Next year's planning is under way. Everything is upbeat, and the cows and bulls even get a blue ribbon. Eighty-four percent of the cows are projected to calf in the first 21 days of the calving season next spring. This means that the cows cycled and the bulls got them bred.
This past breeding season was not without concerns, particularly due to the excessive heat in August. The Dickinson Research Extension Center started turning bulls out on Aug. 1 for May 10 calving.
As cows come off native grasses, each group is pregnancy checked using ultrasound techniques. Although this was the first set of cows to be worked, the positive outcome was refreshing. Typically, if one was to look at reproductive performance within those herds that utilize the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement program, 61 percent of the mature cows tend to calve within the first 21 days of the calving period. Almost 86 percent tend to calve within 42 days of the calving season.
These cows certainly exceeded our expectations. That is good because we all need some good news once in a while. As the cows moved through the chutes, the August heat was still evident because the cows were thin.
One month to go before weaning, these 80 cows were turned out to standing corn to finish out the last month as a cow-calf pair. The calves are scheduled to be weaned in mid-November.
Several challenges face the crew as fall fades. The most critical is water. Not so much the shortage of water, but the ability to keep tanks and ponds free of ice. Literally, the morning check becomes one of deicing.
However, the cattle love this time of year. The summer heat is gone and there is a sense that winter preparation needs to get under way. Of course, that simply means eating more.
For the cows, the calves are maturing and milk production is decreasing, so those extra bites are quickly converted to some good winter cover, which commonly is called fat. Leanness is good, except for now, because that extra fat cover can mitigate some cold winter days.
Good managers understand that now is the time to start getting the cows in shape for next year. In the case of the center's pregnant cows, now is the time to get these cows ready to calve next May.
The point being, this time of year, if forage is available, cows literally know they need to take advantage of good weather and feed in preparation for winter.
Unfortunately, this year it is more difficult to boast of having feed because so much of the country is short, so some pens are empty. In those cases and as part of standard management practices, pregnancy status should be determined in all the cows to avoid feeding open cows high-priced feed.