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Middle of summer check list

Measuring Things We Can Manage in the Beef Cow Herd

Summer is a time when we can relax and enjoy some recreation activities with family and friends. However, as we get into the warm summer months remember to look at a few things that can have a significant impact on profitability of your cow herd. We can “manage” these things by measuring and monitoring them. There are tools that can help with both measuring and improving the condition of these items. 

  1. Body condition of the cows and especially first calf heifers
  2. Condition of the pasture
  3. Hay Inventory

Body Condition Score the Cows

Harlan Hughes summarized the North Dakota Farm Business Management Association data for 2012 in a recent Cow-Calf Weekly eNews Letter by Beef Magazine.  This was a summary of 2012 production and economic data from 101 beef herds in North Dakota.  Percent of calves weaned is a major factor to watch.  A benchmark of 85% or better is common, but the herds in this data set averaged 88.6%.  The percent of calves weaned is both a reproductive and calf health measurement.  This is directly related to body condition of the cow.  Now is a great time to use the CRYSTALYX® Body Condition Score App.  It is a valuable tool to evaluate how body condition has changed over time.

First, take a picture of the animal you want to score.  Next, compare that score and photo to previous scores for that cow or group of cows.  Finally, if the body condition score is too low on some animals consider management changes such as reduced stocking rate, regrouping of animals, creep feeding the calves and/or supplementing the cows.

Walk and Assess the Pasture Condition

Pasture cost for 2012 in the North Dakota group was $118.52 per cow.  Getting as much out of the grass is the backbone of the beef operation which will move the cost per cow in the right direction.  Last year’s drought was hard on our pastures and hay crops.  Winter kill was as high as 60-70% in some parts of the Midwest.  In some areas, root development was altered even more by the cool and wet spring.  Hay inventory and feeding economics forced early turn out to grass, even though the grass may not have been ready.  This may be a 1-2-3 punch situation that will require different management approaches from year’s past.  Areas of the pasture may be under grazed due to the grass type that survived being less desirable to the cattle or the grass maturing rapidly.  CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements offers a wide variety of protein or mineral formulations that help improve utilization of lower quality forage and alter grazing distribution.

Will you have enough hay?

That is the elephant in the room for the livestock sector this year.  It may take two growing seasons to build back inventory.  Do we need to early wean so we can use some pasture acres for hay?  Do we need to plant a non-traditional crop for emergency forage?  Is corn silage an option?  That late planted corn may be valuable as corn silage.  The data summarized by Harlan Hughes had stored forage (winter feeding) cost at $152 per cow.  In 2013, that cost will be higher due to the drought impact on forage cost.  There are tools to help maximize forage utilization and improve feeding efficiency. 

Forage cost and the pounds of calf weaned per exposed female are major indictors of profitability.  Many factors influence pounds weaned.  Evaluating and managing the three items mentioned above will have an impact, but the management adjustments need to be sooner rather than later.