The overindulging meals of Thanksgiving are now in our rearview mirror; unfortunately they seem to still be appearing in the house mirrors! Ruminants will graze until they reach their fill, then lie around and ruminate, and they rest before grazing again. It is a heck of a life. I believe I did the same over Thanksgiving, just not the ruminating part!
I would be much better off not getting my total fill during a meal. Ruminants are just the opposite, they need to be able to consume enough to get their fill, especially if they are growing, or lactating animals. Knowing if a ruminant has reached their fill is fairly easy to recognize. If you look at the left side of their rumen, just in front of their hip, it should be rounded out there not sunken in. The area is more prominent on the left side than the right. Being able to get a full bite when grazing, increasing the size of the forage matter, helps them reach this fullness (or stage) quicker.
A full rumen optimizes growth potential. A beef cow with a good sized rumen can consume more forage when forage quality is slightly less than adequate to try and make up some of the differences in the lower forage quality. They have to consume more of the poorer quality forage than the more adequate quality forage to meet their needs. Western cattle quite often have larger rumens than Eastern cattle because of forage quality. Each can be moved in the other direction depending on what they are being fed or grazing though. Adequate quality with sufficient intake is always the goal. I accomplished both Thanksgiving day.
Last month, we discussed making sure you had enough forage and or feed on hand for the winter. What do you do if you don't have enough? Trying to buy and bring in extra feed can be expensive and will certainly affect the bottom line. Winter feed costs are usually the number one input in a livestock operation. You almost always make money by saving money. Reducing inputs therefore saves you money. With the livestock markets the way they are and the cost of any purchased feed or hay, you should take a very close look at the animals you have right now and decide if you can justify feeding those mouths to which you may be short of forage and feed.
Almost every meat animal is valuable today and that actually creates a double-edged sword when you consider culling. Livestock prices, especially cattle prices the last few years have been good, really good. This has created opportunities for some retirement age producers to step out of the business and step out on top and opened up new ventures since those same producers had grain producers knocking on their doors wanting to farm any land they could hang a tractor on. This of course included ground that was often marginal to start with and why it was in pasture.
Marginal cropland can be productive cropland if managed correctly, but can also be very damaging on some sensitive soils and slopes if not cared for. Several producers have already regretted moving that direction as cattle prices have remained good and commodity prices wavered. It is costly to put ground back into pasture once taken out, but at least you can plant it back to improved forages after cropping it.
I'm getting sidetracked . . . sorry. Cattle numbers especially, have dropped to 1950's levels and this low number of cattle is part of the reason for sustained good cattle prices. It is supply and demand. The bad side of all of this is we have a harder time saving back heifers because they are needed to meet feedlot quotas and it slows down the rebuilding of herds and also new herds. The second downfall is what consumers are willing to spend or pay for a good piece of meat. The last quarter of 2013 gave us a sample of a possible new trend - more poultry consumption, less beef. Meat products need to be affordable even during times of recession. We also must stay competitive with exports.
These statements are important because we really need to think about which animals we keep and which we sell or cull today, whether it is time to move them or we need to reduce numbers to lower winter feed inputs. Without focusing on a particular type of ruminant animal, I will try and list some reasons to cull that would be appropriate for cattle, dairy, sheep and goats in general.
* Body condition. If an animal is not able to gain efficiently on the pasture or fed feeds present, especially as compared to the rest of the group and maintain itself likewise, then this animal is certainly a candidate for culling. These animals certainly couldn't be called "easy keepers;" in fact, quite the opposite. This can be due to higher energy requirements, heavier parasite loads, or a possibly damaged rumen limiting nutrient intake for a few possibilities.
* Attitude or temperament. Maybe it is just me, but I think life is too short to have to deal with animals with poor temperament, especially when they outweigh you six or more times. Do we really want to keep them to raise more unruly challenges?
* Health. There is certainly a list of ailments that would justify an instant culling. Presence of Johne's disease for beef and scrapies for sheep would top my list. There are also numerous genetic traits that probably should not be proliferated. Animals predisposed to pink-eye, blindness, damaged utters or testicles, difficult calvers/kidders/lambers, and prolapsing animals, just to name a few. Animals that are not reproducing or cycling regularly or lame should be considered to be culled.
* Improving the herd. Culling a certain percentage of the group should probably be a yearly event. If you cull or sell off a certain percentage of the group each year, such as ten percent of them, then the remaining animals are that much better and you are augmenting the best animals. Selecting for animals with good conformation is important. They should have good feet and legs, udders, good scrotal conformation, and good girth and appropriate frame. They should also hold appropriate characteristics for the breed, and male and female features.
In conclusion, if the animal does not fit your program, management, or goals then consider culling it. Ideally, don't sell it to your neighbor either. Using these concepts, we have an opportunity to build herds back with good, sound, efficient animals that can provide us and the next generation with even better stock.
Keep on grazing!