As we closed 2016, we can now reflect on several challenges we faced throughout the year. A terrible drought along with falling cattle prices made managing cattle operations especially difficult. These problems along with the normal hurdles can nearly push someone over the edge.
I have discussed strategies for the drought several times in this column and here we go again. This drought seems to never quit throwing us curves. It took on more regional characteristics as fall progressed and winter set in. Hay supplies are terribly low across the Southeast. Supplemental hay is hard to find and, if you find it, it is expensive.
By now, most of the available hay can only be found in the states north and west of us. Much of this hay is low to average in quality. Supplementing it with feed to provide adequate nutrition for your cow herd will be required. Many producers are beginning to calve, meaning the cow herd will require more nutrients than when gestating.
The most important consideration at this point is to not think that spring is only weeks away to provide abundant forage. Winter preceded by a drought has only added more than normal stress to your herd. This tends to be the time when feed and mineral supplementation is most important. This is the time to push that little extra bit.
As I have stated in the past, try to cull or sell all of the unproductive animals in your herd. Poor-performing stockers that will get culled by a buyer should be sold in order to maximize your current resources. The savings from not feeding and the revenue from selling these animals could be just enough to help get your productive animals through this tough season.
After you have sold the unproductive animals, consider grouping the rest of your herd into similar production groups. For example, group cows that have just calved in one group and cows with older calves in another. By doing this, you can creep feed the older calves and take some pressure off those cows and get more out of the supplementation given to them.
In stocker operations, consider grouping heavier cattle and lighter cattle together. This will give you an opportunity to catch the lighter cattle up and prevent the heavier ones from becoming too fleshy and unappealing to buyers.
If you are calving this time of year, try to stay ahead of the cow’s nutritional demands. Rebreeding will be more successful if you are able to maintain the cow’s body condition. Make sure your mineral supplementation is up to par because this will help the animal’s biological processes to function more efficiently.
Consider how much forage you have available and if you don’t have adequate supplies, by all means, try to locate additional forage. If supplies are hard to find, get creative. Fiber sources such as gin trash, wheat straw, corn stubble and bean stubble can all be incorporated into the cattle’s diets. Poultry litter, if fed properly, can help stretch hay stores to help survive the winter season.
There are many acceptable supplements available, but, as the season has progressed and feed supplies tightened, prices for commodities have increased. This is a good time to compare the costs of commodities with complete feeds. Many times, if the price is relatively close, you get more bang for your buck by feeding complete feeds. Complete feeds are formulated to provide complete nutrition to the animal. When these feeds are formulated, careful consideration is given to providing proper protein, energy, fat, fiber and mineral concentrations to maintain efficient production.
The end of the season is the most important time to pay attention. This is a time when you can squander all of the hard work of the past summer and fall. Pay attention to the animals and provide them the proper nutrition to help them perform and reproduce. The decisions you make today can affect the performance of your cow herd for the next several years. Make decisions that not only help you be profitable but also provide the best for your animals.
Keep pushing until it’s over. If we can help or just answer some questions, come by or call your local Quality Co-op store.