Although the first official day of summer is a month away, May signals the beginning of warm days. In most of the region it also represents the best time to harvest high-quality grass hay. Weather during this period often interferes with the best of harvest plans. Remember a couple of facts as you dodge showers: 1) rain does less damage (nutrient and dry matter loss) to fresh cut forage as compared to forage almost ready to bale, 2) hay quality is always changing and does not improve with time.
Spring Calving Herds (January-March)
• Calving season winding down. Continue to observe late calving cows frequently.
• Calving records should be complete and up to date.
Nutrition and Forages
• Continue to offer a high magnesium mineral to prevent grass tetany. Monitor intake to insure cows are consuming the recommended amount. No other source of salt or minerals should be available.
• This is the time to put into place a rotational grazing management system which will provide a rest period for pastures. During rapid growth move more quickly to the next paddock and leave some residue.
• Make plans to store your high quality hay in the dry.
• Collect and submit forage samples for nutrient analysis.
• Consult with your veterinarian concerning pre-breeding vaccination schedule for cow herd, yearling heifers, and bulls. Plan early to allow 30-day vaccination window prior to breeding season.
• Plan parasite and fly control program for herd, and begin planning vaccination and preconditioning protocol to be used for calf crop.
• Finalize plans and protocols for breeding season. Establish calendar to establish timing of synchronization program to be used during breeding season. Have supplies and semen on hand.
• Breed heifers 2-4 weeks ahead of mature cows to allow longer post-partum interval prior to second breeding season.
• Schedule and conduct breeding soundness exams on herd sires, including annual vaccinations.
• Manage bulls properly during the breeding season. Observe frequently to confirm breeding activity and soundness, and monitor cows for repeat estrus. Avoid commingling mature and young bulls, as older bulls will be dominant. As rule of thumb, yearling bulls should be exposed to number of cows equal to their age in months (ie. 18 month old bull with ~18 cows).
Fall Calving Herds (September-November)
• Schedule and conduct pregnancy diagnosis with veterinarian following breeding season. Plan a marketing strategy for open cows. Cull cow prices typically peak mid-spring through mid-summer, and prices generally stronger for cows in good body condition vs. thin cows (evaluate forage availability and potential feed and management costs to increase BCS of cull cows if warranted).
• Evaluate potential options for marketing of calf crop, including timing of weaning to meet operational goals. Calculate break-evens on various marketing options and consider risk management strategies.
• Reimplant commercial calves.
Nutrition and Forages
• As calves are weaned move cows to poorer quality pastures.
• Use palatable feeds during the weaning period to bunk train calves and minimize weight loss.
• Reserve high quality hay and a pasture area for calves post-weaning.
• Consult with veterinarian on vaccination protocol for calf crop. Design vaccination and weaning program around marketing goals and objectives.
• Plan parasite and fly control program for cows and calves.
• Collect weaning weights on calf crop at optimum time (typical age range 120-280 days), along with cow weights, hip heights and body condition scores (cow mature size data taken within 45 days of calf weaning measure).
Source: Scott P. Greiner & Mark A. McCann, Extension Beef Specialists, VA Tech