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Summer checklist for your beef cow herd

Once the bulls have been turned out and your herd has settled into their summer grazing routine, it’s easy to overlook some of the more obvious management clues when monitoring your cow herd.  Although beef cows can be very forgiving at times, it is much more difficult to catch-up if you avoid timely management corrections.  Below are a few summer time management reminders to help you stay on top of your herd and maintain performance that ensures profitable returns.

  1. Forage availability:  Do your cows have an unlimited supply of forage available for grazing?  Depending upon your grazing system, in most situations a good benchmark is to adhere to the rule of “graze half – leave half.”  If your pastures are beginning to look like a parking lot, you are probably affecting two things; cow and calf performance in addition to future pasture productivity!  Be sure to make timely decisions in moving cattle to new pastures once depleted and/or introduce supplementation programs that maximize forage utilization.  The southern U.S. is currently in a severe drought and forage availability will dictate stocking rates, culling rates and supplement programs that are used to best manage the cow herd.
  2. Forage quality:  As temperatures increase and summer moisture conditions diminish, grasses mature more quickly along with a reduction in forage quality.  Protein supplementation is especially helpful when these conditions exist to help maintain both cow and calf performance.  The additional protein should be a good source of ruminally degradable protein in order to maximize microbial fermentation.  The goal is to maximize fiber digestibility that extracts the full energy potential of forage diet.  This is where a little protein can go a long way in maintaining cow weight and body condition.
  3. Mineral and vitamin supplement access:  Make sure your herd has access to a free-choice mineral and vitamin supplement while on pasture.  Many areas of the U.S. or different seasons of the year, lend themselves to nutrient deficiencies that can limit cow herd reproductive efficiencies or negatively impact cow/calf health or performance.  Some examples can include:
    • Copper deficiencies or antagonisms that reduce trace mineral utilization
    • Low Magnesium levels in lush spring pastures or forages high in potassium content that interfere with Magnesium utilization can lead to grass Tetany
    • Endophyte infected fescue pastures
    • Selenium deficient soils
    • Low phosphorus forages
    • Water sources that are high in sulfates which can interfere with trace mineral absorption
    • Other nutrient imbalances or antagonisms from soil, water or forages
  4. Don’t neglect your mineral/vitamin feeders:  It is extremely easy to let free-choice mineral feeders go empty for extended periods of time.  This causes highly erratic intakes in vitamin and mineral consumption as cattle go without and then over consume when finally given access to fresh mineral.  Consistent mineral absorption is better achieved when consumption is also consistent.  Large amounts of mineral are wasted via excretion when excessive mineral intakes occur.  Make sure free-choice supplements are meeting intake expectations and are available at all times to limit waste and maximize animal performance on pasture
  5. Feed-through fly control:  An easy and effective way to manage flies and improve calf weaning weights on pasture is with a feed-through larvacide or insect growth regulator.  Although the specific fly species that are controlled will vary depending upon the product, the principle in delivery is the same for each type.  Animals need consistent delivery of either larvacide or insect growth regulator to keep adult fly populations in check.  This can only be accomplished if the free-choice product that contains these additives is consumed early in the fly season and then consistently provided throughout the fly season without interruption.   It is closely related to the previous discussion on free-choice vitamins and minerals as these are used most often as their method of delivery.  It is also a great opportunity to use a highly palatable product like CRYSTALYX® low-moisture block supplements because of their ability to provide consistent uniform daily intakes.  If you plan to invest in a feed-through fly control program, be sure to manage intakes for optimal performance.
  6. Provide a balanced nutrition program:  A balanced nutrition program is a key part of maintaining herd health and productivity.  While pastures provide much of the dietary requirements for the cow herd certain environmental, seasonal or geographical factors can lend themselves to unique health, performance or reproductive challenges.  Most cattlemen will agree that treating cattle on pasture is a labor intense activity that should be avoided whenever possible.  Some common health issues where prevention is surely preferable over treatment include: Frothy Bloat, Grass Tetany, Pink Eye or Foot Rot to name a few.  Genetic and reproductive goals also influence nutritional program inputs as to the level of supplemental nutrition required to meet the production demands specific to your cow herd.  Shorting your herd in nutrient inputs opens the door for these health issues to creep in and chip away at your profitability.

Frequently check your cow herd and pasture conditions to be sure they are meeting your production goals.  It is much easier and almost always much more economical to make small, timely adjustments than to wait too long and shift from a preventive mode to a treatment or rescue situation.  Long-term profitability is at the top of the list for herd goals and small investments that maintain productivity usually pay dividends at weaning.