'll also leave some coastal out for them to graze on. In the evening I'll put out feed for them. They have about 10 acres to graze on. The angus cross is dominant so she won't let the other eat the feed with her so I separated her out yesterday afternoon with access to the barn & about 1/4 acre so I can focus on caring for her without the other cow interrupting. I put about a half gallon of feed in the trough & all the coastal she can eat with some alfalfa on the side. A cow's dream.  What I've noticed is, she will favor the coastal over anything else. She'll only nibble at the feed & alfalfa. I thought maybe it's to rich for her right now. The other cow would gobble it up if she was in there with her.
  My question is this: should I be giving here something else to get her in shape or would the above diet do the trick? The calf will nibble on the coastal & feed also. His muzzle is wet when he's finished sucking so it seems she producing milk ok.
  One other question if I may: She will pee just a small amount but more frequent than I would consider normal. Her stool looks normal.
  Thank you very much

Hello Joel,

It sounds like you've been doing all the right things with this cow. I think she may be very used to eating coastal and doesn't yet know that the alfalfa and feed is better--or whether to like it or not--so it may take her time to eventually get around to liking to eat this feed along with the coastal hay. She may not like the taste of it, but give her time and she may come around and eventually want to eat it almost as ravenously as your Angus cross. She probably feels like she doesn't need much of it either, not that it's too rich for her.

Now, there could be several reasons why she's thin, and it's not always down to malnutrition. She may need to be dewormed, because a parasite load in any animal can squeeze the nutrients they eat right out of them so that most goes to the parasites and the rest (being a little) goes to them. A fecal and/or a blood test--fecal's often most reliable for testing for internal parasites--can determine if she's full of parasites, or if she has another disease that may be causing her loss in condition, such as Johnes's or BVD or something else. Hopefully she's not carrying an illness and is just thin from malnutrition and/or internal parasites.

Are you giving her some mineral? This will also help with the weight gain and milk. Depending on what your local feed suppliers have, you can opt for a mineral tub or a trace mineral block, or loose mineral. With this Charolais' s condition I'd go with the tub or block first, then to the loose stuff because she may end up consuming a whole lot to compensate for what she has been denied for, I'd say, quite a while now. You can introduce loose after a week or so, if you want, or just stick with the block or tub.

To answer your question, what is the feed comprised of? Is it a corn mix or cottonseed meal or what? I'd have to know to see if she's getting a good balance of energy and protein for both lactation and her filling out. If the feed is high in protein then you may have to switch to something that's higher in energy. You can't get a cow to gain weight on high protein, but you can get her to produce milk with it.

And what shape is the calf in? Is he looking thin too or is he filled out and looks quite thick, strong and healthy (what I like to call "soggy")? If he's in much better shape than his mom, he's probably pulling the nutrients out of her (she would be putting most of what she's eating to milk), and she's going to look like crap until he starts getting to where he's going to be eating more and more hay and feed than milk up to weaning. IMHO, if her little guy looks in better shape than she, she's probably doing a great job with him.

With your third question, the blood test may determine if she's carrying some illness or something that is causing her kidneys some issues, if it's that at all. I'm no vet so I can't tell you what this sign may indicate, but your local large animal vet can.

I hope that helps you some. Good luck with her!



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Karin L


Forage-Beef Extension Specialist. Knowledge in almost everything to do with beef and dairy cattle. Strong points include forage production, pasture and rangeland management, grazing management, breeding/calving/weaning, cattle genetics, breeds, feeding and nutrition, starting-up, and most physiological questions. I AM NOT A BOVINE VETERINARIAN; so please any questions that concern serious health of your cattle must be taken to your local large animal veterinarian.


Part of a farm family that bought, raised, and sold stocker/backgrounder steers; assisted with health management, handling, feeding, pasture management, and forage production. Also worked at local mixed-practice veterinary clinic. Experience with cattle included breeding soundness exams on bulls, castration, fixing prolapses, preg-checking, C-sections, calf pulling, vaccinations, etc. Worked at a local farm and ranch supply store selling medications and feed for livestock. Research assistant for the University of Alberta with range health assessments, and helping with various rangeland research projects. Always learning and gaining more experience as time goes on.

Alberta Farm Express Agri-News and Call of the Land (Alberta Agriculture)

BSc in Agriculture (Animal Science Major) @ University of Alberta, June 2015 graduate, but started studies in 2005. An Sci degree allowed me to specialize and gain significant knowledge in beef & dairy cattle production,animal behaviour and reproduction, ruminant nutrition, forage production/management, rangeland and pasture management & ecology, and plant identification.

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Various eef and forage producers in Alberta, CAN

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