It is difficult to believe, after the drought last summer and fall, that we are faced with a muddy, wet winter for the second year running. The consequences of last winter’s challenges were evident when working beef herds in the spring. Cows were thin and calves weaned lighter than usual. Many herds were still struggling with below average body condition going into the fall breeding season this year due to the summer drought. The exceptionally poor hay season of 2019 means that conditions have continued to slide through the winter. Additionally, the fluctuating temperatures and damp weather has caused an uptick in respiratory disease, even in well-vaccinated herds.
Here are a few considerations for your herd to minimize losses due to the tough conditions this year:
Make sure that your herd is getting enough groceries. Cows may look wide when their bellies are full of stemmy hay, but the nutritional value is low and may not be adequate to support lactation or pregnancy. Grain supplementation may be needed if hay quality or quantity is inadequate.
High-quality mineral supplementation should be available at all times. Late winter and early spring are peak times for mineral deficiencies and these issues are often exacerbated by wet weather.
Consider creep feeding calves or weaning earlier than usual if the body condition of cows is struggling.
Pregnancy check early. When cows are thin and weather conditions are poor, pregnancy rates can be negatively impacted. Consider working your herd early to identify unexpected problems and adjust accordingly. If you are running short on feed, identifying and shipping open culls early can help stretch the feed. Decisions can also be made to shift cows to spring breeding if necessary.