There’s been a lot of renewed interest in the practicality and feasibility of managing beef brood cows in dry lot systems. There’s some University trial work, economic analysis, nutritional strategies, etc..., being discussed on how these systems may or may not fit. Recent effects of drought, commodity prices, and cash rent for pasture ground, and shrinking availability of pasture in the Corn Belt has been the main reason for this renewed interest. I say renewed because I do believe this practice really isn’t new and it’s not really a concept. It’s one way to cope with drought, and was likely more common place historically when every farm had 20 beef cows, a few sows, chickens, and a dozen milk cows. I can still find a spot or two in my travels where beef cows are managed in dry lot year round and the subsequent calving season is year round as well.
As someone who spends a lot of time in range management and grazing theories, this application during the growing season is hard to grasp; “conceptually.” I live in Western Nebraska, west of the 100th Longitudinal Meridian where there are more so called “dry years” than wet, and pasture and rangeland is more abundant Vs. cropland east of this Meridian. Dry Lot management of cows in this environment may be considered foreign. Will it be so in the future?
Recently, I was at a meeting with colleagues and customers where this practice of dry lot for cows on a year round basis was being discussed. We discussed the types of rations that could utilize corn milling co-products, along with low quality forages such as CRP hay, straw, baled corn stalks, and silages. We also discussed breeding and early weaning strategies that would fit a dry lot program. We were reminded that in many areas (the northern plains), we “dry lot” cows for half the year or longer already. It’s called winter feeding! The summer form of this would simply be the same practice adjusted for the summer time and facilities. So this isn’t a new concept at all; our dairy neighbors dry lot and early wean year round all the time.
From an economic standpoint (given today’s market), I’m a bit of a doubter in the long term feasibility of year round dry lot systems. Pasture rental rates, especially in the Corn Belt, are hitting “break point” levels around $3.00 a day or more per cow-calf pair. Some dry lot feed costs are similar and varying analyses don’t necessarily take into account the equipment and facility costs. Not a lot of ranchers are set up to do this on a year round basis, at least not for all their animals; some perhaps. The skeptic in me does say if commodity prices retreat so will pasture and forage costs and the competition therein. However, I think it’s good our industry is having this discussion as it only will make us better managers and better producers of beef. In the end, that’s the goal.
Where does CRYSTALYX® fit in all this?
The meeting I mentioned above asked this question as well. Probably the best application for CRYSTALYX® in these systems would be to help overcome short comings in facilities, equipment, labor and management. Sound familiar? It should because in grazing systems, CRYSTALYX® shines in these areas as well.
Many of the diets that may be used in a summer dry lot system would consist of coarse, low quality forages. Mixing minerals into these diets could be a challenge, even if wet feeds such as silage or wet corn co-products are used. So, CRYSTALYX®, as the mineral and vitamin delivery vehicle, would fit well into these systems. If certain protein ingredients were not available, then perhaps the more conventional CRYSTALYX® products that offer protein (i.e. BGF-30™ and others) could be used. In essence, some of these programs may not look a lot different than winter programs.
For calves in these systems, weaning would likely come earlier and using CRYSTALYX® to help start stressed calves on feed and promote health would apply here as well (CRYSTALYX® Brigade®).
The necessary challenge in this industry is the need to adapt to an ever changing environment. The terms; Range Beef Cows and Dry lot management do seem to be oxymoronic but it’s good we are having these discussions. May the rain fall on your range.