USDA’s Weekly Crop Condition Report includes pasture conditions for each state. Pasture conditions are currently as poor for this time of year as seen in the last 16 years. The data for the whole US and selected states in cattle country are listed below. Some of the drier and warmer months of the grazing season are still to come and expectations are that pasture conditions will continue to decline.
Rotational grazing is one of the best ways to maximize forage utilization by managing stocking rate and pasture size. The reality is pasture ground is hard to find and quite valuable. In some area, I see planters working fields that had been pasture for the last 50 years. With rotational grazing the concept is to divide the grazing area into paddocks that a group of animals can consume within 7 to 10 days.
Your largest feed expense is stored forage. Your hay and silage is worth more than ever before. Efforts to improve your management of forage storage will result in a good return on your investment.
We have come through a very mild winter and are off to an early spring with record setting high temperatures. A negative affect is an early emergence of flies. This will be a year where an integrated fly control program will be needed for effective fly control. The tools for fly control include sanitation, feed through products, sprays, dust, rubs, fly tags and various fly traps. Determine which fly is the problem because control measures will vary by species. The early warm temperatures may allow the fly population to get an earlier than normal start. Below is a description of the common flies that impact cattle performance.
Hay quality will vary due to forage type, stage of maturity at harvest and harvest conditions. In addition to hay, feeding harvested crop residue such as corn stalk bales is common. Often a combination of different quality hays are fed at the same time using past experience and some nutritional “cow sense” helping to determine the correct blend. Cow body condition and cow contentment are used as rough indicators of meeting the dry matter intake and energy needs of the cows. Evaluating the manure is a tool that can help indicate when changes in the forage mix or supplement strategy is needed. We need to be aware that the nutritional needs of the cow will change depending on production cycle.
Cash Flow Considerations THEN and NOW
As I travel in cow calf regions and visit with cattlemen, I have noticed a distinct shift in their plans for retaining heifers.Last year at weaning, a heifer calf was more valuable as a feeder than a breeding animal.On many farms and ranches cash was tight due to increasing input cost. Generating some cash and paying bills by selling the heifer calf had very little risk.If a cow in the herd needed to be replaced a young cow could be purchased for about the same or less money.
The reduced cow herd and strong demand for fewer calves creates an optimistic outlook for the cow calf producer for the next several years. This is if you have both forage and cows. The drought in the Southwest is making it tough to maintain cow numbers in that region. One would assume the Southeast and Midwest would grow their cow numbers. However, the lack of affordable pasture is making that decision difficult. Using a dry lot feeding program for part of the year is a viable option; however, making the assumption that expensive feeding equipment is necessary can greatly reduce the income potential. The investment of tractors, feeder wagons and feed bins has to be paid for by pounds of beef sold.
If you need to change the body condition of your cows so they will be in the best condition possible for breeding season, now is the time to act. An important activity to do before we get busy with fall harvest is to give your cow a close look. I am not talking about a passing glance, but take the time to critically evaluate each animal; better yet, utilize a trusted advisor such as your feed supplier to body condition score your cows. They have not seen them as often as you nor do they have the “family history” that may bias your scoring. The recent USDA-APHIS survey of Cow Calf Operations indicated that less than 15% of producers use Body Condition Scoring (BCS) as a management tool.
As we celebrate the 4th of July Independence Day and our FREEDOM this week, we should all be mindful that we live in a great country where we still have choices and opportunity. That is very true for how we choose to produce and market our beef products to the consumer. We need to have the consumer engaged in making a buying decision based on how they value one type or brand of beef over another. However, we do not want to confuse the consumer about the safety of one product verses another. From an industry prospective, cattle producers, feeders, packers and the feed industry need to be engaged in educating our politicians and the consumer about the possible benefit of each option while maintaining the FREEDOM to market these value-added products. If we create confusion, we create fear which could lead to less FREEDOM due to undue regulation.
The beef cow herd is at the lowest level since 1963, and the heifers are going to the feed yard at a rate that does not support herd expansion. Several factors around the country are contributing to the further decline in the cow herd. The rate of decline may have slowed due to lower culling activity on a national basis, but drought conditions in some parts of the country are sending cows to the sale barn. In the Midwest and Southeast producers are dealing with reduced pasture availability due to competition for crop ground. In addition, some heifers that were held back for replacement may have been sold due to tight cash flow as the result of a slow start to the grazing season which resulted in unplanned hay purchases. What will be the determining factor for when the herd begins to expand? Cash flow and forage availability will be short term factors to consider. However, the decision to retain heifers as replacements needs to consider the long term demand for breeding stock and feeder cattle. If the feeder cattle market stays strong and the cow herd continues to decline, those who decide to retain heifers this year should be very well rewarded for the decision.