Farm Talk

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August 13, 2013

Surviving drought through strategic cow herd management

Parsons, Kansas — Tuesday, August 6, several cattlemen and cattlewomen from around Kansas met at Kansas State University for the K-State Beef Conference. The conference was also broadcast to Parsons, Pratt and Oakley.

Producers were educated on a variety of topics from managing emerging animal health issues, drought survival strategies and strategic opportunities in the beef industry.

Kansas State Beef Veterinarian, Larry Hollis spoke to producers about preventing Trichomoniasis (Trich) in their herds. Trich is a sexually-transmitted disease that causes infertility and abortion in females. Infected bulls carry the disease for life and show no signs of having it.

“Use virgin bulls and only test-negative experienced bulls,” Hollis said.

Hollis advised to never buy open cows as replacements, but instead follow these guidelines:

•Virgin heifers with no exposure to bulls, except those certified negative.

•Have a young calf at side and have not been re-exposed to a bull, except those certified negative.

•Buy females at least 120 days pregnant.

If bringing cattle into your herd that have had breeding exposure, it is important to know the herds history. Veterinarians can test bulls for Trich and there are vaccines to help with prevention.

Hollis cautioned producers not to rely on vaccines as their sole source of Trich prevention, saying they have limited effectiveness.

“They do not prevent infection, they prevent some of the problems the infection carries,” he said. Adding that vaccinating cattle in communal pastures is highly recommended.

As of September 2010, Trich is a reportable disease in Kansas. In 2011, 16 counties, spread across the state, were diagnosed Trich instances — two of the same counties and 14 new ones were diagnosed in 2012. This increase in cases has in part prompted the Kansas Department of Agriculture to change Kansas Trich regulation. The proposal can be viewed at s/statute_regulations/mainportal/website_trich_round2.pdf.

Another current issue for producers has been drought management. While current rains have helped some of the state to break free of its drought status, many counties remain dry. An option for producers needing to conserve grassland is early weaning.

Traditionally calves are weaned around 200 days of age, early weaning happens 45-180 days of age.

Extension Specialist John Jaeger stated that 120 days of age is a good time to early wean calves. He recognized producer concerns with early weaning such as weather, increased management and calves not capable of using concentrate feeds.

“We don’t envision a calf consuming a lot of grass in pasture, but they actually consume 1-2 percent of their body weight in forage a day,” Jaeger said. “This means young calves have the mechanisms to be put in feeding situations.”

“The success of newly weaned calves is dry matter intake,” he stated.

Jaeger suggests the first three days of feeding weaned calves, producers feed hay on top of the dry matter.

“Calves will be familiar to hay and more likely to eat it,” he said.

On the fourth day Jaeger said to feed the diet on top of the hay, forcing calves to eat the dry matter.

Like all weaned calves, palatability is a big factor in dry matter intake. Moisture content of 20-30 percent is optimum to keep calves eating and not sorting feed. Jaeger also said it’s important to use quality forage on newly weaned calves.

For producers concerned about higher temperatures related with early weaning, Jaeger feels that those are better than cold, damp conditions that can come with weaning in the fall.

“I’d much rather see newly weaned calves on dry ground at the bunk than huddling in a corner,” he said.

If done correctly, early weaned calves will have the same performance as conventional weaned calves.

According to Jaeger, it’s important for producers to keep in mind it’s the same as traditional weaning, just a smaller animal.

The K-State Beef Extension faculty also spoke to the audience about capturing strategic opportunities when culling and rebuilding their cow herds. Presenters included Extension Specialists Sandy Johnson, Bob Weaber, Jaymelynn Farney and Hollis.

Strategies included:

•Breeding/calving season compression.

•Using advanced repro management tools.

•Use of genetic data.

•Animal health and vaccination.

•Management practices in heifer development.

•Using body condition score to manage your cow herd.

Johnson encouraged producers to use estrus synchronizing methods to shorten breeding and calving seasons.

“As we look at the advantages of calves being born early, increased weight at weaning is at the top of our mind,” she said. Adding that calves similar in age make feeding management, timing of vaccinations and uniformity in marketing much more effective.

When it comes to marketing, Weaber said the breeding season should play a role in the decision making, but more importantly, having a valuable animal.

“Start with the consumer of your product and work backwards,” Weaber said.

That product being an ideal beef cow that Weaber described as:

• Has minimal maintenance requirements, but carries enough body condition to withstand feed shortages.

•Produces enough milk to raise a good, healthy calf.

•Pregnant, on time, every time.

•Has excellent maternal characteristics.

He emphasized that after there is a live calf on the ground, efficiency is very important — for the entire herd, not just an individual animal.

“When we talk about herd efficiency, we need to take a herd level analysis,” he said. “Individual animals aren’t going to pay the bills.”

Weaber went on to stress that producers are “Cattlemen second, grass farmers first.”

If producers are forced to cull a high number of their herd to preserve land, Johnson suggested putting genetics into an embryo transfer program.

“Some of our seedstock producers have had to cull severely. One way to save those genetics is to put them into an embryo transfer program,” she said. “The opportunities are there. Work with your vet to see what options are available.”

Hollis reminded producers that if they were to choose rebuilding their herds with cattle from an unknown background, they need to assume that they have received no health management.

“Unless solid information about the background is available, you don’t know anything,” Hollis said. “You need to be careful what you give them since modified-live vaccines can cause them to abort.”

According to him, purchased with an unknown background need to be tested since it opens the door for diseases such as BVD to enter the herd.

Other topics at the conference included Impending regulation of livestock antibiotics; techniques to enhance value of low quality roughage; pasture, rangeland, forage and livestock risk protection; income tax implications following major livestock liquidation; and matching production levels to environmental conditions. £

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