Planning ahead for fall cow herd management
Throughout most of the Tri-State Livestock News region, pastures are greener than usual for late July. This can be attributed largely to cooler than normal temperatures, but also to having enough soil moisture to keep forage growing. Unfortunately, as Roger Gates pointed out in last week’s issue, precipitation in the last couple of months has been below average in a lot of areas (at least in western South Dakota), so there is not excess soil moisture. The result for some is that grass is green, but the amount of forage may be lower than expected because of recent rainfall patterns. Ultimately, cows that are stocked at rates appropriate to the amount of forage are performing well because the forage is maintaining prolonged good nutritional value. It’s a relief to see cows gaining body condition and looking good after the tough winter that most of them went through.
With good grazing management in place, there is not a lot that needs to be done in terms of cow herd management at this time of year. A lot of focus is on hay production or other enterprises, such as crops. However, it’s time to take stock and do some planning to be sure we are ready for fall activities with the cow herd. There are a number of things to consider…
Primary among these are weaning and marketing plans for the calves. Things to think about include when to wean, whether to give pre-conditioning vaccinations, and when and how to sell the calves. While selling the calves at weaning is typical, it may be appropriate to consider holding them for a backgrounding period. This can increase value by adding pounds and getting them through weaning stress, but it needs to be considered in terms of market price projections, cash flow issues, and tax implications if they are held over into next year.
Marketing alternatives also need to be considered. While sale at the local livestock auction is the most popular route, sales through other channels such as direct marketing through order buyers or use of video auctions are alternatives that may allow opportunity to attain higher prices. Now is the time to consider those alternatives, particularly from a forward contracting viewpoint. Sale through video auctions during the summer for fall delivery is growing in popularity. Videos of calves on pasture at the side of the cows can be a way to display them at their best to potential buyers. Historical evaluations by economists have shown price advantages to sales in this manner. One advantage is that it allows sales to occur before the typical price slump during the fall run of weaned calf sales. Evaluation of price projections based on futures markets and other tools becomes important in evaluating the potential increased value from forward contracting vs. selling in the fall. Another potential concern is volume. Video sales tend to work better for lots of cattle that fit truck loads.
The bottom line is that marketing should be based on a plan that works to meet the economic needs of the cattle enterprise to increase the likelihood of improving profit margin.
Other considerations for fall planning for the cows include pregnancy checking, parasite control, vaccination programs, and marketing of culls. Pregnancy checking needs to wait until all pregnancies can be detected, but should be early enough to allow marketing opportunities for open cows and other culls. Earlier marketing of culls can aid in avoiding the typical fall slump in cull cow prices and can also play a role in reducing feed costs by improving management of feed resources to be used for pregnant, productive cows.
This is also an important time to review herd health plans to be sure that vaccinations and parasite control products are on hand to be applied when the cows go through the chute for pregnancy checking.
Although mid-summer may seem early to be thinking about these things, fall will be here before we know it and having a plan ready to implement will be tremendously helpful at making the most of fall activities.