After a drought year everyone wants to forget, processing time can help cow-calf producers evaluate the mature weights and body condition scores of cows to help avert long-term damage to a good breeding program, says a leading beef cattle specialist at Kansas State University.

Bob Weaber, K-State Extension cow-calf specialist, says this can help ranchers determine which changes may be needed in their supplement feed program and whether non-performing females need to be culled before additional money is spent.

Dr. Doug Ensley, Professional Services Veterinarian (PSV) with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., adds that early detection of problems before it’s time for cows to begin cycling can help keep calving rates from dropping drastically after the summer’s dry, hot weather has taken its toll on cows.

“The biggest threat to long-term reproduction from cows is the lack of good forage and energy during the drought that can impact their ability to cycle,” Ensley says. “Poor forages may be low in trace minerals which can lead to a reduced ability to cycle reducing the ability to breed back and have a live healthy calf.

“You could start seeing herds with 50-60% pregnancy rates. You need to build up their internal fat and overall body condition to help get them cycling on a regular basis.”

Focus on nutrition

Zinc, copper, selenium, Vitamin A and other micronutrients are likely deficient in cattle coming out of a severe drought. “Those need to be part of a good forage, supplement and mineral program,” Ensley says. “We need to be good grass farmers and do a good job of testing forage and what we’re using as a supplement.

“Feed is 65% of the cash cost in maintaining a cow. You can hold costs down by testing what you feed. We receive a lot of calls from ranchers who are seeing high nitrates (potential carcinogens) in their hay. So test to make sure you’re not feeding nitrates, especially in drought areas.”

Most regional Extension outlets provide forage-testing services. Private forage consultants can also provide the service. “Also, look at your mineral program,” Ensley advises, “the whole micro-mineral, not just salt.”

Rangeland specialists also recommend that producers give pastures plenty of time to replenish the surface forage, as well as the root system so plants can take advantage of soil nutrients. A good fertilizer program may be needed to restore nutrients lost during a drought. And a good herbicide program may be needed to control weeds that will rob precious grasses of rainfall and snow when it finally comes.

Don’t forget about bull nutrition. “Drought is going to affect their production of semen,” Ensley says. “Like with cows, keep their body condition score (BCS) in the 5-6 range. It’s like a broken record. Don’t let them get too fat. Again, semen quality can go down. Don’t wait until a week before breeding to check them.”