“Man, its dry!” As I talk to fellow ranchers, this seems to be the common theme. Growing up I always heard Dad describe our current conditions as “drier than a popcorn fart” (again, his words, not mine). These words come back to me as my boots crunch through my barren pasture. I, too, have concerns, but try to remind myself that times like these will make us all better managers.
When I was little, I was around some very “colorful” people. I remember an old rancher named Rex Lawler in Orlando, Oklahoma. He smoked like a train and only drank black coffee as I remember. He raised Hereford cattle and was dang stubborn about changing. They had a great set of cows they eventually turned Angus bulls on (another blog for the future). My point is he was the walking definition of hard-headed. To manage cattle through a drought with winter staring you in the face, we must be stubborn; we should all stick to our guns and do what we know to be correct. Pastures may not get overseeded this year. Hay will be short for most producers. So the real question is, ”How do we stretch our resources as far as we can while still producing a desirable, healthy calf?” First and foremost, accurate and simplified supplementation is usually the best mode of action for a cow to stay productive.
Now for a bit of science. Cows have nutritional needs based on metabolic demand. Nutrition should include the basic needs of protein, energy and vitamin/mineral status. Academic careers have been devoted solely to these topics. Simply put, all three nutritional categories need to be provided based on stage of gestation, level of production and general environmental concerns. Typically, cows should be supplemented with protein, assuming plenty of forage is available for them to digest. In our current drought situation, forage quality will be a concern and limited in some areas, especially in late winter. Strategic supplementation of by-product feeds to help control cost will be essential. I’m very lucky to have my father feed cows daily. Good or bad, he tells me about cow groups and what he feels we need to adjust. By accurately and objectively evaluating body condition score (BCS), cow herd supplementation can be adjusted. If you aren’t comfortable evaluating BCS, take a trip to your neighbor’s place and see how your cows stack up.
At CAM Ranches, we take a very hands-on approach and develop our supplementation strategy prior to calving. Like everyone else we routinely worry about first-calf heifers. If we do a good job with them we feel as though the rest of the cow herd will be fine. The goal is to provide an increasing plane of nutrition for at least 45 days prior to breeding and attempt to maintain this supplementation through the breeding period. By not deviating, producers can expect a tighter calving window and generally bigger, healthier calves that will wean off easier.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting many producers around the southeast in my travels. Interestingly, my major professor always thought of mineral as “rocks” and I tended to agree. We now recognize that mineral nutrition has a very important impact on not only this calf crop, but also for the gestating calf. Many questions concerning an economical mineral program dominate most conversations. There isn’t a silver bullet approach unfortunately, especially given the current economic outlook! Vitamin/mineral status is very important to insure optimal cow herd fertility, vaccine efficacy and reduced morbidity of calf crop. We always advocate for a breeder type mineral that will provide heightened levels of phosphorus, zinc, manganese, copper and cobalt via organic sources, especially in times of stress (i.e., drought, reduced forage quality, winter, etc.). We are careful to also supplement sulfates and oxides in the right proportion as ruminal microbes have a requirement for inorganic minerals to help them do their job. After breeding we transition to more of an all-purpose product for our gestating cows that we use through spring and summer. The real key is to implement a mineral supplementation strategy to balance feedstuffs and forages year round, while also keeping your banker happy!
Thanks for reading our inaugural blog for CAM Ranches. If we can ever be of service to you please don’t hesitate to contact us or schedule a visit. We can always be reached through our website or on either of our cell phones. They’re always on… just ask my wife.