Though we’re still holding onto summer, it’s never too early for cattle producers to prepare for winter.
Lindsay Waechter-Mead, DVM and a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension beef systems educator, first recommends doing pregnancy checks.
“August is really good timing. Especially if you’re late-winter, early-spring calving, you can get some of those girls … preg-checked as early as 35 days,” she says, to determine if cows are open. “You’re going to be able to cull when the market is historically stronger, and you’re not going to be wasting forages or resources if you’re feeding somebody that is open.”
Also, if producers are fetal sexing, that could help them take advantage of a potential market for bred heifers, Waechter-Mead suggests. “If you know the sex of the calf, you have the opportunity to target a specific clientele,” she says.
Another benefit of preg checking, Waechter-Mead says, is that cattle producers can put their cows into pregnancy groups. “So you know when they’re going to calve approximately,” she says. “That will help at the time of calving because then you can actually sort them out and segregate, trying to have calves in the same age group, which will help prevent some illnesses.”
Don’t forget calving pens
With late-winter and early-spring calving on the mind, Waechter-Mead recommends deciding now on where the calves will be born. Even if the calving pens haven’t changed over the years, she says it helps to have another set of eyes survey the situation, such as your veterinarian or an Extension professional.
This third-party walk-through at this time of year allows for any necessary changes. “Have you had issues in the past? Can they be addressed by some facility changes?” she asks. Such changes can include creating a fenced-off calf escape zone “to get out of pathogen load or to have an area where the calves can get away from the cows for a little bit to really help with illness problems.”
Also, ensure facilities are structurally sound now, rather than during a stressful calving season.
Assess winter nutrition
When cows are coming off grass at the end of summer is a good time to score them for body condition, wanting them to be a 5 on the 1-to-9 scale when they calve.
“Maybe if the cows are a little thin, what energy or protein levels do they need to be at to make sure they are at the peak nutritional rate when they calve,” she says. “As soon as you wean those calves is the best time to put on condition, they [cows] have the lowest energy and nutritional requirements. So if you know what you have to feed, you can adjust accordingly.”
Because feed is the highest cost of cattle production, Waechter-Mead suggests now is the time to assess your stored forages for quantity and quality. She suggests getting your hay tested and “getting all of that set up with your veterinarian, Extension professional or nutritionist — someone that you trust to get that nutritional plan set so you have all of that ready to go.”