Preparing your herd for winter

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

With the dry weather throughout the province this past summer, managing a beef cow herd has been a challenge this year.
And now winter is just around the corner.
Last year, we had a mild winter, which cut down on feed costs but caused problems with some winter kill of alfalfa. So what should be done to prepare for this winter?
Most everyone in the province put up less hay than usual, so producers have gone to alternative feeding strategies. Some are using feedstuffs they have not used before, such as straw, corn stalks, oatlage, etc.
Nitrates have been a concern with stressed corn and may be a concern with oatlage, particularly if cut early and stored wet.
Nitrate toxicity causes the blood to lose its oxygen-carrying capacity, so be on the watch for cattle panting, staggering, etc.
Time and ensiling will see nitrate levels drop, but it is worthwhile to have feed tested at a credible lab. If the level is high, it should be blended with other feeds.
Blending feeds is always a good strategy for rumen health and efficiency.
The feeding system strategy has to limit cows to what feed they need without over-feeding and with minimal waste. Spreading feed on frozen ground can be an efficient way to minimize feed waste so long as the cattle only are fed what they need.
Fall is a good time to sit down and do some evaluations on the cow herd by comparing some key performance measures to previous years, such as:
•pregnancy rate (i.e., percentage of cows exposed that are pregnant);
•weaning weights/adjusted weaning weight (with poor pastures due to dry weather, these are likely to be down unless creep feed was supplied);
•sale weights;
•sale weights compared to cow weights;
•weaning percentage (i.e., percentage of cows exposed that weaned a calf); and
•productivity (pounds of calf per cow exposed).
After looking at the herd measures, then comes looking at individual cows. In a year with short feed supplies, it becomes more critical to cull any cows who will not work well enough to make money for you next year.
These include:
•any cow that is open;
•cows with feet and udders bad enough to affect their production;
•late-calving cows or cows that are poor performers based on the performance measures above; and
•cows with attitudes that you cannot put up with for another year.
Similarly, it is important to look at herd bulls. The nutritional requirements, and thus costs, for keeping a bull generally are higher than a cow.
Consequently, serious consideration should be given to culling bulls:
•with extra age;
•with bad feet and temperament;
•in excess of a ton;
•with a lot of daughters in the herd; or
•whose calves are anything less than outstanding as he can be replaced in the spring with a young bull who is better.
As always, the winter months will be challenging, but a few management decisions can be made which will make it easier and more profitable.
Dates to remember
•Dec. 4–Rainy River Soil & Crop Improvement Association annual meeting, 7:30 p.m., Emo Inn.