Farm Talk

May 7, 2013

Cattle management following drought

by Kenny Ragland

Parsons, Kansas — Cattle eat more when it gets cold. Local ranchers saw that with the recent large snows and are still seeing it with one of the coldest springs in recent memory.

Dr. Justin Sexten, a PH.D University of Missouri State Extension Specialist,went over ideas for area cattlemen to use as their herds exit the late 2013 winter at the Andrew and Buchanan County’s Forage Management meeting in St. Joseph.

Keeping thin cattle from overgrazing drought surviving pastures, was a strong point the beef nutrition specialist wanted to stress.

“Green up and growing plants are a welcome sight,” said Sexten, “but if you can hang on a little longer with hay reserves, don’t turn the cattle in too soon.”

Much of the Andrew County grasslands barely survived the 2012 drought.

“Most of that new growth is water,” Sexten said. “If you can hold off grazing until the grass is four to five inches tall, you will get much better forage value and help the new stands.”

Letting the grazing pasture stand thicken will also help choke out weeds.

“Natural suppression is a much better way to control weeds than spraying,” Sexten said. “Keeping grassland at a minimum of three to four inches of good ground cover, will help maintain that good grass stand.”

For growers that have fall calving operations, spring is a good time to give pregnancy diagnosis and make culling decisions.

“If you’re already short of forage, “ said Sexton, “then you can save $150 per head over a 100 day feeding period by moving an unproductive cow on.”

Sexton further recommends moving the fall breeding season up a month, especially following a drought.

“Wintering un-bred cows with a forage shortage is just not good management,” he said. “April and May are traditionally good times to market culled cows.”

The specialist further recommended to begin all pregnancy testing 30 days after the bulls come out.

“If you have all the forage you want, that is different,” Sexton said. “When you don’t, culling is a management option you have that will save money.”

Sexton emphasized good creep feeding management.

“This is a management tool that will extend your forage,” he said, “and it won’t stop the calf from nursing.”

Creep feeding will do more for the cow than the calf.

“For every pound of feed the calf eats,” Sexton said, “it will leave an additional half pound of forage for a hungry cow.”

Getting calves on creep feed within 60 days of birth is a key tool, but Sexton encouraged ranchers not to let heifers with first time calves get heavy.

“It will reduce their milk production by 25 percent,” he said. “We want to have leaner and healthier first time heifers.”

Retired veterinarian and rancher Wayne Miller asked about mixing ammonia and calcium hydroxide with corn stalks.

“We did better with the ammonia,” he said. “The labor and costs just didn’t come out with the calcium hydroxide.”

“Both are good feed sources,” Sexton said.

Smithville cattleman Pat Heath said culling had helped him through the winter on scant forage.

“We had over 100 head before the drought got going,” he said. “We made our decision to go down and now we’re at 80 head.”

Sexton left the ranchers with one easy to remember rule of thumb for when to turn cattle into a mature but not too tall grass field.

“You want to see the cow’s eyeballs when their nose is down grazing,” he said. “It’s the best way to have cattle graze.”

For more information, contact Dr. Justin Sexten PH.D by Email: at sextenj £