We’ve had a hot dry spell the last few weeks. Thankfully there was a breeze which limited losses, but we didn’t receive rain during the heat wave. Most areas are starting to show effects of drought. There are several ways to effectively utilize diminished roughage supplies.
Supplemental feeding calves allow mama cows to maintain body condition on short pasture. I realize creep feed is expensive, but calves convert well and gain extra pounds. Around here, the first hay cutting resulted in half the normal tonnage, so supplemental roughage feeding on pasture will be expensive and may deplete winter feed storages.
Early-weaning calves is the best scenario in a drought situation. When calves are removed, the cow’s nutritional needs decrease by 20 percent. Without calves, cows should be able to graze at least another two months on grass. The more condition cows keep during summer, the less it will need to be replaced this fall and winter. Replacing body condition (adding weight) is more expensive using winter feedstuffs which may be in very short supply.
When early weaning calves, be sure they receive an adequate amount of a well-balanced, concentrate ration to minimize the amount of expensive harvested roughage. Young calves weighing roughly 300 pounds convert feed very efficiently, often achieving feed-to-gain ratios in the low 5s (5 pounds fed to 1 pound gain). During previous drought years, ranchers that weaned early found their calves were heavier than normal years.
If drought persists, many producers may relocate animals to areas where feed is more plentiful. The cow market is still high and some producers believe they can sell cows now and purchase bred animals next spring for fewer dollars than the cost of feeding their own cows. This strategy assumes there is little invested in the genetic makeup of the cowherd.
Other producers may choose to ship cows to feed and then bring them back to the ranch to calve. The major expense here is trucking. Trucking rates are about $4 per loaded mile. For 40 cows on a truck, it costs $0.10 per mile for a one-way trip. Assuming feeding areas can be found 200 miles away, the trucking bill would be $40 per cow for a 4-5 month feeding period.
Whenever animals are gathered, it is important to remove non-productive animals to save feed. Older short-term cows can be removed to decrease numbers. Ultrasounding for pregnancy can determine animals that are open or bred late in the season. Use a calving book to eliminate cows with poor dispositions, lameness and low-quality calves.
Dry-lotting may be a better alternative if there is an economical roughage option. In this area there is straw, silage and corn stover with little grain. A ration with these roughages and about 12 pounds of wet distillers grains can feed a cow for about $40 a month. A commercial lot charging $0.25 per day yardage can winter a cow for about $50 a month.
Another option is to sell calves early, right off the cow. With the recent jump in the corn market, the light feeder market has been under some pressure. If there isn’t ample amount of feed to wean animals, producers can send them to a commercial feedyard for backgrounding. In this area there are many small commercial feedyards that do an excellent job of starting calves. For help finding a commercial lot, give us a call (800-660-8150); we can put you in contact with local farmer feeders.
It appears drought is upon us. Timely management decisions will enable producers to minimize losses. Early weaning, appropriate culling and minimizing cow weight loss is very important. Supplemental feeding of distillers grains with low-quality roughages is very useful. Visit with your veterinarian, feed consultant or extension specialist and formulate a program that allows you to economically maintain your herd.
Dave Barz is a veterinarian at Northwest Veterinary Supply in Parkston, SD.