Every year Mother Nature wreaks havoc on various regions with drought. Drier than desirable conditions challenge livestock producers who depend on forages for their cattle to graze during the summer months; however, with proper planning your cattle and your bank account can survive the drought.
There are several options for producers looking to survive drought. Cull and sell the lower-performing part of your herd; wean calves early; adjust your feeding plan; or a combination of these.
“There is not one right answer,” said Kevin Glaubius, Director of Nutrition for BioZyme® Inc. “It is best to take action as early as possible and plan ahead before you are completely out of feed.”
Know what You Have
Take inventory of the available feed you have as soon as you know the drought has arrived and has set in to stay. Take an honest assessment of the feed you have on hand, especially if you know that your summer grass is going to be limited.
Don’t forget to consider alternative resources like crop residues post-harvest, if there is even enough to harvest due to the dry conditions. Do you have a neighbor that farms, but doesn’t have livestock? Inquire with your neighbor about grazing those crop residues as well or grazing the crop that can’t be harvested. Keep in mind, the extra resources you might need if grazing fields. Is the field fenced? Is there a water source available or will you need to haul water? It will be more cost effective to graze the resources available to you rather than buying and transporting feed to your operation.
Once you know the quantity and variety of feed you have available, be sure to have it analyzed for nutrient content. Know what is available of each feed you have tested. BioZyme will provide feed testing free of charge for its current and potential customers. Contact your Area Sales Manager, to find out more about this service.
Stretch Your Resources
Once you have had your available feed resources tested, develop the best feeding plan for your resources. Developing rations is another service you can work on with your BioZyme ASM and professional nutrition staff. Glaubius said that when feeding cows in a dry-lot situation, only three rations are really necessary: 12% protein with high energy for lactating cows; 9% protein with a moderate level amount of energy for cows in late gestation; and 7-8% protein with lower energy for cows in earlier gestation that are in good body condition. Often, producers are offering excessive supplements when the forages already have 15-16% protein, and that results in wasted hay. Offer less hay and lower your DMI to make your resources stretch further, but consider supplementing energy in these situations like corn or soyhulls.
In grazing situations, intake typically drops as the protein levels drop, which is why it is important to supplement protein when the forage quality is low. Even though the quality is lower, the cattle will still eat what is available to them since they are hungry.
“One of the cheapest ways to get more energy into your cows is with Amaferm®, a natural prebiotic that maximizes digestibility,” Glaubius said. He added there are several ways to include Amaferm into the cow’s diet, including but not limited to VitaFerm® Protein Tubs, Concept•Aid®, VitaFerm HEAT™ and the VitaFerm Cow-Calf Mineral.
Another way to stretch your resources is to early wean your calves. Sure, it might be rough on those 200-300-pound calves at first, but with a good nutritional plan, those calves will bounce right back. And the cows, will be more productive in the future.
“I highly recommend early weaning for calves when the pastures are so short,” Glaubius said. “It reduces the nutritional requirements on the cow during the drought, and prevents her from losing more weight that must be put back on prior to calving.”
Get More of What You Need
If you are already feeding those mama cows a VitaFerm product, and you transition your calves to an early weaning ration that includes the Gain Smart™ Stocker Program, your calves can be marketed for additional premiums through the Superior Livestock Gain Smart Verified Program. The Gain Smart Stocker Program is a three-step program that includes Vita Charge® Cattle Drench, Vita Charge Stress Tubs and one of three choices of Gain Smart Mineral. If your calves do qualify for this program, contact your local Superior rep or ASM, to discuss the Superior program, and find out how your calves’ potential premiums could help you buy more feed for your cow herd.
One of the first reactions producers experience in drought is taking cattle to the local sale barn. But it is important to make the right decisions when culling part of your herd. Cull those lower performing cows with weaker genetics first. One measurement tool for this is if you do decide to early wean, cull those cows with the lightest weight calves. They will likely be the harder doing, thinner cows too. And culling and selling right after weaning is smart since cull cow value continues to decrease the longer the drought lasts. During weaning, preg check your cows, and cull any open cows as soon as possible to save feed resources and increase sale price.
Finally, remember to visit with your ASM to find out about feed quality testing and ration development. Use the experts available to you to help you develop rations. The BioZyme staff is here to help you develop feeding programs to help you feed smarter and survive the drought.
For more information about surviving the drought visit www.vitaferm.com/drought.