Vet’s Voice by Dr. Dave Barz: Think about the developing calf
Harvest has arrived in our area of South Dakota. This is probably why the weather has become wet and windy. It appears we will be harvesting between the showers. The grass is growing rapidly. We should have enough precipitation to give the grass a good start next spring. The hay crop was exceptional and many producers got four cuttings of alfalfa. Hopefully the winter will be mild and we will be able to overwinter our cows at minimal expense.
Now is the time to prepare our mama cows for winter. The cows in our area are in great shape (body condition score) and it appears we have plenty of feed. We are learning more every year about fetal programing. This theory simply states, a fetus in utero develops as a result of the nutrition the cow receives. If the cow is short of certain nutrients, the calf will have decreased development of certain organ systems making it more susceptible to lifetime health problems. Research at SDSU has demonstrated the quality grades at slaughter can be negatively affected by poor cow nutrition.
Early weaning reduces the stress on cows in late summer and early fall. This allows the calf to develop without any other drain on the nutritional store within the cow. We believe it is in the calf’s best interest to be weaned and placed on a good nutritional program. Now we realize the cow’s nutrition while pregnant affects the calf after it is born.
Always have high quality mineral available to the cow. Many times we have mineral available only during breeding. It is important at that time, but it is also important during the development of the fetus.
Over the years we have tried to minimize our feed costs on our gestating cows. This meant we allowed them to graze residue like bean stubble, corn stalks and regrowth. We must be careful to maintain our cows’ weight or BCS and hopefully allow them to increase in weight. This will allow ample nutrients for the developing calf.
Now is a great time to pregnancy test your cows. This will allow you to sort cows by age and body condition (BSC). You will be able to provide optimum nutrition to allow both the cow and the calf a chance for development. Processing will also allow the removal of cows with chronic problems, lameness etc. which affect their productivity.
As pasture has become scarce many producers are economically feeding their cows. This allows them to provide exactly what the cow and developing calf require on a daily basis. Not only does this help in calf development, but it also increases the first cycle conception rate of the cow.
Drylotting also provides shelter from the environment. This minimizes the stress on the cow, assuring that nutrients aren’t overly expended to maintain the cow.
For many years we believed we could minimize expenses by decreasing the cost of winter nutrition on our cow herd. Our environment during winter causes a lot of stress on the cow. By drylotting and feeding cows a complete ration, we are able to control the amount and quantity of nutrients each cow receives. Consult with your veterinarian, nutritionalist or extension specialist to formulate management and feeding procedures which will allow you to maximize cow health and fetal programing. Not only will it allow you to reap the full potential of your calf crop, but it will also improve you conception rates next spring. Careful cow care will increase the efficiency of your herd and insure continued profitability.