High supplemental feed costs, and persistent drought in some areas, should motivate producers to evaluate their feed resources and management plans heading into the fall and winter months. One major priority for many producers is evaluating ways to minimize supplementation of cows with harvested feedstuffs, either hay, by-product feeds or coarse grains.
One certain way to reduce the overall nutrient requirements of the herd is to cull unproductive animals. As you begin processing cattle to wean calves, consider spending a little extra time to identify “problem” cows by evaluating them for pregnancy status, udder quality, and adequacy of teeth and feet structure.
If you’re in a drought condition, market open cows in a timely fashion to reduce nutrient demand. However, if the open cows are thin and you have grazing pasture or feedstuffs available, consider feeding them to regain some condition before marketing, as this will generally increase sale weight of cows and the price received for them. Cull cows with poor udder quality or dry quarters, cows with no or worn teeth and cows with damaged hooves or poor foot structure.
If you find you need to further reduce your cow inventory due to drought, do it strategically. Strategic culling plans should be developed to first cull cows that are least productive and conserve as many “good” cows entering their prime producing years as possible. Conserving the cows expected to be most productive will set up future marketing opportunities of calf crops in markets that are expected to be short on supply and strong on demand, resulting in high calf prices.
The “problem” cows mentioned above should be followed by old cows that are at or near the end of their productive life. Next, consider selling open and bred replacement heifers. Culling these females, although they represent the newest genetics in your herd, will reduce overall herd nutrient demands as they require additional energy for growth. Due to short supplies of breeding females in the marketplace, these heifers, so long as they are in good body condition, should generate significant sale proceeds.
Fall processing also presents a great opportunity to evaluate the mature weights and body condition scores (BCS) of your cows. This can be a key piece of management information for successful supplementation of cows through the winter to maintain body condition prior to calving. Cow body condition scoring is easy and quick to do.
If you find many cows are thin, make plans for supplemental nutrition. If only a few cows are thin, usually first- or second-parity cows or older cows, consider separating the herd into two groups – one with adequate condition and another with low body condition. Partition your supplementation to favor the thin cows and thereby limit overfeeding cows in adequate condition.
At the end of the day, you may use just as much feed as if feeding the whole herd together, but the cows that need some extra groceries are sure to get it when fed separately.
The large size of many cows is a bigger concern for many producers. To properly evaluate the size of your cows, adjust their weights for both age and body condition. The Beef Improvement Federation provides adjustment guidelines to a constant BCS of 5. As a general rule, each full score is equivalent to about 80 lbs. live weight. For example a 1,200-lb. cow in BCS 4 would adjust to a 1,280-lb.cow at BCS 5.
Mature weights should be used to compute nutrient or forage requirements for the coming months to ensure adequate feed on hand. Additionally, these weights can be used to gauge decisions in selecting replacement females. If your cows are bigger than you’d like to fit your environment, consider selecting replacement heifers from the middle part of the weight distribution. Keeping the biggest, fleshiest heifers from your herd contributes over time to increases in mature cow weights and increased nutrient demand.
You should use age of dam adjusted 205-day weaning weights to classify your heifers’ potential for growth. The adjustment procedures remove bias due to age of calf and age of dam at weaning.
Utilizing these tips should help manage limited forage resources, reduce supplement feed costs and in the long run decrease your herd’s nutrient requirements.