In order to have healthy calves that will hit the ground running and continue to perform to their highest ability, we need to be focusing on the cows every single day. With the weather we have had the last couple years, it's been difficult to keep ahead of sick cattle or keep body condition where we want to see it. A large focus for me is to keep our cows at their correct body condition score (BCS). During calving season, we must have those cows around a 6–6.5 BCS in order to successfully have healthy calves and maintain our cows’ value during their lactating period and fetal growth.
Body scoring our cows is a very easy way to see how we are doing in our feed program. Keeping a close eye on BCS during winter months can help identify if we need to be adjusting our rations. A 1,350 pound pregnant beef cow will typically require 25-30 pounds of dry matter each day. Not only does winter precipitation need to be taken into account, but adjustments for cold temperatures need to be considered as well. A rule of thumb is to increase energy intake by 1% for every degree of below the lower critical temperature of a cow. This will help prevent environmental stress or weight loss.
One management practice that producers tend to overlook is pregnancy determination in spring calving herds prior to winter. Why is this of any importance to winter feeding strategies in beef cattle? We know that winter feed costs can account for up to 60–70% of all yearly feeding costs. When producers feed open cows during the winter, feed costs become substantially higher when there is no return on those open cows. Identifying those open cows early in the fall will allow a producer to market those animals when market prices permit. Typically, cow prices are higher in late December through early February, so if a producer has a carry-over of summer and fall forages, holding those open cows to market in late December through early February may be an option to increase profit if feed cost per animal is minimal. Otherwise, selling those open cows early in the fall will prevent feeding additional winter feed.
If you have any questions on BCS or other management practices, please give me a call. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and helping their livestock operations succeed.