The Cow-Calf Manager
Livestock Update, July 2002
John B. Hall, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, VA Tech
Continued Drought Brings Challenges and A Few Opportunities
The critical state of most of the pasture and hayland in Virginia is creating problems for many producers. First cutting hay yield was _ to 2/3 of normal. Pasture health in most areas of the state continues to deteriorate. Drinking water for livestock is low or nonexistent in some areas. Many other of the major cow/calf areas of the US are experiencing drought as well. Only the Midwest has a plentiful supply of rain. Managers of cow/calf herds need to make some decisions now to avoid a crisis situation later in the summer.
Assess feed supply
The first step is to make an honest assessment of this year's first cutting hay, pasture availability and quality, and remaining hay stores from last year. Producers can then decide if they have enough feed resources to get them through the drought without making changes to herd size or management procedures. Also, test hay so that proper supplements can be fed if needed. If feed is limited, which will be the situation on many farms/ranches, producers need to decide among different strategies such as early weaning, culling cows, buying feed etc. Some of these strategies are outlined below
No operation should be carrying open cows, cows without calves or extra heifers this summer. Cull cow and open female prices will continue to decline throughout the summer is the indication from other areas of the country as well as the East. Culling sooner rather than later will have a greater impact on the feed resources and profitability.
Calves can be weaned successfully as young as 90 days old. Cows can then be essentially drylotted and fed last years hay. Calves can be grazed on the remaining forage with grain supplementation. Fall calving herds should wean and background calves now as calves will gain little weight between now and sale time if pastures are poor. In addition, preweaned, vaccinated calves should add value to your calves as a glut of early weaned calves hit the market. Dr. Mark Wahlberg and I have written several articles on early weaning the last few years they are available in past Livestock Updates. See below for a website containing drought related articles from past years.
Producers should enter into this option with a sound nutritional plan. Cow culling and early weaning should be considered before operations begin to buy feed. Culling and weaning decisions will impact the types and amount of feed needed.
Hay should not be the first feed considered for purchase. In general, hay is high priced during droughts and transportation costs per pound of nutrients are high compared to grains and some commodity feeds. Cows only need 5 to 10 lbs of hay per animal per day to maintain rumen function when feeding concentrates.
Corn is a cost effective source of energy right now. As the summer progresses, we will have a better idea of the status of the national corn crop. On an energy basis, each pound for corn replaces almost 2 lbs of average quality hay.
High fiber commodity feeds are one of the best options for supplementing cows and early weaned calves. These feeds include corn gluten feed and soy hulls. Dried brewers grains are also a good choice but have lower effective fiber than corn gluten feed or soyhulls. After an adaptation period to bring calves up on feed, many heavier stockers (> 500#) can be self-fed gluten or soyhulls. However, producers must supply some hay and when self-fed this products can cause bloat. Cows should be limit fed supplements. Specific articles on cow and calf rations will be available on the drought website.
Opportunities for some
A few places in Virginia are receiving adequate rainfall and these areas may have an opportunity to add income to the operation by grazing cattle for others or buying cows. In sections of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and the Dakotas, severe drought has caused the price of cow/calf pairs to decrease greatly. Reports indicate cow/calf pairs selling for $750-$900 with open cow prices dropping daily. Depending on the cost of trucking from these different areas, increasing the cow herd or taking on lightweight stockers may be an opportunity for some producers. It is also a warning to other not to delay culling decisions.
Drought website for beef information
Over the past several years, specialists from VA Tech have written many articles on dealing with the drought. To streamline access to this information, we are creating a web location for this information. The site should be operational by July 5, 2002; if it is not call me. To access the site go to the VT Depart. of Animal and Poultry Science web site http://www.apsc.vt.edu and click on the Extension tab. Under beef information look for the Drought Management link.