Fall cow management to assure healthy spring calves | TSLN.com

Fall cow management to assure healthy spring calves

Ivan G. Rush

As the cooler nights settle in and with the sun leaving less daylight hours, it tells us that fall is approaching. Management of the cows to assure good body condition and healthy calves next spring starts in the early fall. Fortunately, most ranchers in this region have received good rains this year and have good forage going into the fall.

In some areas this is not the case, so even though much is written and it is not new, weaning the calves will aid in maintaining or improving cow condition. Many herds are currently pregnancy testing yearling heifers which allows them to get the open heifers on the relative good yearling market or place them on feed to be finished yet this year. Pregnancy testing of cows will be coming soon.

Survey data indicates only around 25 percent of ranchers pregnancy test cows in the fall. Some feel they only find a few open cows by pregnancy testing and do not sell open cows in the fall so pregnancy testing has limited value. The open cows can be noted by observing the cows during the winter and sold after the first of the year. Knowing which cows are open in the fall is a valuable tool as cost of maintaining the cow increases.

We know that historically, cow value is lowest in the fall of the year when the majority of cows are sold. This has led several to retain open or very late calving cows and then place them on high quality diets and sell in the spring. An additional advantage by pregnancy testing in the fall is that any significant problems with fertility can be detected early and hopefully corrected or at least dealt with early in the year.

Dr. Steve Paisley of the University of Wyoming conducted a trial last year on feeding cull cows higher concentrated rations and using last year’s cow and feed prices for the fall and spring, found that cows made $105 profit over feed costs. Labor, interest, plus other fix costs would need to be deducted. Some producer simply put the cows on crop residue or winter grazing with enough supplementation to allow the cow to gain some weight and make money primarily on the spring market increase.

We continue to have new findings on supplementing cows on lower quality forage which has raised some interesting questions. For years nutritionists and veterinarians have advocated that cows should be in at least a body condition score of 5 at calving to support good cow breed back. Then three years of data at the UNL Gudmenden Sandhill Laboratory found that mature cows in body condition 3-4 had equal breed back to cows in body condition 5-6. This led some to believe, including myself, that cows can become thinner than normally recommended without great fear of breed back. If the research would have been stopped at that point perhaps some wrong conclusions would have been made.

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Instead the calves from the supplemented and non-supplemented cows were fed to finish in separate groups and it was found that the calves that were in utero when the cows were supplemented gained considerable more in the finishing phase than those from non-supplemented cows, plus they were slightly more efficient. They also tended to have higher quality grade. The data was consistent for the three years for cows supplemented on winter range.

Cows that grazed corn stalks may be slightly different. The fetus did not appear to be programmed to respond as well after weaning however there was considerably less sickness in the calves from cows that were supplemented on stalks. There was also a great difference in quality grade with those calves from supplemented cows grading 86 percent choice or greater while the calves from non-supplemented cows graded 53 percent choice or greater. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that a higher percentage of the calves from the non-supplemented cows were treated for sickness.

So, where does it leave the industry in protein supplementation? It appears that adequate protein supplementation to avoid severe weight loss in the winter is still best for the beef industry. Yes, we may get by with a few thin mature cows and still have good breed back. If placed on high plan of nutrition after calving, however, it appears the calves will not perform as well as their genetic potential would predict.

Hopefully, all goes well for you at weaning time.

email ivan rush at irush1@unl.edu

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