The Cow-Calf Manager
Livestock Update, November 1999
John Hall, Extension Animal Scientist, Beef, Virginia Tech
There are many new things happening in the beef industry with tools like alliances, carcass EPDs, marker-assisted selection, and estrus synchronization programs. Often we get very interested in these hot new topics, and we forget to make sure we are covering the basics. In order to take advantage of the opportunities in the changing beef industry, we need to make sure our basic management procedures are covered.
Here are some basic areas that you should review on our operation. These are management areas that I believe affect the quality and profitability of the operation. Marketing and financial issues are another important topic usually covered by Bill McKinnon in his Cattle Business and Beef Quality Corner series. In addition, I have included a checklist that you might want to use to identify areas in which you may need some improvement or assistance
Facilities -- These are the most essential components of your management system. Most management practices involve handling cattle at least a couple of time per year. The key is good working facilities. They need not be elaborate, but they should be strong and built correctly with proper dimensions. Essential components are a holding area, the crowd area, the chute, a palpation gate and a well designed head gate. Plans for cattle working facilities are available through you county extension office.
Fencing and watering locations are important parts of your management program as well. Good fences and well-located waterers not only keep cattle where they belong, but can encourage better grazing distribution as well.
Nutritional Management -- Feed costs account for over 60% of the cost of cow-calf production. In addition, your nutrition program impacts all other programs in your herd. Cattle health, reproduction and growth will be compromised if the nutritional needs of cattle are not met. Nutritional management should include body condition scoring, feed allocation and supplements. Body condition scoring is important because of the relationship among body condition and cow performance. Thin cows will not rebreed and do not milk as well as cows in proper condition. Supplements should meet the requirements that pasture and hays don't provide. A supplementation program should be based on a forage test and calculated cow needs. Your extension agent or nutritionist can help you with planning your supplementation program. Minerals should be included. A complete mineral is usually needed before calving and during early lactation. A high magnesium mineral should be used during times of danger from grass tetany and a high selenium trace mineralized salt can be used for most of the later grazing season and early winter feeding season.
Nutritional Management -- Pastures and Hay -- Forages should be the main source of nutrition for the cowherd. Proper harvest and fertilization of pastures and hay ground is important. Some sort of controlled grazing system should be used. Rotating among as few as 4 pastures can increase the quantity and quality of forage available to cattle. Using stockpiled forage in the fall reduces hay requirements and provides a more nutritious feed supply to cows. Creep grazing is a technique that allows calves access to pastures that their mothers can't get into. Research indicates a 20-40 lbs. weaning weight advantage when creep grazing is used. Proper use and management of forage will decrease your feed costs while improving the nutrition of your herd.
Reproductive Management -- Reproductive failure accounts for losses of 10-20% annually in U.S. cowherds. The greatest portion of this loss is cows failing to conceive. Keeping cows in good body condition is essential. Using a closed calving season of 60-90 days helps identify low fertility cows, and make all other management practices easier as cows can be treated as one large group. All cows should be pregnancy checked and open cows need to be cull.
All bulls should have a yearly breeding soundness exam. Just because a bull passed as a yearling coming out of the test station doesn't insure that he will breed as a 2 or 3 year-old. The cost of breeding soundness exams can be reduced if producers will bring their bulls to a central location for the vets to check. Infertile or sub-fertile bulls result in open cows. Bulls also need to be selected for calving ease as cows that have calving difficulty have a reduced probability of rebreeding.
Heifers need to be raised properly in order to reach puberty early. Heifers should get a reproductive exam at 12 months of age, and they should weigh at least 65% of their mature weight. The reproductive exam should include reproductive tract scoring (RTS) and pelvic area (PA) measurements. Heifers with an RTS ( 2 or PA < 150 sq. centimeters should be strongly considered for culling.
Calving Management -- Calves that die within the first 2-4 weeks of life account for another 3-10% loss in the beef industry. The most common cause is not watching cows close enough at calving and assisting with births in a timely fashion. Ideally, cows should be observed 3 to 4 times per day during the calving season. You can't do this unless you have a controlled calving season.
Calves need colostrum within 4 hours of birth in order to stay healthy. Male calves should be castrated at this time. All calves should be identified with an ear tag. In addition, calves should be given an injection of selenium shortly after birth to prevent White Muscle Disease. Navels should be dipped with iodine to prevent joint ill.
Genetic/Growth Management -- Once your nutrition and reproduction management of the cowherd is improving, it is time to work on your genetic management. Many herds in Virginia could increase weaning weights by 50 lbs by selecting performance tested bulls with good growth EPDs. Attention should also be paid to phenotype (frame size and muscling) so his calves will fit into the desired M1 feeder calf grade.
Crossbreeding is an important tool that results in hybrid vigor. It should be well planned so cows are crossbred not "mutts". Hybrid vigor will increase growth, reproduction and health of the calves.
In addition to bull selection, steer calves and feeder heifers should be implanted. There are a large variety of implants that are available. Research from VA Tech indicates a 30 - 50 lb advantage in weaning weight to implanted steers compared to unimplanted steers.
Stocker steers and replacement heifers also benefit from including ionophores like Rumensin", Bovatec" or Gainpro"into their diets.
Health Management -- A good health program includes a combination of good nutrition, vaccination, parasite control and sanitation. A suggested vaccination scheme is listed below. However, you should use you local veterinarian to help design your herd health program. Parasite control should include control of flies, lice and grubs on cows and calves. Calves and cow < 4 years old should be treated for internal parasites. Many products are available and effective for treating parasites. The important consideration is you pick one that is effective and convenient for your herd, then follow the strategic deworming program specific for that product.
Close observation and early treatment will minimize problems with pinkeye and foot rot.
Remember all injections go in the neck!
Check Off Procedures you presently perform:
Nutritional Management -- Pastures and Hay