1. Home
  2. Animal Husbandry

Challenging Choices Arise During Drought and Limited Forage Supply

In times of drought and short pastures, cow-herd owners are advised to selectively cull their herds based on criteria such as non-pregnancy and poor performance. Downsizing and strategic management can help optimize feed utilization and preserve the best genetics.

Shivangi Rai
Cow-herd owners are faced with difficult decisions regarding culling their herds. (Image Courtesy- Pixabay)
Cow-herd owners are faced with difficult decisions regarding culling their herds. (Image Courtesy- Pixabay)

During times of dry weather and limited pasture availability, cow-herd owners are faced with difficult decisions regarding culling their herds.

Eric Bailey, a beef nutritionist from the University of Missouri Extension, suggests carefully considering which grass eaters should be sold first in order to match the cows' needs with the available grass.

Bailey advises starting with the simple decision of culling poor performers. Cows that are not pregnant or nursing should be sold, as there is no feed to spare for freeloaders when forage is scarce.

Also, lactating cows with issues such as bad disposition, bad feet, bad eyes, or bad udders should be culled. Following that, cows with blemishes or calves that are not performing well should be removed from the herd.

Culling is beneficial even in good years as it improves the overall performance of the herd. The goal is to maintain the best genetics in the herd for as long as possible. Downsizing goes beyond eliminating poor cows. Strategies such as early weaning and selling calves can help reduce feed demand and provide much-needed cash, although they may impact annual income.

Another strategy involves dividing the herd into young and old females and selling one of the groups. Two- to four-year-old cows may possess superior genetics, while older cows have proven success within the farm's management system.

Ultimately, the decision to cull depends on the outlook for forage availability during summer, fall, and winter feeding periods. Bailey highlights that, typically, two-thirds of forage yield occurs in spring growth, while one-third occurs in fall growth. It is crucial to plan for winter stockpiling during the fall season. Even if rainfall returns, below-average fall forage yields should be anticipated. To boost fall growth, applying 40 pounds of nitrogen in August is recommended, considering the recent decrease in fertilizer prices.

Many producers are already feeding hay and may face shortages in the coming winter. Additionally, hay growth this year may have been impacted by the high spring fertilizer prices. Winter feed is expected to be a significant long-term problem.

Severe destocking is a reality for many farms. Initially, a 25% reduction in herd size is suggested, and if normal rainfall does not return, an additional 25% reduction should be considered later.

Selling calves early, despite the revenue loss, can help meet the downsizing needs. A 50% reduction ahead of fall forage growth may allow for stockpiling pastures for winter grazing, reducing the need for feed purchases, but it is dependent on the return of rainfall.

Bailey emphasizes the importance of planning for downsizing and implementing management improvements, such as shorter breeding seasons instead of year-round calving, to benefit the cow-calf business.

In conclusion, the producers who survive the longest in this industry are not necessarily the ones who make the most money during good years but rather those who experience the least losses during challenging times.

International No Diet Day 2024 Quiz Take a quiz
Share your comments
FactCheck in Agriculture Project

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters