While that holds some long-term positives for those fortunate enough to take advantage, it also offers some short-term management considerations.

“I think the big thing is to realize those animals, from a drought standpoint, can be severely stressed,” says Dan Goehl, a veterinarian at Canton Vet Clinic in Canton, MO. “When an animal is malnourished, the first thing that goes is milk production and the reproductive side of things.”

That means, explains Bob Weaber, Kansas State University Extension cow-calf specialist, that if you bought pairs, you should wean the calves as soon as possible. “Get that nutritional load off the cows.”

Then test your hay and pasture and develop a supplementation program to help those cows regain body condition. “When you think about putting condition back on those cows, energy and protein are the name of the game,” he says.

Particularly protein. If the cows are on lower-quality hay or winter pasture, protein becomes the limiting factor. “So, if you adequately supplement protein, that does two things,” he says. “One, it helps meet the protein requirements of the cow. Then, if you feed the rumen microbes appropriately, you’ll increase the apparent digestibility of the forage.”

The better job the bugs do digesting the hay. the more value the cow gets out of it.

Weaber says any plant-based protein source is good – distillers grains, corn gluten or a 38% range cube. For a mid-gestational cow weighing around 1,200 lbs. and not lactating, consider feeding 4 lbs./head/day (dry matter basis) of a 30% protein source like distillers grains.

“You can feed that stuff every other day, or every third day, to cut down on labor and fuel costs,” he says. Just double or triple the daily amount and the cows will get along fine.

If the cows are going into winter in their third trimester of pregnancy, energy may be an issue, he warns. Just as with protein, a forage test can help determine how much supplemental energy you’ll need to get your cows into shape to deliver a healthy calf, milk well and breed back in a timely fashion.

Health concerns

Just as with nutritional concerns, there are some health concerns if you’re planning to expand your cowherd with replacement heifers or bred cows, Goehl says. “If you’re bringing them from unknown sources, it’s important to pay attention to disease. And bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) and trichomoniasis would have to be at the top of the list.”

Goehl says those “unknown sources” can be as close as your neighbor down the road. “Even if I’m sitting in northeast Missouri and I’m buying cattle from northwest Missouri, there’s always increased risk when bringing new animals into a herd.”

The trouble is, with both BVD and trich, getting a handle on a possible problem can be complicated. That’s because testing, which Goehl always recommends, sometimes doesn’t tell the whole tale.

“We recommend testing for BVD anytime animals are brought into the cowherd. So, if we’re bringing in replacement heifers, we’re going to test for BVD. If we’re bringing in a bull, we’re going to test for BVD.”
And bred cows? Test them, too. But understand that just because a cow tests negative, it doesn’t mean the calf won’t be persistently infected with BVD when it’s born.

That’s because, if a cow contracts the virus at critical periods in early pregnancy, the fetus can become persistently infected. So the cow may have fought off the infection, but her calf is a disaster in waiting.