It’s been a rough year for area cattle producers, and many will have to make decisions this season to help keep their herds viable into 2012.
Dr. Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension state beef nutrition specialist, said the first step he would recommend this fall to producers with spring-calving herds is early weaning. “With limited forage avaiability due to the heat and lack of rain,” Sexten told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “we have cows that have lost a fair amount of condition and we may not have the hay resources, from a quality standpoint, to get them back in shape before they calve next spring.” Asking those cows to keep nursing bigger calves will result in a reduction of body condition that, down the road, can negatively impact their rebreeding rate next spring and summer. He said, “If we wean those calves, we reduce the nutrient requirements down to 1.8 to 2.0 percent of her body weight. She’s no longer using nutrients to produce milk; she can start to put some of those excess nutrients towards condition on her back,” – or, at least, not keep drawing from her fat reserves to make more milk.
Dr. Tom Troxel, University of Arkansas beef cattle specialist and Associate Animal Science Department head, told OFN the choices are different for producers that calve in the fall. “With the severe hot weather that we’ve had and low forage quantity and quality, making sure that those cows are in very good body condition when they calve in September and October is really going to be the challenge,” he said.
If the weather remains hot and dry, though, the cattle will consume less forage and body condition can decline very quickly. “And that’s especially true for cows that calve in the fall,” he added, “because the last third of pregnancy is when the calf does two-thirds of its growth.”
Troxel said it will take an energy supplement, primarily corn based, to maintain the cow’s condition in this environment, although protein may also be necessary if the quality is poor and the crop bleached out. A byproduct like cottonseed meal can provide that combination.
These conditions can also give rise to a couple of disease problems. One is blackleg, caused by the organism Clostridium chauvoei. “Chauvoei is in the soil,” Troxel explained, “and we usually see situations in the summertime where the forage gets short, and the cattle start eating that very short forage and picking that forage up by the roots. When they do that they start consuming dirt particles, and when that starts to happen we’ll start to see problems with blackleg.” It tends to affect bigger, growthier-type calves first. Another disease that crops up in hot, dry months, also soil-borne, is anthrax, which Troxel said tends to emerge in Arkansas every 4 to 6 years, primarily in the southern part of the state. Producers can protect their herds from both via vaccination.
Sexten said it’s also important to address late season pastureland productivity. “If it is grazed off fairly short, or you’ve gone through and mowed weeds down or forage that the cows didn’t eat, we want that forage to be able to to intercept as much of that fall sunshine as we can, because ideally we’re going to get a second bump in growth in the fall,” he said. Pasture should be allowed to grow out starting in the latter half of August so by mid-to-late September and October the forage is not shaded by the weeds; Sexten also suggested a fall application of 50 to 75 units of nitrogen if the pastures can be set aside for 60 to 75 days and stockpiled for winter feed.
He also suggested the producer take inventory of forage and supplemental feed supplies. “If we get our forages tested and just an estimate of the amount of forage dry matter that we’ve got available to feed those cows, we can be a little bit proactive in terms of planning,” Sexten said. “With the drought in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and southwestern Missouri, from what I can understand hay supplies are limited, and so if you are going to be purchasing hay or other inputs the sooner you have those, the more beneficial.”
“It’s been very tough for the last six months or so,” Troxel added. “I’ve heard reports of first cutting of hay being 50 percent of normal and there’s just been no hay production to speak of since. Unfortunately, producers have had to make the decision of whether to buy hay or reduce the number of stock, and I’ve seen a lot of reports where a lot of cows are going to market because they just don’t have the hay to supply them this winter.”


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