That isn’t to say we don’t have to get creative with our projected 2012 winter feed program. We’re currently looking at feeding straw treated with a molasses product and possibly a nitrogen-based protein, two things we’ve never done before. When designing a feed plan for our cattle, we look at cost and meeting their nutritional requirements, then filling them up. We expect our cows to survive and thrive on whatever feed program is most affordable and available each year.

A Closer Look: Get Creative With Feeding Options

In addition to breeding for an efficient cow, we also expect her to produce a fast-gaining, high-yielding calf that can go in any number of directions post-weaning. Over the last decade, we’ve fed our cows everything from whole ear corn to hay to lick tubs and grass in the winter months, and have sold our calves as feeders, fats, on the grid, in the beef, and as grass-fed yearlings.

We’re positioned to turn our livestock program 180° on the feeding and/or marketing end, and know exactly how our cattle will respond. That isn’t an accident, we’ve worked hard on it through our genetic and management decisions for multiple decades.

This year, we plan to pull bulls and wean in mid-August, then ship our weaned calves to the feedlot where we will retain ownership. My dad has located hay that’s 200 miles closer to the central South Dakota feedlot we use than to our ranch; by hauling it to the feeder, we’ll save enough money to cover our yardage costs.

We also know our feeder personally, and built a solid working relationship with him during the last drought. That gives us the confidence to send him our cattle and know they will be well cared for and aggressively fed.

Our yearling heifers, which are currently grazing year-old grass and kochia weeds, will be pregnancy ultrasounded at 30 days post-breeding. Anything not pregnant will be immediately sold to preserve as much feed as possible for the cowherd.

Industry Related Resource: Drought Management

A short breeding season on dry years also helps us naturally select for the most efficient, fertile cows in our environment. Regardless of the year, any cow that doesn’t breed back, or doesn’t raise a calf for any reason, is sold and replaced with one that will.