We shipped our calves last month. They were weaned on pasture with three "babysitter" cows, and did very well during their three weeks on pasture.
All our fields and pastures are very dry this year, with no appreciable rain since June and not enough water in the creek for irrigation after we put the hay up.
The weaned calves grazed on a few wet acres we didn't cut. It's part of a large area of hillsides and small hayfields; this field has sub water from the fields above it, and is usually too wet to cut (bogging down machinery). This grass gets dry by the time we bring the calves off the range and wean them, but the understory still has some green and they do well on it.
We rounded the calves up the afternoon before we shipped them, calling them with the feed truck. We brought them into the corrals the next morning at daylight to sort and load, leaving a few of the smaller ones home. Weights were good this year despite the dry summer range.
We had no rain this past month - the driest October on record. The cows on our 320 acres of mountain pasture have been gaining weight since we weaned their calves in mid-September and put them up there. The calves did well on the range but the cows lost weight on the dry feed while lactating.
Our native bunch grasses have been dried out since mid-summer. We've never had to supplement this feed, but this fall seems to be drier than our eight-year drought in the late '80s and early '90s. We purchased some dry supplement to mix with loose salt - a mineral mix and a protein-vitamin A mix - putting it in big tubs scattered strategically in the pasture.
The cows seem happier and spend more time grazing. They now have enough protein to utilize the dry feed. Without adequate protein their "gut bugs" can't digest and ferment the roughage efficiently.
With the supplement, the cows willingly used the rest of the grass on the steep upper end of that pasture, then we let them down into the lower corner below the crossfence. This end is too small for that many cattle. There was enough food, but they were restless.
Cattle need a certain amount of space; if you have too many in a small area they are not as content. This is something people often don't consider when using a rotational pasture system that concentrates cattle into smaller areas. You have to find, sometimes by trial and error, what the ideal stocking rate is for certain pastures - a figure that cannot be totally based on available feed.
After a few days, we split the group, sorting them at the gate into the 160-acre pasture. We fed a little hay on both sides of the fence to keep them content while we sorted. Michael and Andrea guarded the gate, while Carolyn and I on horseback sorted out the ones to take down to the fields and easier grazing - a few of the older cows, the coming three-year olds, getting ready to have their second calves, and a handful of thin cows, 52 in all. That left 82 to finish grazing the steep mountain pasture - a better number for the smaller area and water supply.