Cow-Calf Management Tips For October


   October has arrived. It is the beginning of the fall season. It is the month of harvest for grain producers for most of Tennessee cow-calf producers in that the large percentage of the calf crop is weaned and marketed. Once calves are sold, producers tend to think of early fall as a “slow time.”
   October is not a slow month for producers. Lots of management practices should be carried out during this month. The pregnancy checking and culling of open cows are generally done during this time, health practices are applied and brood cows productive performance is evaluated. One of the more important decisions made during this month is planning the winter feeding program. There is still some grass that could be harvested to hay and/or graded in most areas.
   Several spring and fall calving cows will be going into the fall and winter “thin” in body condition that would result in reduced reproductive performance. Start working on improving the body condition of the cows during this month. Calves should be weaned in order for the brood cows to improve in condition.
   October is the month that the final plans should be made for the winter feeding program. Plan to use surplus grass and crop residues to reduce feed cost. Plan winter feeding practices to reduce feed waste and improve profitability.
   Following are some suggested management practices for October 2014. Suggestions are included for both late – winter/early spring calving herds as well as those that calve in the late fall/early winter.
   Late Winter-Early Spring Calving Herds
   • Producers should consider weaning calves to reduce nutritional stress on beef cows, particularly with the 2 and 3 year old cows. If these young females are “thin,” weaning would be especially beneficial. This will reduce the nutritional demand of the females and should allow them to improve in condition if any forage is available. The young females should be in better condition at subsequent calving which will contribute to maintaining an acceptable level of reproduction.
   • Body condition score (BCS) the cows in the herd. This would allow ample time to make improvements in their condition, if needed. This can be done as the herd is checked in the pasture. Record numbers, estimate BCS and review again.
   • Research results on calves weaned at 170 days of age showed that cows picked up 100-125 lb. weight gain over 82 days compared to those still suckling calves. This weight gain could produce an improvement of 1.2 to 1.5 in body condition scores of the dams. It takes about 82- 85 lb. of weight gain to improve condition 1 score in beef cows. Mature brood cows can get along well on lower quality forage to improve conditions.
   • If producers already know the cows that they plan to cull, now would be an excellent time to market them. Definitely cull those cows that are likely to develop physical problems and could become “downers.” There are lots of reports on the market price advantage to carrying cull cows over to the following January and February. Be sure ample feed supply is available to feed remainder of herd.
   • First calf heifers may need to be provided extra feed to improve in condition. Feed them the best forage.
   • If not already done, make plans to market or retain calves. Evaluate the alternatives in terms of anticipated cost of production.
   • Bulls should be isolated, fed and managed to attain BCS of 6. Be sure they have ample room for exercise. Start making replacement heifers selection. Evaluate those that were dropped the first half of the calving season. These will be the ones that will start cycling early and can be bred to calve to fit the calving season of the mature cow herd. First calving of replacement heifers dictates the length of future calving seasons and their productive potential.
   Late Fall-Early Winter Calving Herds
   • If not already done, calves from these cows should be marketed. Encourage producers to cooperatively market feeder calves.
   • These cows should be pregnant. Their nutrient needs are minimal and they can be maintained on lower quality pasture if in a “good” (BCS of 5-6) body condition. Will cows be in appropriate body condition for calving? Body condition score these cows now. Mature cows should be in at least a BCS of 5 and first-calf heifers in a BCS of 6.
   Cows with a BCS of 4 or less should be separated and fed to reach the desired BCS of 5 prior to calving. Time is short.
   Both Groups of Cows
   • When available, an alternative source of grazing might be harvested hay fields. Lots of forage is left around the edge of the fields as well as from possible regrowth. Regrowth is a high quality feed on which both the calves and cows will do well. Check for toxic plants.
   • It may be too late for lots of producers, but hay waste can be minimized by proper storage. Wasted and spoiled hay drives up feed cost. Research conducted at UT and other universities, as well as demonstrations done by several Extension agents across the state, have shown that up to 35% of the hay is wasted when stored on the ground and uncovered. With the cost, don’t waste hay.
   • Inventory the winter feed supply. This needs to be done in time to make adjustments in cattle numbers and/or feed resources.
   • Be sure working pens or lots where cattle will be confined are free of Perrila mint. We take 2-3 calls a year on this topic. This plant is highly toxic to cattle. When cattle are confined to areas where Perrila mint is available, they will consume it out of boredom, not hunger. Also, make sure that the working facilities are in a good state of repair before the fall working. Now would be a good time to repair them.
   • If possible nitrate build up in forages, check for nitrate levels before feeding. Several cattle’s deaths will occur this fall due to nitrate toxicity.
   • Avoid unnecessary heat stress, work or haul cattle in the early morning.
   • Be sure to remove fly tags during fall working to reduce buildup of resistance.
   Provide an appropriate mineral supplement at all times. ∆
   DR. JIM NEEL: Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, University of Tennessee
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