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Poor nutrition for beef cattle can have delayed effects on productivity

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Recommendation: Estimate needs and purchase hay now

By David Harrison

This has been a great year for forage production in LaRue County. We’ve had plenty of rain and thus grass for the grazing season with lots to spare for haymaking. We still have accumulated fescue pasture that can be grazed this winter. In recent years, cattle producers have been feeding hay for months by this time of year.

But there is a problem with the delayed effects of poor nutrition. Last winter, we were suffering from a feed shortage caused by two consecutive years of drought conditions which caused most cattle producers to maintain cows in less than optimum conditions. In addition to hay shortages, quality also was reduced. With the combination of reduced hay supply and lower hay quality, cows came out of the winter in less than desired body condition and had decreased pregnancy rates. Reduced pregnancy rates result, of course, in less calves being born.

What should we do to overcome this situation? First, pregnancy check the herd to identify open cows. With the current price of feed and cattle, keeping open cows is not a wise economic decision.

Next, plan ahead for your winter feeding program to avoid a repeat of this year. Plan to give cows some supplemental feed this spring as needed from calving time until grass is adequate to maintain good body condition going into the next breeding season.

Calculate your hay needs and be sure your supply is adequate. Hay is cheaper and more plentiful this year if you need to purchase some. You still have time to construct a feeding pad with geotextile fabric and gravel to minimize waste of fed hay. Money from the Phase 1 Tobacco programs may be available for cost sharing construction costs. Estimate your supplemental feed needs now and make purchases prior to bad weather this winter.

What can you do with open cows after weaning? The obvious answer is to sell them. However, you might feed them long enough to put some weight on them before hauling them to market. 

Thin, bred cows, especially young ones, need to regain body condition prior to the winter period. This can be done by sorting them off and putting them on some good accumulated fescue pasture. You really need to have these cows in good body condition by the 2010 spring breeding season in early May.

You could also keep a few more heifers to replace some of the cows that were liquidated in the previous two years. Also, consider a short, post weaning feeding (preconditioning) period for your feeder calves instead of taking them from the cow to market. Calves that are preconditioned according to Certified Preconditioned for Health guidelines can be sold in CPH sales across the state.

It is probably a good idea to routinely carry over some hay that has been stored inside. Remember to feed your outside hay first and, hopefully, you will have some hay left over which is inside and could be used in case a pasture/hay shortage next year. You don’t have to feed all your hay supply this winter, if some of it is stored inside.

The low pregnancy rates of this year might be a surprise to some, but there is the old adage that wet years will disappoint you and dry (but not drought) years will surprise you. Also realize that cows which are moderate in size and milking ability require less feed and thus have a better chance of rebreeding after times of limited feed than their larger, heavy milking cows do.