The catastrophic heat wave and drought that’s blanketed Texas throughout this year has been stretching throughout the summer into the Ozarks. Pasture conditions have deteriorated, the heavy rains earlier in the season in many areas prohibited a first cutting of hay, and due to the heat the second crop was late and underdeveloped, leaving forage in extremely short supply.
As a result, University of Arkansas Extension Animal Science Professor Tom Troxel told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “Cow slaughters have actually increased; it looks to me that people are starting to reduce their cow numbers to match their hay supply, and they’re not buying extra forage.” And herds are underperforming; at the Extension Livestock and Forestry Research Station in Batesville, the farm’s 2011 calf crop gained on average less than 1.5 lb/day between May weaning and the end of June. “In the same time frame the last 2 years, they gained close to 2.0 lb/day and that’s a reflection of the heat,” Troxel said. “A lot of times when it gets as hot as it has been – and as it will continue to be – cattle just will not eat; their intake will decline. And if intake declines, their gains will go down.”
Troxel said there’s not much the operator can do about it; even if forage is plentiful and of high quality, the cattle won’t eat.
But Eldon Cole told OFN as long as the cattle are gaining, they should stay on the farm. “Right now, the big advantage on marketing calves seems to come on putting more weight on them rather than selling them light,” said Cole, the director of the University of Missouri Extension Southwest Regional office in Mt. Vernon. “So I’m not a big fan of selling that calf off too light because I think if your feed system is halfway decent, you should be able to put those gains on more economically than you could otherwise, and the market is rewarding you for that heavier calf.”
Cole said it’s important to make sure cattle are consuming energy as well as protein.  “You can have fairly low quality feed that is dry but yet have a good bit of energy, and if there’s enough of it out there, the animals can still make pretty good performance out of it,” he said. “On most of our Fescue pastures up this way, and some warm season grass pastures, if there is plenty of it out there for the animals to get and consume on a daily basis, then they can probably continue acceptable performance.”
But when it’s very hot, he warned that ranchers should not expect cattle to make up at night for lost intake during the day. “We see people that will maybe give them a little extra high energy feed,” he said, “so each mouthful that they take has a little bit more energy in it than, say, a mouthful of dry fescue this time of the year. And supplementation with a concentrate feed; we’re really big right now on dried distillers grains, corn gluten feed – anything with a little bit of fat in it helps build up more nutrient intake per mouthful, so supplementation with those feeds is a good way to try to maintain performance.”


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