The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Life!

September 29, 2007

Beef cattle management strategies during a drought

Growing Things column

With this summer being one of the driest on record, livestock producers in southern West Virginia are at a point where monumental management decisions will need to be made in order to survive financially in the livestock arena.

Periods of drought requires beef producers to make some adjustments in their production program or sell livestock. When cattle are sold out of desperation, the producer loses. If you have not begun to make contingency plans, start now.

You certainly want to avoid feeding hay before the winter season begins especially if you know your hay crop is going to be below normal. Even with early conservation, most producers will need additional feed for cattle. Is it possible to make it? The answer is yes, if you plan and make the necessary adjustments. Several small things can be done that collectively can conserve your feed resources.

- Consider early weaning calves. The nutrient requirement of a dry cow is about 50 to 65 percent of that of a cow nursing a calf. A young calf on dry feed has an efficient feed conversion rate. It is more cost-effective if you wean and feed the calf and let the cow forage for her own needs. If this is done before the cow loses substantial condition and if we get some rain and forage growth this fall, the cow should be in reasonably good body condition at the time you might normally feed hay. If you take the cow into winter in poor shape, you will increase her nutrient requirements through the winter and probably hinder the herd's reproductive performance next spring.

Let’s return to the weaned calf. You can achieve dry matter feed conversions of 5-8 pounds of dry matter per pound of calf gain. The best feed conversions are obtained when feeding a higher concentrate diet and achieving higher average daily gain (ADG). Calves can be weaned on a diet of no more than 2-4 pounds of roughage per day. The current outlook is for relatively cheap corn throughout the fall and winter. When feeding corn, however, you must be careful not to overfeed calves and create acidosis. Calves as young as 3 months can be successfully weaned and fed a dry diet. With very good management, you may be able to wean calves as young as 2 months.

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