by Jimmy Hughes
The dog days of summer are upon us. While this may stir fond memories of swimming, summer ball, fireflies, and no school for children, it leads to a new set of management practices for cattle producers. As you drive through your pastures, the grass is green and in good supply, the cows are lying around under the trees or standing in the ponds, calves are growing, and everything seems to be going well.
While the perception seems to be that everything is going well, let’s look at some concerns you should have as a cattle producer. While the grass looks green and is in good supply, the quality of that forage drops rather rapidly as the grass matures and goes to seed. All the nutrition contained in the plant goes toward reproduction and the making of a seed head, leaving less nutrition available for your cattle to consume.
During the summer, cows also have a tendency to stay in the shade during the day, reducing grazing time for the cattle to consume the nutrients that they need. Cattle are also for the most part nursing calves and demand extra nutrition to produce milk and maintain proper body condition as they enter the fall and winter-feeding season. These situations, in conjunction with reduced forage quality, can increase the needs for management practices to be implemented.
Other concerns during this time of the year that will reduce performance include internal and external parasites, disorders such as foot rot and pink eye, as well as water quality. Lets look at each of these areas and how we can reduce the problems that they can cause in our herds.
Your first consideration to help cattle maintain performance and proper body condition is to remove outside factors that might affect their ability to graze and utilize forage in an efficient manner. I realize that we can’t control the heat, but we can control internal and external parasites, disease, and water quality.
Flies, ticks, grubs and worms cost cattle producers millions of dollars each year in lost performance. In severe cases internal and external parasites can cause a 50 to 100-pound weight reduction in calf weaning weights.
Flies are also a direct link to the spread of pinkeye and other disorders from cow to cow. For those who have never experienced pinkeye, it’s a summer concern where flies are able to spread the disease from one cow to another very rapidly. The disease attacks the inner membrane of the eye, causing runny eyes, lacerations, and when left untreated, blindness and cancer eye. Vaccines along with external parasite control products are available to prevent pinkeye, while antibiotics will treat pinkeye. Complete minerals with high levels of Vitamin A will also help eye health and aid in the prevention of pinkeye.
External parasites also aggravate cattle to the point that they cannot in-take forage to meet their needs. Products are available through your local Co-op to help control external parasites including insecticide sprays, back rubbers, dust bags, and sprayers.
The control of internal parasites is also very important during the late summer. Most producers who worm in the spring are again experiencing high worm levels in their cattle during this time of the year. Several internal parasite control products are available at your Co-op including worm blocks that will help you control internal parasites without catching your cattle and sending them through the chute in the summer heat. While these practices will cost you some time and money, it will cost you far less than the 50 pounds of reduced weaning weight will cost you at sale time. Your local Co-op will also carry loose minerals along with mineral blocks that contain products that will reduce your fly problem, while providing a high quality, palatable mineral supplement to your cattle at a cost of less than 5 cents per head per day.
Another concern during the summer is foot rot. In very humid conditions, the grass will stay wet most of the day. The cattle will keep wet feet most all of the time. This will cause the foot to soften and will allow bacteria to enter the foot and cause foot rot. Cattle with foot rot will lie around and not be able to walk very well. Cattle will also experience some swelling around the foot. Foot rot can be treated with antibiotics that are available to you at your local Co-op. Minerals with iodine are also available to you as a measure of prevention.
Another factor that will affect production in the summer is water quality. Cattle that drink from a dirty, stagnant water source that is warm will not consume near the amount of water as from a cool, clean water source. This will directly affect performance in your cattle herd. We carry a large supply of water tanks that will allow you to provide a good clean source of water to your cattle.
Another way to assist your cattle during the summer is to help them to reduce their nutritional demands. Their greatest demand at this point will be the nutrition needed to raise a growing calf. What can you do to reduce the demands that the calf is putting on the cow? The best way is to meet part of the calf’s nutritional needs with an outside source. Creep feeding will provide extra nutrition for your calves while reducing the demands on your cows. It will help reduce grazing pressure on what higher quality forage you have available.
Creep feeding is also an excellent return on your investment, costing you less than 50 cents to put a pound of gain on your calves. Your Quality Co-op store can supply you with a variety of creep feeds along with feeders to meet your needs.
Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.