SD Center for Farm and Range Management: Always Amazed |

SD Center for Farm and Range Management: Always Amazed

Lori Tonak
SD Center for Farm and Range Management

Since signing on with South Dakota Center of Farm/Ranch Management, I have come to some realizations. 1) I get to travel in some of the most beautiful country as I traverse the Missouri and Cheyenne River hills. 2) I enjoy working with adults as much as high school students. 3) A person that is quite detail oriented in certain aspects of their operation can be quite lackadaisical in other aspects of their operation. The area of the operation where I witness this behavior the most is the feeding of the beef cow herd. This information has not necessarily been gleaned from the people I work with on a regular basis, but from conversations I have overheard at coffee shops, gas stations, and other gathering spots.

A producer will have the feed for backgrounding calves and feedlot cattle tested for nutritional value and will balance the ration. The feeding recommendations will be followed to a T and all is well. If you ask this same producer about the cow/calf side of the operation, a common response I hear is “Oh, I just feed them some bales and they are good.” As a past dairy girl, I guarantee the cow herd is not “good” just by throwing some feed at them. By not paying attention to the nutrition of the cow herd, profits can quickly slip away.

Opportunities have already been missed by not giving proper nutrition to the gestating animal. Smaller calves, lowered immunity levels and slow growth are all a part of inadequate nutrition of the “momma” cow. If you are seeing some of these problems during this spring’s calving season, you may want to do some work with a nutritionist throughout the coming year. Research shows these problems will stay with this calf throughout its lifetime, whether it is a feedlot animal or replacement heifer.

As the cow moves into the lactation cycle, the nutrition is crucial so she can produce milk for the calf and also get her body prepared for the breeding season. Some breeding issues, but not all, can be helped by having forage tests done on the pastures and supplementing with the right mineral blend. Getting cows bred on the first breeding cycle keeps the calving window tight and helps produce a uniform size group of calves.

Is the extra money spent on a nutritionist and feed sample testing worth it? From what I have seen from my year end analysis with producers, the answer is a resounding “YES”. Producers that develop rations for their cow herds and follow them have cow feed costs from $50 to $150 less than the producers that don’t track their feed. If you can save $50 in costs and have a 200 cow herd, a savings of $10,000 can be realized. Not to mention, the calves may be healthier, will need less medication, and possibly gain weight more rapidly. This can also put more money in the rancher’s pocket. Just some food for thought.

If any producer would like more information on how the SD Center of Farm and Ranch Management can help your operation, call 1-800-684-1969, email or check out our website at