Don’t stop managing your herd
March 2, 2012
By almost every measure, this winter has been exceedingly mild. Maybe it is just a coping mechanism, but when we have a mild winter like this one, we tend to block out the memories of long, hard winters like we had last year and assume that we are headed directly into an early spring. The natural tendency is to relax; and in doing so, be lulled into a false sense of security about how well things are going. Yet, Mother Nature has a way of surprising us; and as I write this column, South Dakota is under a blizzard warning and much of the rest of the region is under weather advisories caused by the first fairly large snowstorm of the season. As most residents of the northern Great Plains know, we may still have a lot of wintery weather left until spring arrives in earnest; and now is not the time to ease off on the management of your beef cattle operation. Doing so could be a costly mistake.
Many cows have been grazing on lower quality forage (native range, stockpiled forages, or corn residue) over the winter. In some cases, you have had to feed very little if any hay because of the lower than average snowfall and snow cover and higher than average temperatures. So far, most cows have come through the winter in very good shape. This has certainly lowered your cost of production and, in some cases, allowed you to make some additional income by selling excess hay to producers farther south who suffered through extreme drought last summer.
As calving season gets underway, it is important to pay close attention to cow nutrition. Extended periods of dormant season grazing may mean that mineral and vitamin intake were less than optimal. Consequently, it is very important that you carefully evaluate your cow herd nutrition program. Proper energy, protein, vitamin and mineral nutrition through the calving season will ensure that calves get off to a good start and that cows will breed back in a timely manner.
The threat of a cold snap or severe winter storm can continue well into April. If your cattle are still out grazing, make sure you have a plan for providing shelter in case of inclement weather. There are a number of herds grazing on corn residue and on pastures that have not been grazed during the winter for many years , if ever. In those cases, winter protection may be lacking or nonexistent. As you get newborn calves on the ground, it’s important to have a plan for dealing with inclement weather in order to protect that newborn. As many of you will be selling these calves for upwards of $1,000 this fall, the financial stakes are quite high.
It’s also not too early to begin preparations for your fall marketing program. If you haven’t taken advantage of things like source and age verification, now may be the time to do it. Demand for feeder calves is going to be quite good; and the cow-calf producer is in the driver’s seat relative to supply and prices. Why not take the time now to add a few more dollars to the equation by taking advantage of premium programs which reward enhanced management? You may want to consider your management strategies related to implant use now as well. Will adding a few more pounds to the scale ticket by taking advantage of enhanced productivity add even more dollars to your calf check?
Don’t coast through calving season and into spring. Be sure you take an active role in management now. It will pay dividends and add to your bottom line come fall. Have a great calving season.