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West: Consider the costs of your drought strategy

Ryan D. Rhoades for Progressive Cattleman Published on 13 July 2018

The heat of summer is here, and dry conditions are still affecting forage production across much of the West. Many producers face making decisions that could influence long-term profitability. Drought strategies usually involve some combination of supplemental feeding and culling.

However, unintended or invisible costs should be analyzed. Good drought management requires the ability to navigate through the current situation while keeping an eye on the future. Since analyzing decisions during drought is critical to the bottom line, here are a couple of considerations to help set us up for success.

1. Consider analyzing your culling strategy: Since culling is a primary method of dealing with drought, it is important to consider all production stages (calves, replacements and cows). Early weaning of calves is the first consideration.

Then the decision to sell or keep must be made. If low-cost feed is available, it may make economic sense to retain heifer calves. Heifer calves represent genetic progress and require less feed than a cow. An early pregnancy check is recommended for replacement heifers. This allows for quick culling of late-bred heifers and shortens the next breeding season.

Finally, all open cows should be culled. After that, be careful before depopulating the “factory” too deep. Fewer mature cows will lead to fewer calves to sell in subsequent years.

2.  Consider analyzing your feed resources: Controlling feed expenses during drought is a significant challenge. There are a couple of quick and practical ways to ensure more cost-effective supplementation: diet quality analysis and least-cost ration formulation.

Monitoring body condition is a good place to start. Additional tools (fecal and forage testing) help to inform the decision of what nutrients need supplemented and when to start feeding. Once determination to feed has been made, closely evaluate feed alternatives. There might be feed ingredients that deliver lower-cost nutrients. Consider the investment in a tub grinder/mixer to deliver unique least-cost rations.

3.  Consider analyzing your cost of production: Margins are tightening, and the ability to cash flow until the end of a drought is critical. Analysis of production costs utilizing accurate production and financial records offers important benchmark data for decision-making.

There are places (i.e., pasture, herd health, etc.) where spending less leads to bigger production losses and increased costs. Cutting production costs must be looked at cautiously to avoid unintended consequences. Analysis of data is the common link among each consideration. Drought requires confident decision-making for the long term. Avoiding needless costs can help mitigate the impact of drought.  end mark

Ryan D. Rhoades
  • Ryan D. Rhoades

  • Assistant Professor
  • Beef Extension Specialist - Colorado State University
  • Email Ryan D. Rhoades