Now is the perfect time for beef producers to make management decisions that will affect the health, productivity and profitability of the herd over the next production cycle. The following are tips and guidelines to consider.
1. Wean based on pasture quality and quantity:
When pasture quality declines below that required to support calf growth, and/or quantity declines to the point that calves cannot compete with cows for the available forage, calves will start to loose body weight. It is a myth that calf growth will be maintained by milk production; by the time calves reach 400 pounds, and especially when forage availability is low, milk intake will supply as little as ten percent of the calfs nutritional requirements, and some cows will voluntarily dry off. When this occurs, it is more beneficial and economical to wean the calves as it:
- Is easier and more economical to supplement the calves than the whole herd.
- Will extend the grazing for the cow herd.
- Will reduce the extent of body weight loss in the cow herd, especially for first calf heifers.
“A research project at Kansas State University a few years ago showed that cows on unsupplemented pasture who continued nursing calves until December lost about 150 pounds and 1.5 points in body condition score by their next calving. If calves must be left on the cows this late, pasture must be supplemented.” (Heather Smith Thomas, cattletoday.com, Oct. 29, 2002)
2. Preg–check cows and heifers:
At weaning, preg–check all animals that were bred, and cull those that are open or will calve late. Open cows are too expensive to maintain on limited and costly feed resources these days, as can be cows that will calve outside a 70 to 90 day calving window. Late calvers will generally wean small calves the following year and be even harder to breed back in time to calve within the target window.
This is also a good time to check the cows to detect and deal with problems that might affect future health or productivity, such as age, teeth condition, illness or injury.
3. Assess body condition and group cows/heifers for fall/winter feeding:
Target for a moderate body condition (4–6 on a 9 point scale) going into the colder weather of winter, as well as before calving. If possible, group thinner cows with bred heifers after weaning and place them on a higher plane of nutrition than the rest of the herd so that the higher nutritional requirements of the still growing heifers will be met, and the thin cows will have an opportunity to gain weight before the coldest part of the winter sets in and thus be in better condition for calving. Research shows that cows in good to moderate body condition can lose weight equivalent to two body condition scores without affecting calving or reproductive performance as long as their nutritional requirements are fully met from four weeks prior to calving and onward. Therefore, by grouping animals according to nutritional requirements and feeding accordingly, there is tremendous opportunity to save feed and labor.