October brings the season when beef producers are rewarded for the hard work of the past year. Weaning time is here or already in progress and calves are being pre-conditioned for the next production phase.
The weaning process is a critical management step especially this year with drought conditions and reduced winter feed resources. Spring calving cows are in the later stage of lactation and are providing very little nutrition to their calves. Once calves are five to seven months of age they should be removed from the cows using a low stress weaning systems line “fence-line weaning". A bulletin on fence-line weaning can be downloaded from the Michigan State University (MSU) Beef Team website. Weaning significantly reduces nutritional requirements of the cows and allows the cow to improve body condition. Research has shown that cows will gain 100-125 pounds of weight over 82 days compared to those nursing calves if adequate feed is available. This added weight gain will improve body condition score by 1.2 to 1.5 units.
Culling cows is also on the calendar. Evaluate cows for physical soundness and especially pregnancy status and cull all open cows. Consider age and previous management challenges such as udder quality, disposition, age, genetics, etc. As cows get past ten years of age, they often begin to develop physical problems that reduce their performance and market value. Do not “waste” feed on cows that are not going to produce value greater than their annual maintenance cost.
Cows that are dry and pregnant can get along well on crop residues. They can gain both weight and condition when strip grazing stockpiled forages or grazing crop residues after weaning. Supplementation should begin as feed quality declines and cow requirements increase. Utilize ration balancing software to fine tune your beef cow feeding needs.
Don’t forget fall deworming and vaccination programs as the cows move off grazing systems to winter feeding.