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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Cow-Calf Manager

Livestock Update, June 2007

Dr. John B. Hall Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, VA Tech

Continued drought in our region is forcing beef producers to seek ways to minimize feed inputs while maintaining cow numbers.  The prediction for the summer is continued or increasing drought in most of the Southeast.  As of the writing of this article, most of the region needs 6 to 12 inches of rain to achieve close to normal rainfall.  Barring tropical storms that bring rain with little damage to the region, most operations will be short on both hay and pasture this year.

Early Pregnancy Diagnosis Important During Drought
An important drought management strategy is early pregnancy diagnosis.  Within 30 to 45 days of the end of the breeding season, veterinarians can diagnose pregnancy in the herd.  Those vets skilled in the use of ultrasound can diagnose pregnancies as early as 25 to 28 days post breeding.  Identifying and culling non-pregnant females in midsummer rather than fall will reduce the overall feed requirements of the herd.  Reducing pressure on pastures will improve pasture quality and reserve feed for the most productive cows.

The cost of pregnancy diagnosis will vary according to veterinarian, distance to the farm, and number of cattle to be checked.  Usually the cost is $3.00 to $12.00 per cow with ultrasound diagnosis being the most expensive.  Combining pregnancy diagnosis with mid-summer cattle working can spread the cost of a farm call over more head reducing the cost per animal.

Early Weaning an Option for Spring and Fall Calving Herds
Calves can be weaned from cows as early as 90 to 100 days of age.  Calves can be reared on remaining pasture with supplementation of by-products.  This allows cows to be maintained on poor quality pasture, crop residues, or limit feeding by-products in drylot.  Early weaning will improve calf growth and cow condition during drought.

Preparation for early weaning is essential.  Beef producers should plan where calves will be located for early weaning as well as obtaining feeds for these young calves.  Remember conventional water troughs may be too tall for small calves.  Troughs will either need to be shorter or kept brim full at all times.  Similarly, automatic waterers will need to have covers or balls removed from drinking holes.  Small calves may not be strong enough to push covers/balls down to obtain water.  For assistance with early weaning diets for calves, contact your local Extension Agent.

Spring calving herds need to consider weaning calves by July if they are still nursing their dams.  Fall calving operations should assess pasture and feed availability at calving and make weaning decisions before the breeding season.  For additional information on cattle management during drought go to


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