It looks as if we may finally get to spring. That last few weeks have certainly presented cattle producers with more than a few weather related challenges. It's my optimistic hope that we're going to see the benefits of this moisture in more grass and feed.
Special Considerations This Year
I realize that the temptation to get cattle out to grass on the same schedule is incredibly strong, especially in muddy conditions. My advice this year is to resist that temptation or develop alternative plans if possible allow pastures as much time as possible to recover. The dry conditions last year put a tremendous amount of stress on the plants. Grazing those plants too soon or too heavily this year will only make the conditions worse and jeopardize the long-term productivity of your range and pasture.
Another suggestion for this year is to document any higher-than normal livestock losses. While currently the funding for an indemnity program is not in place, there has been legislation introduced that would extend the Livestock Indemnity Program. If those efforts prove successful, there will be some compensation available to livestock producers who experienced increased death loss due to weather conditions. But documentation will be required to substantiate those losses. Right now is the time to record those losses, before too much time passes and it is more difficult to reconstruct what happened.
Along with the arrival of green grass in the Northern Plains also come internal parasites to rob nutrients from grazing cattle. Worms that overwintered in the cow lay eggs that are deposited in the pasture through the manure. The eggs hatch into larvae that the cattle eat with the grass. Left unchecked, this cycle continues until the parasite populations get high enough to cut production and profits.
A way to break that cycle is to deworm cattle in the spring. That treatment serves two purposes: killing any internal parasites already present in the animal, and helping to prevent further infestation of the pasture. That way the parasite load is reduced throughout the grazing season. A lot of times producers look at their cowherd and think that because the cattle look like they are in good shape there aren't enough internal parasites to justify treatment. Actually, in most cases the economic loss happens before the cattle show clinical signs of a parasite infestation because of suppression of intake and appetite.
What kind of differences in performance can we expect? Research suggests that weaning weights of calves from treated cows were 31 to 44 pounds higher than calves from untreated herd mates. Parasite loads can also affect the size of next year's calf crop. Cows that were treated for internal parasites were more likely to become pregnant than untreated controls (94 vs. 82 percent).
Another tool available to cow calf producers is implanting suckling calves with a growth promotant implant. Used properly, implants can add another 20 or 30 pounds of weaning weight. If 500 pound steer calves are worth $160 per hundred and 525 pound steers are worth $2.50 per hundred less, a 25 pound increase in weaning weight from an implant is worth almost $27 extra per calf. With those kinds of results, a producer would need an additional $5.38 per hundredweight to justify not implanting calves.
The age of the cow plays a role in determining when the calves should be implanted. Research from South Dakota State University has shown that spring-born calves from mature cows respond better when implanted at branding time, while calves from first-calf heifers had a greater response when implanted at the time preconditioning shots are given. The mature cows had higher milk production early in lactation compared to the first-calf heifers. The younger cows don't normally produce enough milk early in the season, but by late summer the calves are consuming enough forage to support a response to the implant.
Other considerations for using implants on nursing calves include:
· Don't use on newborn calves or sick calves.
· Don't use on heifers that are already identified as replacements.
· Make sure that implants are placed in the ear properly. At 25 to 30 dollars per head potential return on investment, it's worth taking the time to do it right.