For many cattlemen, this summer marks the third year of managing drought-stressed cattle and pastures.
It is, it seems, a bad dream that never comes to an end. You want to wake up to the sound of raindrops hitting the roof. But your eyes are wide open and all you hear is the wind rustling what little grass is left on a sun-baked landscape.
While some parts of the country are receiving moisture this spring, plenty of cattle country is still dark brown on the drought monitor map. And that means, says Justin Wagonner, Kansas State University Extension beef systems specialist in Garden City, you have some assumptions to make.
“First of all, the outlook for a lot of grazing days, or a normal grazing season this summer, doesn’t look real good. Even if we get a lot of rain tomorrow, while that negates the situation somewhat, there will be some limitations we’ll run into.”
The second assumption is that forage prices will stay high. “I’m not an economist, but I think the greatest challenge we face is how to balance high feed prices against high replacement female costs and where we’re at on that teeter-totter. And no, I absolutely do not have an answer to that question.”
But what Waggoner does have an answer for are some management practices that can help mitigate the effects of drought. Those include early weaning, continued culling, and looking at the possibility of limit-feeding your cows in a confinement or semi-confinement situation.
“The first thing you should consider when the grass starts getting short is getting the calf off (the cow). You can do it successfully at 100 days,” he says.
“A 120-day-old calf is going to consume about 2.2% of its body weight in dry forage a day. So you’ve got savings on the calf,” he says. “The other thing is, a lactating 1,400-lb. cow needs about 30 lbs./day of forage. If I turn her into a dry cow, it’s 27. So I not only lowered her forage requirement, but she also has a lower energy requirement, too.”
So basically, he says, if you wean 30 days early, you gain a week’s worth of grazing. “That may not sound like a lot, but what is drought management? It’s a game of grazing days,” he says. “And every day you’re not feeding cows saves you dollars.”
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