Fall is the time of year when beef producers should assess the past growing season and prepare for the upcoming winter months. University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist Gene Schmitz says that evaluating forage base and livestock performance can help identify problems that should be addressed this winter. He offers five helpful tips for livestock producers to think about when making plans this fall for the remainder of 2014 and into 2015.
1. Assess weeds: Monitor pasture and hay fields for weed pressure and the presence of toxic plants. Identify and mark problem areas this fall so they can be treated in a timely manner next year. Assess grass stands and identify areas for possible renovation to thicken the stand. Schmitz adds that soil testing should be done in the fall. Identifying nutrient deficiency areas early will let farmers and ranchers spend fertilizer and lime dollars more wisely to correct existing problems.
2. Inventory hay and feed supplies: Schmitz advises livestock producers to take a close look at hay quality. Performing hay tests is essential in creating a balanced feeding program. Producers will also need to identify sources of needed nutrients and develop cost-effective feed rations. Grain and grain byproduct prices are lower than in past years, Schmitz says, but it is still economically beneficial to control supplementation as much as possible. If you have used distillers grains in the past, rations will need to be adjusted to account for the lower energy values due to more oil being taken out of the product.
3. Score body condition: Schmitz says that body-condition scoring of the cow herd is essential, especially this year. "Be sure to wean calves before cow body condition is depleted," he says. The cheapest way to add weight and condition to cows before winter is not to let them lose it in the first place, he adds. "Remember, adding weight is a function of increasing the energy intake of the animals," Schmitz notes. Low levels of protein supplementation will not provide enough energy to improve body condition. High-energy supplements such as grains or grain byproducts will need to be fed, especially if the cows are thin and need to add condition.
4. Evaluate the performance of the calf crop: Schmitz says one way cattle producers can assess their operations is by knowing what questions to ask. How did this year compare to past years? Do changes in the breeding program, such as new bloodlines or crossbreeding, need to happen? Are cow and heifer pregnancy rates where they should be? If not, why not? Do you know which cows are performing better than others are? Maybe it's time to look at production record software to help manage the cow herd and provide information to make better culling decisions. Finding out the answers to these questions will help develop a 2015 breeding plan.
5. Make a management plan: When you get your hands on a 2015 calendar, Schmitz suggests making notes on the appropriate months to identify management priorities for problem areas. These reminders can be especially helpful with items such as weed-control programs.