Two issues have dominated my thoughts during the last week - animal care and spring precipitation.
Topping the list is the HSUS video concerning the hog farm near Wheatland, WY - very near where my family lives. There has been very thorough coverage of the situation, and I have spent quite a bit of time reading articles, blogs and posts discussing the situation and what implications it has on production agriculture. Temple Grandin and other experts have commented on the situation, and many livestock organizations have also been involved.
Rather than point fingers, I've thought quite a bit about common cattle management practices and handling techniques that I use, as well as some of the practices used at our research facilities. How do others view some of our common management practices? We often correctly argue that many things we do are for the long-term safety and health of the animal. Personal safety also is an important factor. In production agriculture, ultimately efficiency and cost effectiveness play into decision making as well.
Working with the public and discussing the rationale for our methods is important. One of the most important requirements for workers and producers is respect for the animals we care for. That's what disturbs me most about the numerous videos floating around. If consumers understand that we have a genuine respect for the animals we produce, I believe there would be fewer misconceptions and better understanding.
It is difficult for organizations and companies to portray that sense of respect in newspaper ads or press releases. That's why it is so important for actual producers to become involved. One-on-one discussion and interviews with actual producers who respect all forms of nature are an important piece to the industry.
The lack of spring precipitation is my other concern at this time. Knowing that spring moisture is the dominant factor affecting summer grass production, we have reached decision making time.
When I think of management and nutrition options for the cowherd during a drought, Gerry Kuhl, a former beef extension specialist from Kansas State University, always liked to discuss the options through his C-U-R-S-E method. That is: Cull the herd rigorously, Use alternative feeds, Re-sort, analyze, and Ration hay, consider Substituting grain for our forages, and make sure to Evaluate all available options. The timing may not be right for all of these tips, but all deserve some discussion and future planning.
Meadow hay production will definitely be down, and for those operations that rely heavily on prairie hay, decisions are becoming important. Decisions need to be made not only concerning the amount of summer grass and the number of head that the grass will support, but also the upcoming winter and spring feeding situation.
When summer grass is limited, and winter feed is also in question, early pregnancy-testing and possibly weaning should be considered. Culling options include: sorting off late calvers, lame cows, older cows, cows with poor udder confirmation, and possibly disposition problems. Culling might also be an opportunity to sort off the late-calving pairs, and marketing them, which also helps the remaining calf crop's uniformity and tightening the calving season. Some marketing options include a potential short-term dry-lotting of any older and thin cows to improve their marketability.
Another alternative is to evaluate how you manage replacement females. Pregnancy-checking early and marketing the open heifers in July tends to hit a better market, while saving some forage.