September 19, 2014

How do you Get your Cows through a Winter Drought?


Here it is December and all the talk is about Christmas – Christmas shopping, putting up Christmas decorations, family gatherings, etc.

My thoughts have been, for quite awhile now, how do I get the few cows I have left through the winter? In my area of Texas, we have been in a severe drought and had extremely high temperatures beginning back in April. Now it’s turning cold and all my cows have to eat is what I am feeding them every day.

Since January 1, 2011, rainfall on my place has totaled 10.65 inches through today, December 2011. There was no hay made in this area, so, to date, to have hay to feed cows, two truckloads of round bales have been bought, brought in from out of state – at an extremely high price, I might add. My cattle herd has been culled, culled deeper, then culled deeper, so that my cow numbers are as low as they have been in 15 years. Many of my neighbors have sold completely out. I am lucky, in that I have not had to worry about water for the cows – I have two wells and a spring-fed creek running through my place.

My hope, in buying hay and feeding my cows, is that I can hang on and be in the cattle business when the drought ends. Then, I can be in a position to sell cattle to those who are restocking. But, the winter presents many problems for “hanging on.” Normally, through the winter, I am grazing wheat and feeding some hay. Even though my normal wheat acreage is planted, some has emerged, but because it is dry, not grown to the point where it can be grazed. My hope is that there will be enough rain coming my way to grow that wheat to minimal grazing stage. Pastures were “grazed out” long ago.

Here’s what I have done to prepare for the winter:
1. Weaned and sold all calves, even though they had to be weaned and sold early.
2. Pregnancy checked all the cows, sold all determined to be “open.”
3. Evaluated and assigned Body Condition Scores to all the cows left after the pregnancy check culling. Any with a BCS of 4 or less were culled and sold.
4. Looked at weaning weights and ratios of the offspring, culled the cows left after the two prior cullings with offspring on the lower end. My record keeping software (CattleMax) helped a lot in this step.
5. Located and purchased what I hope is enough hay to get through the winter with the cows I have left.
6. Determined to keep protein tubs provided for the cows through the winter. Feed cubes as needed, probably every third day.
7. Prayed for rain enough to at least provide some grazing of wheat.

Prospects for that last item on the list do not look good, as meteorologists are predicting the winter to be a dry one in this area.

So, I’m looking for this winter in the cattle business to be the toughest I’ve ever faced in my more than 30 years in the business!

What has been your way of coping with the drought conditions? What are your plans going forward?

Comments from other readers...

  1. Mix 30 supplement!

  2. Kim Pruett says:

    It”s been a tough lesson but this drought has made me a better cattle rancher. My eye for culling has improved and the overall quality of my herd will benefit for years to come. Regular worming has helped my cows maximize their gain without feeding the parasites. Pulling calves a little sooner has actually improved the body condition of my cows prior to calving. The heifers I have retained are the cream of the crop and if they make a wrong turn, they’re gone. I don’t waste hay, I don’t overf eed and I don’t under feed. I’ve learned to let the body score of my cows determine the quantity and frequency of supplemental feeding. I have learned that my grass is a more important resource than my cows and you get out of it what you put into it! Yes, its been a tough couple of years but I tust in God and know that he is preparing me and my herd for the future. We’ll keep praying for rain, our animals and the ranchers who care for them. May God bless us all. Merry Christmas!

  3. I use Mix 30. My cows look great at present!

  4. Hi,
    My thoughts go out to you and cattle breeders in your position. When conditions have been bad and the near future looks as bad, I think one has to think with ones head, not ones heart. Some times the cost to keep a nuclear of breeding cows to keep genes can be two great, sad but two great. You may end up with a small herd after the drought but at what price? Also the land is so badly eaten out that it take a long time to recover to it’s full potential.

    Regards,
    Russell Seears.

  5. I think your management decisions to date have been correct and I hope you can get some reward from those decisions.

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