Consider early weaning
Early weaning of calves is a common drought management practice. Removing calves from cows at approximately 300 pounds or 75 days of age decreases cow nutritional requirements and gives producers the ability to stretch limited forage resources. Drought conditions in 2011 are forcing producers to wean calves early; many of which have already marketed at auction. Supply and demand principles are in evidence as an increased supply of calves is decreasing market price. Noble Foundation consultants suggest that early weaning and preconditioning calves for at least 45 days can still result in profit. During preconditioning, calves are vaccinated, de-horned, bull calves are castrated, and all calves are fed for an additional 45 days post-weaning. Calculate your cost of preconditioning prior to retaining ownership of calves. For help with budgeting or developing a feeding program for preconditioned calves, please see Optimizing Weaned Calf Value or call your Noble Foundation consultant.
Sell all open, old or injured cows. It is not economical to maintain these females - particularly when resources such as pasture, feed and hay are costly and in short supply. The immediate advantage to removing animals from the herd is that grazing pressure on pastures will be decreased and less money will be spent on supplemental feed. Additionally, cull cow prices have remained relatively strong. Selling cull cows now can provide immediate assistance for producers who are in a difficult cash flow situation.
Drought may also provide the opportunity to make improvements to your cow herd. Consider tightening up your calving season by selling late calving cows. Calves born later in the calving season are typically lighter weight at weaning and less uniform than the calves born earlier in the calving season. Cull cow marketing reports are available through the Agricultural Marketing Service.
Evaluate cow herd liquidation costs
Many producers may be tempted to liquidate the cow herd during persistent drought conditions. However, before selling the herd, compare the cost of maintaining a cow through the drought and winter months to the cost of purchasing replacement females next spring. To do so, calculate the cost of feed and hay on a per-cow basis from now until spring. Add this feed cost to the current value of cows sold. If the sum of feed cost and cow value is greater than the cost of buying cattle next spring, then liquidate the cow herd now and take advantage of tax benefits associated with drought-related sales. If you decide to maintain ownership of the cow herd, be prepared to maintain cow numbers for approximately six to eight months. It is not advantageous to begin feeding cattle through the drought only to sell them in the fall at seasonally low prices.
Have a livestock management plan ready for the next step. Consider what you will do if you run out of pond water or if a well goes dry. Is it an option to fertilize bermudagrass this fall or plant ryegrass? Think about potential situations and solutions, and prepare now. Those that plan ahead and are prepared to act quickly will have the best results.