The two-year drought has caused both a reduction in cow numbers as well as a reduction in available forage for beef cows. As we head into spring and summer, many producers are coming up short on pasture forage and may be considering drylotting cows and their calves.
In a confinement situation, early weaning of calves can be more efficient in terms of calf growth. Jeremy Martin, PhD, Great Plains Livestock Consulting, Inc., Eagle, Neb., says handling pairs in this manner will add cost to most operations, but given the high price of pasture in many areas, it’s worth investigating the economics now rather than being forced to sell cows.
The first step is assessing the feed situation. “It is always important for producers to use their resources most wisely, but in times like this it is critical to get the most from every dollar invested in feed, whether that is native pasture, annual forages, or harvested feeds,” Martin says.
Martin says if producers do not have enough feed on hand to feed cows beyond the traditional turnout date, now is the time to discuss feeding options with their nutritionist and local feeders that have feed available. “The herd nutritionist may have ideas about ingredients that can save money,” he says.
Confinement or semi-confinement
For cow-calf pairs, Martin says semi-confinement may be a better option as far as calf health and performance. Too much exposure to a dusty environment in confined pens can negatively affect calf health. But if calves can “escape” the drylot into an adjacent area of pasture, that can help protect their health. “If possible, a creep gate or fence that allows calves to escape the drylot conditions is perhaps the easiest way,” Martin says. “Itmay also be possible to use electric fence for the same purpose. In general, the larger the area, the less dust the calves have to breathe in and the lower the likelihood of pneumonia.”
If drylotting is the only option, Martin suggests to creep feed calves with a feed specifically formulated for younger calves as it will relieve some suckling pressure on the cowsas the calves get bigger. This will help decrease the cows’ feed needs while maintaining calf growth. Provide calves access to free-choice, high quality roughage to stimulate rumen development.
“In general, I think closely confining pairs can present health challenges regardless of calf age, but the effects are probably more dependent on environmental conditions than age,” Martin says. “However, 2-3 month old calves can handle these environmental challenges with more ease than newborn calves.”