Research shows confinement systems for cow-calf pairs can be a viable option during drought events. I’m Dave McClellan, a beef cattle consultant from Fremont, Neb., and this is my first attempt at what is positioned to be a quarterly article for Bovine Veterinarian. My clientele is largely made up of what I call feeder-farmers and cow-calf operators north of I-70 between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. I also do a pair of lots for Pineland Natural Meats in upstate New York and extreme northern Maine. I’ve developed a real taste for fresh Maine lobster over the past eight years.
My charge is to write on whatever beef-related topic I’d like that might be of interest to the veterinarian community involved in beef production. Those of you that know me will understand that being politically correct will be almost impossible for me, but since it’s an opinion piece, recognize that I most often have one.
The 1st Annual Dr. Kenneth and Caroline McDonald Eng Foundation Cow-Calf Symposium was held in Lincoln, Neb., Sept. 12-13. As many of you know, Kenneth established a publically funded foundation to support research and education in the beef industry, following the untimely death of his wife Caroline. In the first funding cycle the McDonald Eng Foundation gave significant grants to the University of Nebraska, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University and Wayne State University in Nebraska, with a request that the first three named look at the concept of semi-confined cow-calf production. The yearly grants are renewable year-to-year or project-to-project, based on evaluation by the McDonald Eng Foundation.
Dr. Eng led off the proceedings for nearly 200 attendees by highlighting industry-altering trends in the first 12 years of the new millennium: record land prices, record feedstuff prices (grains, forages, byproducts), record (albeit largely unprofitable) fat cattle prices, record feeder prices, massive cow liquidation, worse drought since the Dust Bowl Era, huge transfer of wealth within the industry and continued excess feedlot capacity. All of these factors led Kenneth and Caroline to utilize some of their clients’ excess capacity to take a look at cows and calves in semi-confinement. That experience became the seed to generate this symposium. We miss Caroline but applaud Ken for the avenue he’s selected to honor her memory.
The opening session was led by UNL with Drs. Karla Jenkins, Rick Rasby, David Smith (now of Mississippi State University) and Terry Klopfenstein reporting on their research. The groups’ work focused on using available crop residue and local byproducts to limit-feed cows and cow-calf pairs in confinement. Further refinement of the degree of limit-feeding, nutrient requirements of the cow and the suckling calf were examined. They also looked at management, economic and health considerations of early-weaned (86.6 days) and normal-weaned (205.6 days) calves and their impact on the cow. The key takeaways are: