Strategies to Manage Cows in Dry Conditions

AMES, Iowa ― As dry conditions continue, cattle producers need to look at numerous management practices to help stretch their feed supply and maintain performance and reproduction in the cow herd. Iowa State University Extension beef program specialist Denise Schwab offers a few strategies that may help.

“First, develop a plan before the drought conditions get any worse,” Schwab said. “How do you plan to provide emergency feed in the short-term, as well as winter feed in the longer term? This requires an inventory of feed currently available and an inventory of the cow herd. You can often purchase hay less expensively during the growing season than in the winter, and you also have the option now to incorporate silage into your winter feed supply.”

Second, give your pasture some rest. Consider splitting your pasture into smaller paddocks and sacrificing one to use with supplemental feed, she said. Allowing the other paddocks to rest and regrow when rain occurs this fall will probably result in more fall forage available to the cow herd. Also, rotational grazing reduces selectivity in a cow’s grazing habit, enhances forage utilization rate and can improve pasture carrying capacity by 10 to 30 percent.

“You also can consider weaning calves early. This will reduce the demand on the pasture forage by 25 to 35 percent and will reduce the nutritional demands of the cow by 30 to 40 percent,” Schwab said. “Creep feeding calves can help reduce the demand on the pasture slightly and will help prepare the young calf for weaning.”

Another strategy is to cull all free-loader cows immediately. This includes late-calving cows, open cows, and cows with feet, leg, eye or udder problems that should be sold immediately. Don’t waste precious feed on cows that don’t perform.

“Finally, get your winter feeds lined up soon,” she said. “Whether you need to locate a custom chopper or bagger to chop your silage, or you need to lay out fence for grazing standing corn, it is much easier to do now than at the last minute.”

More information on cow management strategies during a drought and on forage planning can be found on the Iowa Beef Center website at www.iowabeefcenter.org or by calling Schwab at 319-721-9624.

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