Dwindling forage resources in many top beef producing states over the past several years has producers shaking their heads, looking for better ways to manage their herds without using excessive supplements.
At the 2013 K-State Beef Conference, David Lalman, Oklahoma State University cattle nutritionist, offered a solution – instead of using supplements to boost production, allow cows to be more efficient using available forage.
Lalman explained that even as longer hay feeding seasons and use of supplements have grown more commonplace, weaning weights have remained relatively unchanged since the 1990s, according to farm management databases from Texas, North Dakota, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
"I think probably what we have done is gradually modified the environment," Lalman said. "In order to achieve optimum, what producers probably need to consider is resist increasing those inputs."
Instead, Lalman suggests that producers should not be as afraid to let cows fail from a reproductive standpoint. While watching closely to make sure cows don't get too thin, it's ok to let them match productivity based on available feedstuffs.
"If you just reduce the hay feeding season somewhat, if you just backed off a little bit in the amount of supplement so that the cows are having to rely at least slightly more on the forage resource and less on the expensive inputs, there will be a few more cows fail because they can't cut it," he said. "If we were to do that over a period of time, eventually I think we would get to the type of animal ... that is closer to the optimum."
Another suggestion to avoid this reliance in the future, Lalman says, is to not let the pendulum of body type characteristics swing wildly. The pendulum, he says, represents past swings from the small frame animals of the 1930s to the large frame animals of the 1980s.
Now, we are back to moderate frame and can focus on improving productivity, he suggests.
"Maybe use more moderation in the cows in terms of growth and get the growth from the bull," he says.