August 2006
Feeding Facts

As the summer of 2006 continues to be hot and dry, let’s look at other considerations that can help in maintaining cattle body condition and increasing available forage for you.

While last month we looked at ways to stretch forages through purchasing of feed ingredients, this month we will look at other considerations during this stressful period. Let’s look at the option of early weaning and the culling of less productive cows as other ways of helping to reduce forage pressure.

Early weaning of calves is a popular way to help maintain cow body condition and improve conception rates when forages are limiting. The nutritional demands of a dry cow are 50% lower than for a cow nursing a calf. Several research studies have indicated that early weaning of calves had a direct correlation on the amount of nutrients the cow requires to improve body condition.

For all the benefits of early weaning, also come some concerns. The biggest concern is in what to do with the calves. As a producer you can either market them at a light weight or you can hold them, add weight and sell them as preconditioned calves. If you decide to market the calves at weaning, consider the overall economic impact to your bottom line. Most studies indicate that a beef producer needs to sell a $400.00 calf to break-even. If this is your break-even price, then selling a 300 pound calf at $1.30 will mean that you lost money on that calf. If you decide to hold the calves for a period of time, research has shown that light calves fed a high quality diet can gain weight at a pace equal to calves left on the cow.

With the benefits always come challenges and the biggest will be to get light calves started on feed and water. These lightweight calves are highly stressed and will need extra management in making sure that they eat and drink fresh water. Remember: a sick calf will not eat, and a calf that will not eat, will get sick.

It is imperative that when early weaning calves that you provide ample shade and a highly digestible, palatable feed for these calves to consume. I would recommend AFC Calf Starter, AFC Preconditioning Pellets, AFC Creep Feed or TP Cattle Ration. Each of these feeds will be palatable and calf should readily consume the feed.

Also, when keeping calves, implementation of a proper vaccination and parasite control program is a must. A proper vaccination program would include an initial shot as well as a booster shot in 14 days. Calves should be vaccinated against Black Leg, IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV, and Pasteurella. Calves should also be dewormed as well as receiving an implant to increase growth and feed efficiency. While increased labor and feed cost are associated with the practice of early weaning, the added calf weight, added performance of your cow herd and the decreased pressure on forages during a drought will off set the added cost and labor.

Another area to consider is in culling less productive cows. If you try to carry too many cows during times of reduced forage, then all your cows will suffer. Your more productive cows will be thinner, milk less, be more susceptible to disease and will wean a lighter calf than normal. Your less productive cows will perform average and your pocket book will suffer on sale day. While these poor performing cows are in favorable body condition, look for a way to market them. In a cow/calf operation, prime candidates for culling should be open cows, cows with physical defects such as feet and leg soundness, bad eyes, or poor udders, cows 10 years or older, poor producers, late calving cows and bad temperament. A logical culling order would be open old cows; old cows with unsound mouth, eyes, feet and legs; any open cows; thin cows over 6 years; and cows calving very late in the season. Remember that culling can help reduce grazing pressure, decrease overall demand for supplemental feed, as well as offering you some flexibility when making winter forage decisions.

As we continue into late summer, if you have specific questions or concerns about feeding cattle during droughts, please let me know. I can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I will answer your questions in upcoming articles.

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.