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South Central: Preserve condition, resources and equity

Jason Banta for Progressive Cattleman Published on 13 July 2018

Drought and abnormally dry conditions have continued for the South-Central region. During these times, it is imperative to preserve cow body condition, forage resources and financial equity.

Cow body condition is one of the most important factors in achieving high pregnancy rates. To optimize pregnancy rates, 2- and 3-year-old females should be in a body condition score of 6 or greater at calving. Cows 4 years old or older should be in a body condition score of 5 or greater at calving.

If ribs are showing, cows are less than a condition score of 5. Weaning calves a month or two earlier is one cost-effective way to preserve cow body condition.

Selling calves is the primary source of income for cow-calf operations. So a decline in pregnancy rates due to poor body condition results in a significant financial hit for the operation. While we must be wise when spending money on feed, it is critical to keep pregnancy rates high during tough times. That old saying of “You can’t starve a profit out of a cow” still applies.

precip mapPreservation of pasture and range health is critical. Overgrazing will have detrimental effects on both introduced and native forages. When grazing is limited, reduce stocking rates or move cattle to a sacrifice pasture and feed them there. This will allow other pastures to recover quicker when conditions improve.

Although it might sound unusual, if fertilization of hay fields or pastures is part of your normal management plan, it should be continued on some fields during these dry times. Research has demonstrated it takes less water to produce a ton of forage as nitrogen fertilization increases.

A nitrogen source that has few or no volatility concerns (e.g., ammonium nitrate) can be applied and waiting for any unexpected showers. Applying this strategy to some fields will allow for more forage production with limited rainfall.

Preserving financial equity is sometimes overlooked, which can result in long-term financial challenges for an operation. It is easy to spend more on hay and feed for a cow than the cow will be able to generate in future profits. Although it is tough, financially it is better to sell early for a small loss than to purchase large amounts of hay and feed and still have to sell cows at a later time.  end mark

Jason Banta
  • Jason Banta

  • Associate Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist
  • Texas A&M University
  • Email Jason Banta