Management strategies to stay one step ahead of Mother Nature
Thinking back to the frigid blast of last winter may put a chill down the spine of producers throughout the Ozarks. Though winter lurks around the corner, livestock producers can take action now to remove some of the sting of winter’s wrath.
Livestock experts state cattle should be in good body condition going into winter. In the cold months, the maintenance requirements for cattle increase. If an animal starts the winter season with a subpar body condition, it is makes it exponentially harder for the animal to meet all its maintenance requirements.
Now is the time for producers to evaluate their herds and ensure their cattle have proper fleshing going into winter. “It’s a good rule of thumb in general, whether it is a harsh winter or not,” Daniel Rivera, Ph.D., director of the Southwest Research and Extension Center at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said. “A harsh winter would make it that much worse if she goes into it in a poor condition.”
Producers can help ease their herds through the freezing temperatures by giving their cattle access to a free choice complete mineral. The mineral mix should include macronutrients and micronutrients. Check the mix to see if it contains calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, cooper, zinc, selenium, cobalt and other vitamins.
In order for the free-choice complete mineral to have optimal health benefits, feed it before Mother Nature ushers in icy days. “There has been a lot of work showing, with an animal in a completed state, that it takes 45 days for an animal’s stores to be up to where they need to be,” Rivera explained. Therefore, put out mineral at least 45 days prior to any type of stress event.
The minerals will help cattle be better equipped to handle the harsh winter. In fact, livestock experts recommend producers offer quality mineral to their cattle year around. But if that is not possible, it’s recommended cattle have access to a complete mineral mix before and during major changes.
When producers go to buy mineral, they should keep in mind it can cost $15 to $20 a bag. However, the upfront investment could save producers problems in the future. “The problems that you see with mineral deficiency is usually further down the road,” Rivera explained. “For example, some mineral deficiencies will manifest themselves as reproductive issues.”
Other issues can arise as well. Calves may be prone to respiratory illnesses or have poor immune responses. Cows may be slow to breed back. All issues that producers may not directly correlate to mineral deficiencies.
Lastly, livestock specialists recommend testing hay now, in order to determine what type of supplements are needed in the winter months. If livestock producers know the protein and energy content of their hay, then they are better positioned to purchase feed that will meet the nutritional requirements of the herd.
Due to the prices increasing and availability fluctuating, it might be a good idea to routinely check with a supplier on current cost and supply of feed. “At the very least, have an idea on paper as to what you can buy and what is going to be available, talk to the co-op, the feed mill, or wherever you get your feed from,” Rivera added.