July 24, 2014

Maintaining Cow Body Condition in a Drought

As most folks know, Texas is in the midst of the worst one year drought in history. My rainfall records for 2011 indicate a total of 5.5 inches of rain since January 1, with 2.6 inches of that coming the weekend of August 13-14.

And, we are nearing 70 days of 100 degrees F or higher this summer. So, many neighboring producers have completely liquidated their cattle herds. Those of us who have chosen to try to wait for that drought breaking rain (we’re one day closer today), feed the cattle everything they are getting to eat, and we are facing the next problem – trying to maintain the brood cow’s body condition and get her bred to produce that next calf.

Body condition scores (BCS) are numbers used to suggest the relative fatness or body composition of the cow. For BCS to be most helpful, producers need to calibrate the system under their own conditions with their own cattle, according to Glenn Selk, Extension Animal Reproduction Specialist, Oklahoma State University. A nine-grade system body condition scoring is commonly used in the United States.

A good, basic body condition score tutorial is provided by Dr. Rick Machen, Beef Cattle Specialist, Texas Agrilife Extension, Texas A&M University.

To help maintain my brood cows’ body condition this summer, I have been feeding as good quality hay as I can find, 30% protein range cubes and being sure the cattle are supplied with adequate minerals. Then, to further help the brood cow, weaning has been done earlier than normal, at a calf age of 150 days rather than 180 – 205 days as normal. Within a couple of weeks of weaning, the calves are sold to reduce the amount of feed expense.

Even with all the above, there are some cows in my herd whose body condition scores have fallen below the score of 4 needed, according to the experts, for high percentage rebreeding. So, my next step is to palpate the spring calving cows to be sure they are bred – those palpated “open” are headed to the cull list and sale.

The cow business is tough in Texas right now and we, as cattlemen and women have to make some tough decisions! How are you handling the drought and your cattle herd?

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