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Five Strategies for Cow-Calf Management in Drought Conditions


Extended dry weather is stressful for both cattle and cattle owners. With record heat and lack of moisture going into summer 2018, MKC wants to provide you with some dry weather strategies to help you and your herd. Implementing strategies earlier during drought conditions can often prevent drastic and “last ditch” efforts later. Below are five recommendations from MKC Livestock Nutritionist Gary Schmidt and Purina Sales Specialist Gary Niehues to consider during times of drought.

  1. Feed in groups according to nutrient requirements. Sorting cows and feeding according to nutrient requirements is a strategy to stretch limited forage resources.  Priority should be given to first and second calf cows and those with lower body condition scores. Older cows will have a lower requirement than the younger cows and should be sorted off onto pastures with poorer grazing conditions.
  2. Creep feed calves. Calves on creep feed continue to increase their weight at a time when the mother’s milk is declining, and the calves’ nutrient requirements are increasing.
  3. Wean early. Early weaning reduces the cow’s energy requirements by 30% thereby helping to maintain condition during periods of limited forage, so fewer feed resources are needed to keep their body condition. Early weaned calves are loosely defined as “less than 120-150 days of age.”
  • According to John Jaeger, beef cattle scientist at the KSU Ag Research Center in Hays, previous studies by other researchers have shown early weaning reduces grazing pressure. A calf weighing 450 pounds at 120 days of age eats about 6.8 pounds of forage per day. So, for every 30 days, a calf is weaned early, there should be one week of additional grazing for the cow. Early weaned calves will save additional grazing resources for your cows later into the fall, saving your baled hay for feeding in the upcoming winter months.
  • Early weaned calves will finish at the same or higher weight as normal weaned calves if provided adequate nutrition.  Purina has weaning and backgrounding programs which require no additional forage for the calves. 
  1. Don’t wait to make culling decisions. Culling decisions on the cow herd should be made now rather than in the fall if a producer is facing forage shortages. Culling cows during the summer will stretch the forage for the remaining cows. Cull cow prices are also seasonally stronger during April through July. Culling cows now and selecting deeper in the herd for age, larger cows with higher maintenance requirements, genetics, or performance will pay off in improved cull cow price and more forage for the remaining cows.
  2. Consider additional nutrition sources. Every effort should be made to get the most dollars returned per dollar invested in forage. Low protein cubes or pellets such as Purina® 4-Square Stocker Grower can be used to extend forage.  Byproduct mixes can also be used to extend pastures by replacing forage and should be balanced with appropriate Purina minerals and additives to capture the best results. We also have self-fed liquids, high-fat blocks, and cooked tubs which will help your cows utilize poor quality forages.

In conclusion, managing a cow herd through periods of forage shortages requires changes both in management and nutritional strategies.  Priority must be placed on the younger cows in the herd with the higher nutrient requirements, so calving percentage is not affected on next year’s calf crop.  Creep feeding, early weaning, and summer culling offer sound economic decisions.
Please call your nearest MKC location to discuss different options for your brood cows or feeder calves.  If you would like your herd looked at for performance and price projections, please call Gary Schmidt at 785-285-8512.

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