While many summer days aren't fit for man or beast, it's easy to let our cow-calf herds "run on automatic" while hay-making takes precedence. But don't let those "dog days" cause your management intensity to slip. Your herd is your real center of profit. Make sure you give this nine-point checklist the attention it deserves.
Assess body condition: Nothing's more important than sending cows and replacement heifers into the winter in decent body condition. If dry weather and poor pastures are a problem, it'll be easier to add condition now during warm weather. Renting extra pasture or supplemental feeding are ways to not let body condition slip too low.
Keep an eye on late, repeat breeders: A high percentage of cows returning to heat after skipping a heat period may indicate an early embryonic death, or "slipped embryos". Likewise, cows that are 60 to 90 days post-calving and still haven't come in to heat should be examined for reproductive problems.
Remember your bulls: How intensely your bull is working in mid-summer depends on your intended calving season.
There's a trend toward later calving on pasture as a way to cope with high feed costs. This means more bulls are expected to perform during in the hottest weather of the year.
Closely observe your bulls' breeding activity. At the end of the breeding season, check them for feet and leg problems, eye lesions and penile injuries. Offer good nutrition to replace condition lost during breeding season.
Watch for heat stress: Heat stress may or may not result in deaths, but always impairs performance. Extended periods of high temperature and high humidity are cause for extreme caution.
Common sense management includes: providing sprinklers; working cattle only in early morning and only when necessary; controlling flies which decreases cattle bunching together; providing straw in outside areas to cool down soil temperature; and feeding in the evening when the your animals can better manage the heat produced in their rumens.
Catch up on castration: Hopefully you took care of this important step during cooler weather. But late-born calves may still require castration. Surgical castration should be done before two months of age. Banding can be effective if carefully done, but should be limited to calves less than one week of age.
Put "newly steered" calves in clean dry areas and apply a fly repellent. Watch closely for maggots or infection. Tetanus or "lockjaw" can occur in castrated animals forced to lay in dirty conditions.
Consider creep feeding: Creep feed grain mixes are expensive, but your calves are far more valuable commodities. If poor pastures and/or poor milking cows result in sub-par calf growth, consider creep.
Implant nursing calves: If your marketing plan is "organic" or if you sell to consumers preferring unimplanted beef, this practice isn't for you. Otherwise, make it part of your summer calf program.
Nursing calves at least 45 days old can be implanted with Synovex C or Component E-C. Those at least 30 days old can be implanted with Ralgro. Weaning weights are 10 to 30 pounds heavier, with an average 20-pound response. The three types of growth implants for suckling calves are:
- 10 mg. estradiol benzoate plus 100 mg. progesterone (Component E-C, Synovex C)
- 36 mg. zeranol (Ralgro)
- 25.7 mg. estradiol (Compudose) or 43.9 mg. estradiol (Encore)
They can be used in steers and in heifers not intended for replacements. Only Calf-oid, Component E-C, Synovex C, and Ralgro are labeled for replacement heifers.
Never implant replacement bulls with growth promotants. Many cattlemen don't implant heifer replacements as some trials show slight fertility declines.
Consider Michigan State Extension specialists' interesting take on the profit potential of implanting calves: Let's assume two people can gather and implant 30 calves an hour. An average 20-pound weaning advantage and a calf value of $1.50 per pound nets an extra $30 per calf.
Implanting nets $870 from the 30 calves after accounting for the $1 per head implant cost. Divide that by two workers, and you've just made $435 for your hour of working calves. This is one job you should top of your to-do list!
Watch for pinkeye: This disease is highly contagious. Incidence increases in spring and peaks summer.
Prevention is critical and steps should be taken to reduce anything that causes eye irritation such as flies, dusty feed, and tall weeds and grasses. Vaccines are available, but have been disappointing.
Treatment should commence as early as possible with long-lasting tetracyclines. For those with a steady hand, penicillin and dexamethasone can be injected under the thin membrane of the eye.
Control flies and internal parasites: Both are enormous profit-robbers. Heavy fly infestations often require multiple approaches such as fly tags, back rubbers and pour-ons for flies and internal parasites.
Forge ahead with forage: Protect those round bales from weather damage with some type of covering. It's also important to store your higher-quality second cutting forages where they'll be accessible in late winter and early spring. That's when the nutrient requirements of spring-calving cows rises markedly.Plan now, too, for fall seedings. Late August or early September is an ideal time to improve cool-season pastures by either a new seeding or interseeding new forages into an existing pasture.Now is the time to check and correct any soil fertility problems and line up seed supplies. Custom operators with no-till drills get busy this time of year, so if you need that service talk to them now.
Harpster is a Penn State animal scientist and a beef cow-calf producer.