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Managing the cowherd during and after a drought
Dr. Kacie McCarthy
Dr. McCarthy discusses cowherd management strategies during dry conditions.
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Hello, I'm Dr. Kacie McCarthy.
And today, we will have brief discussion here
at the Gudmundsen Open House,
discussing managing the cow herd during and after a drought.
Today, I'd like to set the stage here
for our presentation and figure out the path
that we're going and how we might be able to address
a few of these topics here today,
in terms of how we're managing our cow herd in a drought.
I think first and foremost,
to think about establishing a plan prior to drought.
This'll be critical in terms of how we're managing
our cow herd moving in into a drought or after a drought,
being able to make management decisions
that are less on emotion and be able to look at
all of our options and figure out the best ways
to maintain animal forage by managing our forage
before, during, and even after a drought,
as well as looking at some other alternative solutions
to manage that cow nutrient demand.
Are there some other management strategies
that we can look at here today during our talk,
looking at how we might be able
to help maintain animal performance.
Some options to consider during a drought.
When we're thinking about setting up that plan
and what our next steps are.
First and foremost, evaluating animal performance records.
If we can keep good records,
we can use those to select and reduce that cow herd
and especially being able to target
those least productive animals or having an understanding
of who are older cows or less productive animals might be,
or have a list within our cow herd
that we can start reducing.
Another option to consider would be early weaning.
Which will reduce the nutritional demand on our cow.
And the big thing with early weaning is making sure
that we establish appropriate vaccination protocols
to get those calves ready, going into that weaning season,
because it is a pretty stressful on those calves.
And so making sure that we set those up calves up
for success, moving into weening and after weaning.
Some other solutions or options potentially to consider
would be either leasing additional ground
or supplementing, supplemental purchasing,
These might be some options later on in the season
to be able to reduce some that stress on our forages
that our cattle are grazing.
We may have some options to move cows to dry lot.
This'll depend on available feed resources.
And so this is another option
that we may be able to consider
and talk a little bit more through today.
Or we can also limit feed grain
to meet those nutrient requirements.
And so we'll talk a little bit about
meeting those nutrient requirements for our cows
and how we can look through some of these options
during the drought.
One thing to think about when we're responding to drought
is that option to reduce or adjust our stocking rates.
When we see reductions in stocking rates,
this is usually going to be that benefit to our range plants
by reducing that stress on those plants
and also providing more forage for the remaining cattle
that we have out on those pastures.
We may have some opportunities to utilize yearlings,
if that's feasible and within our plan,
to be able to adjust some of those stocking rates
or maybe even reduce some of those numbers
of yearlings we have that are grazing
to help reduce some of that stocking and carrying capacity.
And another response that we can think about
is resting those pastures
or utilizing some of our other resources
that as I mentioned earlier,
thinking about some alternatives to purchasing feed
or moving to that dry lot or into annual
or covered crop that might be able to help
alleviate some of that stress
that we're putting on those pastures
and rest some of those pastures.
We may also be able to include some infrastructure,
maybe additional water sources, shade, cross fencing,
and some of those pastures
to manage some of our forage intake
and rest some of those areas
and incorporate more rotational grazing and grazing plans
to help with that forage reserve.
Another management consideration would be understanding
who our candidates are for culling.
And as we mentioned earlier,
thinking about utilizing those performance records
and establishing a list of cattle
that are candidates for culling
is one way to help reducing our cattle numbers,
but also helping alleviate some of that stress
on our forages with reduction in cattle numbers.
So if some of our producers here today are in the midst,
or maybe close to ending your breeding season,
ultimately we're gonna wanna to wait and cull cows
on a pregnancy test basis.
And so there's a couple different ways.
Usually, it's either gonna be through that ultrasound
with an experienced technician or rectal palpation.
If we're wanting to utilize rectal palpation,
it is recommended waiting approximately 50 to 60 days
after removing those bulls from the breeding pastures
for the most accurate results that we're gonna have
with pregnancy diagnosis.
If you do have an experienced technician,
getting pregnancy checks within that 35 to 40 days
after we pull those bulls
may be of benefit if we're looking
to remove some of those open cows earlier
after the breeding season.
So, kind of thinking through a list or criteria
when we're thinking about calling candidates,
especially during a drought would be referring back
to our performance records.
Do we have notes on certain animals?
You know, do we have cattle
that have some physical impairments,
maybe we've got a couple cows
that just aren't walking well in the pasture.
We're putting those on our list.
We have established our opens and pregnant
utilizing a pregnancy test if that's through ultrasound,
palpation, or maybe even utilizing a blood test.
And then we're also looking back at those records,
any of those old mature cows, the may just be
on that lower production record side
or low performance will be candidates to consider
when we're thinking about establishing that plan
and knowing who we may be culling.
That even may be some of those open heifers too.
And just kind of depends on where we're at
in terms of in the year and during our breeding season.
So I wanna switch here just a bit,
but still thinking about cattle performance
and understanding that that primary factor affecting
our nutrient content of that grazed diet
is going to be our plant maturity.
So depending on when we have these cattle
on pasture grazing, what our nutrient demand is,
if they're moving through that breeding season
or maybe we've got pregnant animals moving in
into that grazing period,
what is gonna be that give and take
for the forage availability and that nutrient content
in meeting those nutrient requirements for our cows.
So thinking about our animal and forage interactions
within our beef system.
forage quality is the ultimate measure
in animal performance.
Animal performance is usually determined
by the feed nutrient content, intake,
feed availability, that extent of digestion,
and ultimately that metabolism of that feed.
How are they utilizing that feed to meet those requirements
and maintain performance?
And so a lot of that is gonna be based
on that ability of that intake.
That's most often determining
what our animal performance is.
And so can those nutrients meet the milk
and lactation demands of that cow?
But ultimately, a cow never produced or a steer never grew
on feed that it didn't consume.
And so we need to be able to make sure
that we're providing adequate forage
to meet those demands that we're asking of, of our cows.
And so, when we think about that forage availability,
our performance is gonna depend
on how much forage we have available.
And we see those changes in forage,
depending on the rain that we're getting
in throughout that growing season
for our warm and our cool season grasses.
And, so when we think about overgrazing
some of these pastures or a range,
that's gonna generally be that result of overstocking.
And so can we look at those stocking numbers,
reduce those rates, because if we're overgrazing,
this is in turn gonna diminish that ability
for the animal to select plants
or plants that hot have a higher nutritive value.
And so those cows, when they go out to pasture,
they're looking for those plants
that have the highest nutritive value, and then over time,
that value is going to decrease over that growing season.
And so consequently, when we're thinking about
overgrazing those pastures, that forage intake
is going to be declining
because we don't have enough available forage
to meet those requirements.
This is some data from the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory
in their Upland pastures that looking
at herbage production with the current years
and pounds of forage per acre and over that growing season.
And that precipitation that you're gonna see here
in the red line in inches.
And so, you can note the years of low forage production
occurring in that 2006 and 2012 years,
where we saw the drought, we saw a decrease
in our forage production and a decrease in rain.
And so we see kind of the cyclical production of forage,
but how can we maintain and utilize the forage
that we have going in and after our drought
to make sure that we're still having available forage,
but we're not overgrazing that forage
moving in to drought years with less precipitation?
So when we think about that crude protein in cattle diets.
So this is on Sandhills range.
We can see that that crude protein
is gonna be highest in that May, June timeframe.
And then we start to see a decline in our crude protein
over the course of the season.
And then it picks back up when we start to see
those early rains again back in April and May,
with that increase in crude protein.
Keeping in mind that depending on when our cattle
are calving and when our breeding season is,
and so if we have our March calvers,
they're moving in into pasture and onto the range,
that's gonna be higher quality
during that breeding season.
If we start thinking about changing our time
of that calving season with maybe a summer May
calving group, then we're gonna see
a lower crude protein content in those forages
during that time of breeding,
that's gonna be happening here
in August, September, and October.
And so it's important to consider how we're managing
that forage moving in, depending on when our grazing
and our breeding seasons are to make sure
that we're meeting those requirements
for those cows that are in heavy lactation
and trying to rebreed.
So when we think about over the past few years,
and this is just another couple of graphs illustrating that,
that change in crude protein and precipitation,
in that Sandhills Upland Range,
where we see that on average,
through June, July, September and October,
we see that peak in crude protein.
And then that declined over
to the end of that summer grazing season.
In 2002, the drought, you see the slight decline
in that crude protein content
for that Sandhills Upland Range.
And then however, when we shift gears and even seeing
that wet year in 2018,
we see those fluctuations in crude protein.
Which are actually even lower
than what we saw in that drought.
And so, understanding that wet or dry seasons
can still impact that crude protein
and forage quality and availability.
It's important to consider when we're thinking about
the timing of these rains and how much we're getting
to help grow that forage and meet those requirements.
So thinking about our nutrient requirements of our cows,
these increased maintenance requirements
are usually occurring when we have a large fetal demand
and growth of that fetus and late gestation.
So 60 days before calving,
we're gonna see an exponential growth of that fetus,
getting those cows ready moving into calving
and even early lactation
for that first 50 to 100 days after calving,
where we see increased maintenance requirements
for those cows.
And so how are we managing those cows
coming off of drought pastures, or even in a normal year,
making sure that we take into account
that increase in requirements.
And so just wanna highlight again,
thinking about that change in our crude protein
for our forages and this can be seen much
throughout the Midwest.
And this is an example from our Sandhills Range
here in Nebraska, but depending on
when we need to meet those requirements,
how are we managing those cattle,
providing enough energy and protein during those critical
time points prior to the calving into late gestation
when we see low crude protein from that range,
if those cows are out on range.
This data from Adams and others
illustrates that relationship between
the density of that crude protein in our forage
and the amount of forage that's needed
to meet that crude protein requirement
and a thousand pound cow during mid and late pregnancy,
and then at two levels of milk production.
And so as are our requirements for pregnancy and lactation
are increasing, the amount of forage needed,
so forage intake in pounds per day,
is going to increase in order to meet
those pregnancy and lactation demands.
And so ,the greatest amount of forage that's needed
is a cow that is producing a high level of milk.
And so, that 20 pound per milk per day,
is needing roughly 60 pounds per day in total.
So depending on what your forage intake is.
So in addition, so if you have lower quality
crude protein forage, there's a greater amount of forage
or feed that needs to be consumed
to meet those protein requirements.
So one option for meeting those nutrient requirements
for cattle on drought effective pastures and range
is to supplement those cattle with supplemental feed.
This is gonna ensure that our cow herd
has adequate protein, energy
and those vitamins and minerals.
And so when we think about some of those important minerals,
these are gonna be providing salt
in a mineral mixture during drought like normal,
but we may need to provide additional vitamin A,
which is usually gonna be seen as a problem
during that fall or winter for those cows
that are grazing drought affected forages in the summer,
vitamin A is usually lacking in drought stress forages.
And so, if we can provide vitamin A
towards that end of gestation.
And so roughly about 30 days prior to calving,
usually this can help with just calf bigger
and meeting those requirements for vitamin A stores.
When we think about protein,
most of our pastures that as we've seen previously in sites
are gonna be dormant in that lower quality protein
moving into the winter.
And so if, as I mentioned earlier,
if our protein in the conditions of those pasture
during the breeding season,
we may see reductions in pregnancy rates
on that lower protein forage.
And so, providing a supplemental crude protein source
during that time point may be a benefit
if we know where our forages are.
One other option to think about.
And so when we're thinking about some of those feeds
and may be, as distillers grain or a soybean meal,
but you gotta be able to have access to those.
And so how might we be able to utilize
some alternative feed steps
to meet those protein requirements.
But accessibility and price points are gonna be key
to consider when we're thinking about supplemental feeds.
For energy, this is generally going to be limited
in a drought.
And so making sure that our hay is of high quality,
maybe providing them grain or bi-product feed
may be beneficial.
There has been some research looking
at ammoniating low quality forages.
So maybe some straw or hay,
which will increase digestibility in that protein content
of those low quality forages.
So there's a lot of options.
And being able to talk with your nutritionist
or extension specialist, we can help walk through
some of those alternative to looking at
providing some type of other supplemental feed.
And the other option would be reducing
that nutrient requirement of the cow
to a point where they can meet available forage,
and what they're being provided in the forage
will meet those requirements.
So when we think about providing supplements
and then improving performance,
one way is to provide a supplement
with varying levels of food protein.
So Heldt and others and 1998 looked at improving
low quality forage intake through supplementation.
And so you can see that the improvement in forage intake
above unsupplemented cattle increased that improvement
in forage intake with the greater amount of crude protein
that was provided.
The major take home here when we think about lactation
and nutrient content of forages
is depending on the stage of gestation
and the protein content of our forages.
As you see, as I showed previously
that the greatest amount of forage needed
is for a high producing, high level of milk cow.
And so can we manage those cows in terms of the forage
that they're on and what that passage rate is
to ensure that we can still provide
a high quality protein forage to help decrease
the amount that we actually need to consume
in order to meet those nutrients
and meet lactational demands as well.
So, one way to do that when we talked about
reducing those requirements
was looking at providing supplemental feed
or reducing the nutrient requirements of the cow.
And one way to do that is utilizing
or thinking about early weaning.
And as I mentioned early,
we need to make sure that we're setting these calves
up to be successful prior to weaning.
And so making sure that we're talking with our veterinarian,
we're ensuring that these calves are set up
with proper vaccinations,
and they're starting to get familiar
with bunks and feeds.
So when we're pulling those cows off,
we can ultimately improve that body condition of our cow.
So those cows that are lactating
will lose some body condition
due to the increased nutrient requirements
that are associated with lactation.
And so, when we can wean those calves early,
that cow's nutrient requirement for lactation
is then eliminated and those calves,
those cows are able to maintain or increase
that body condition prior to the fall
and winter feeding period.
And so when we think about improving that calf performance
during the drought, these calves
may not be able to successfully compete
with the cows for adequate forage.
And so, if we can provide a way to provide
a high nutritious diet to those calves to help with growth.
And so usually, we're going to couple
that early weaning with a high concentrate feed.
And so, that's an option.
We also see advantages with early weaning
and improved pregnancy rates.
This can result in weaning those calves a bit earlier.
And so we, depending on when that breeding season is,
and when you're thinking about weaning,
this may be anywhere from 45 to 100 days of age.
And it has shown to improve pregnancy rates
and conception rates.
The big limit here is feed resources.
And so understanding that if those cows are on forages
that are low in crude protein,
we need to make sure that we're meeting
those protein demands.
And so we may need to supplement if that is the case.
And so understanding where your forages are at
and the condition of your cows
and the timing of this will all be pretty critical
when we're managing this.
And then also thinking about improved forage availability
for that cow, early weaning is going to reduce
that dry matter intake.
As we mentioned earlier, with those high lactation demands,
or we're seeing a higher dry matter intake
of those forages to meet those requirements.
And so we can re relieve some of that stress
on the forages and improve that availability
by reducing that intake.
There's a few disadvantages of early weaning.
And I wanna mention is thinking about
that increased attention to management of those calves.
And so we've got those calves somewhere else.
We need to manage those.
We need to make sure that they're on a positive gain
and this may increase some of our cash costs
associated with managing health and nutrition
and looking at, if we're having to keep those
in a different pasture or, those calves are not on that cow,
then we're having to look at the price to feed those calves.
And so there are some advantages and disadvantages,
but it is something to talk about and think about,
and have a plan set forth of that
that comes down to how we need to manage during a drought.
When we think about that forage intake of that cow,
plus that calf, we need to consider in our management
and grazing plan that once those calves
are four to six months of age,
when we start needing to account that
for intake of those forages from those calves as well.
And so that's going to increase the total intake
of that pair over that grazing season.
And so ensuring that if we can alleviate
some of that intake and stress
on that forage availability,
it may be an option and a benefit for the cow.
So when we think about what that calf is consuming,
about 10 pounds of forage is being conserved
for each day that calf is weaned.
So 10 pounds of forage is roughly 0.4 days grazing
for a dry cow.
And so we can change those requirements
and reduce that demand of lactation
and try and conserve that forage availability
with that dry cow grazing that forage.
This is the evaluation of nutrient deficiency
for May calving cows.
And so this is a couple graphs here
showing the net energy for meeting this requirement
and metabolizable protein
for May calving cows that with milk production ranges
anywhere 20 to 30 pounds of milk at peak lactation.
While grazing the Sandhills Upland Range.
And so this is looking at breeding start date
at July 20th.
And so, as you can see, that our energy
and our metabolizable protein are declining linearly
over that course of that breeding season.
And so these cows are then coming into basically
a negative energy balance,
creating a scenario where these cows
are gonna need to mobilize and utilize that stored body fat,
effectively to be able to reproduce
and rebreed during this timeframe.
And so this can put a lot of stress on our younger cows.
And so keeping in mind where forages are,
it's gonna be really critical in what's available
and how we're meeting that stress and demand
of free breeding.
Further work at the Sandhills lab
has shown that weaning date has impacted cow body weight.
And so looking at September and November weaning dates.
We can see the cow body weights increased
with that earlier weaning date.
And then overall looking at the effect of weaning day
on cow body condition.
We can see those fluctuations through the winter months.
However, we see greater percentage of those cows
that weaned early had higher pregnancy rates overall.
When we move in and look at an average body condition
score of five.
You also can see a linear relationship here that over time,
depending on weaning date, that cow body weight
is going to be decreasing linearly
the longer we have those calves
just due to those demands of lactation
and also meeting her requirements of that grown fetus.
And so keeping in mind that weaning date
can have an impact on body condition
and monitoring those cows body condition
throughout grazing and throughout the season,
and ensure that we're setting those cows up,
going into winter.
One other alternative here that I wanna briefly discuss
is confinement feeding.
And this may be an option to move those cows into a dry lot.
A lot of this is, do keep in mind
that this will require some means of grinding
and mixing feed and also acquiring that feed.
And so transporting it to the ranch.
Is it available?
What types of feeds can you get your hands on?
Do you have a means of providing additional supplements
and those types of things in confinement?
And so it is an option, but having the resources
to provide a mixed feed is important to think about
if we're moving those cows off of pasture.
Some other alternative hoard sources
moving those cattle into covered crops or annuals,
or supplementing those cattle on stocks,
maybe an option to alleviate some of that stress
on your forages if you can move those
onto alternatives forage sources.
One other option to think about
would considering feeding a commercial creep feed.
However, investigating that price point
that you're looking at, and in terms of the price
and consumption of that product
and the gains you're looking for,
this may be able to alleviate some of that demand
on those cows.
And so creep feed is a way to increase calf consumption
of a protein energy feed source.
And so we can decrease some of that,
like lactational demand or creep grazing
might be an option while those are out on pasture.
So overall, when we're thinking about drought planning
and how we're managing our cow herd,
some of that livestock response,
as we'd seen earlier,
in what years may be similar to drought years,
just looking at that forage content
and protein content.
Drought planning, usually if we can think about it
occurs before that drought is happening.
And so we have a plan, we have a contingency plan
moving into that drought.
And so we know what our grazing management is looking like,
what feedstuffs do we have that are carried over?
Do we have anything in surplus?
Where are we at in terms of feed stuff availability
or what we may be able to purchase?
What are our benchmarks?
What are some of our trigger dates?
Do we have a reduction plan?
Who are we selling first?
How much can I spend to keep that cow herd?
These are all questions that we need to be thinking about
prior to moving through that drought.
And overall, just having a short and a longterm plan
and being objective and to possibilities is important
when we're moving through and thinking about
maintaining the animal performance,
as well as looking and utilizing those records we have
to make the best, most objective decisions we can.
And being able to talk to friends and family
is also something that I like to consider.
And have you think about in making sure
that there's someone you can talk about
when we're thinking through some of these tough decisions
and being open to different possibilities.
And with that, I'd like to thank you all
for taking the time to join and be a part
of the open house today.
If you do have any questions about the topic
or anything related to cow, calf management,
please feel free to reach out.
And hope you all have a great rest of your day.
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