The following questions are designed to assist cow-calf producers in determining next steps and best management practices when considering how best to manage their cowherd in the event of extended drought. Possible outcomes from this decision tree may include:
• Leaving cows on pasture with supplementation
• Confinement feeding of cows on-farm by producer
• Feeding cows in a commercial feedlot
• Early-weaning calves
• Selling all or a portion of the cowherd
Several critical questions you need to ask to get the cowherd through the drought are:
1. Do you have feedstuffs? Is the supply adequate to provide for all or a large portion of your current herd throughout the remainder of the grazing season, as well as throughout the winter and pre-calving season?
2. How difficult would it be to replace the genetics of your herd? Do you receive premiums for the genetic merit of your herd?
3. What is the stage of production of your cowherd? Cows with higher requirements will require more feed and increase costs.
4. Are you going to early-wean calves? Because lactating cows are expensive to feed, a management option to reduce feeding costs might include early weaning. Additional advantages of early weaning include improving cow body condition, calf performance, conception rates and forage availability for the cow (or decrease amount needed to feed cows for maintenance). Some disadvantages include more attention to management of the calves and increased cash costs.
5. Are you keeping your pairs together? Placing cows with young calves in a confinement setting requires additional considerations.
6. What type of facilities do you have? Do you have access to adequate facilities to provide comfortable housing for the cowherd on-farm?
Recommendations for cows:
• Pen space = 200-800 square feet/cow, depending on the stage of production, surface type, drainage and weather conditions
• Bunk space = 24 to 30 inches/cow
• Shade for cows is important in a dry-lot during the summer
• Free-choice access to abundant, fresh water is essential, as water needs greatly increase in summer months
Recommendations for calves:
• Pen space = 125 square feed/calf during summer and 250 square feet/calf during winter
• Bunk space = 12 inches/calf
• Free-choice access to abundant, fresh water is essential, as water needs greatly increase in summer months. Water should be in a container calves can access easily.
7. Do you have proper feeding equipment to deliver a mixed diet to cows in confinement if necessary?