For Release November 5, 2002

Next Two Months is a Critical Time for Cows

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

Take everything that we have ever told you about November and December being very low maintenance times for spring calving cows, and through that notion out the window. Oh, itís still true, if youíve had some normal years. We havenít had normal years so standard rules of thumb donít apply.

The past year has been hard on cows, in fact, the past three years have been hard on cows. This year has really brought everything together with the horrible lack of good forage through much of the summer and lingering on now into fall. Normally we come off summer pasture, the calves are weaned and the cows are looking good. But we didnít have normal summer pasture conditions. The weather was hot and dry and a lot of cows lost body condition.

Now we follow that up with two weeks of cloudy, cool, wet weather. Even though it hasnít been brutally cold, those cows have been suffering with wet hair coats nearly every day. And once a cow has a wet hair coat and the temperature drops below about 60 degrees, it takes extra energy to keep that cow warm.

Normally weíd have those cow herds coasting about now and then start gearing them up as we move into the last trimester of their pregnancy. But that assumes that we have cows in normal or moderate body condition. Once we move past the first of the year, the developing calf is going to take a lot of energy from the cow. If we have wet and/or cold conditions, those will take extra energy from the cow. If we are going to put a little weight on those cows and improve their condition, we really need to do it now, when it will be easier, and cheaper to do it.

Everything we do, between now and the time to re-breed next year, is going to impact the productivity and profitability of your cow herd. A cow will loose body condition as she moves through late pregnancy, calving and early nursing. She has to regain body before she can get pregnant again. The lower her body condition now, the longer it will take to get her back into condition to be rebred.

A cow has four biological priorities in life. The first nutrients that a cow eats every day go towards maintenance or basic survival. After those needs are met, then nutrients are allocated to growth, then thirdly to milk production and lastly to reproduction. So when a cow is under stress, the first thing to drop off is reproduction. A drop in reproduction means more days until she is rebred, which leads to a later calf and a later calf will be a smaller calf at weaning and that leads to less income. A drop in reproduction also means that their will be more cows that just donít get pregnant which again leads to a loss in production.

What you need to do now is evaluate all your cows by body condition. We have a really good bulletin at the office that can help you learn to evaluate your cows. But you can look at them and tell which ones are thin. Those need to be separated off and over the next 60 days, try to get some weight on them. In many cases we are simply looking at putting a half a pound to a pound a day on them. It doesnít take much extra feed to do this, often well under 75 cents a day will do it. But you donít need to feed that to all the cows, just the thin, under condition cows.

We often think of late fall as a time when the cows, and the rancher can take a little time off. But this year, we need to think of it as time to get all the cows geared up so we donít have a cow herd disaster next spring!


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