Josh Blanek

The following article was written by Dr. Bruce Carpenter, Associate Professor and Extension Livestock Specialist in Fort Stockton. I received it by email in a newsletter titled Beef Cattle Penning. If you would like to see this article and more on the subject of beef cattle management visit:

Think about winter and ranching and most folks will probably think about cold mornings spent in the truck delivering feed to bawling cattle. They probably also can’t help but think of the significant dollars that they will soon spend “enjoying” that activity. The challenge this winter will be to maximize efficiency for each feed dollar spent.

Where to begin? Estimate the type and amount of supplement that you will need this winter. If you plan on feeding hay, inventory it; and then get it tested so you can predict what kind of supplement may be needed to go along with it.

If you depend more on pasture forage, then fall is the time to inventory standing forage. Also, a follow-up forage quality analysis can help target supplement needs later this winter. Sampling forage for quality analysis can be done in mid-winter, or more frequently if conditions change. Certainly by October in many parts of Texas, ranchers will have a pretty good idea about what kind of forage crop was produced during the summer - fall growing period. In cooler regions, fall moisture will determine how much “soon-to- be dormant” forage will be left for winter grazing. In warmer regions, fall and winter moisture will determine how much additional cool season growth might be anticipated. At any rate, plan on spending some time in the pasture this fall estimating the mass of standing forage crop; then estimate what animal demand will be during the winter months (see Extension Publication B-1646; How Much Forage Do You Have?). Time in the pastures this fall will be well spent and can certainly make supplemental feed dollars more effective.

Most herds are worked in the fall; especially spring calving herds. Calves get weaned and it is a convenient time to evaluate the cows. Pregnancy test and cull open females. If you use individual animal ID, check animals for lost tags etc. and plan to up-date pertinent records. Individual ID (ear tags, brands, tattoos, etc), can certainly help with management and marketing throughout the year. Evaluate animals for general soundness: udders, eyes, legs, etc. Don’t forget to check the bottom front teeth on cows and bulls. Many animals, especially in sandy areas, will begin to show significant signs of tooth wear, sometimes as early as 7 years-of-age. Others can have solid mouths well into their teens. Smooth mouth animals should be culled. Broken-mouthed animals with worn or missing teeth should be evaluated for severity on an individual basis.

Consider Vitamin A. Cattle synthesize Vitamin A from green forage and can store it in the liver for up to 3 months. But if cattle will be grazing more than 3 months without access to green forage, then Vitamin A, either as an injection when cows, heifers and bulls are worked at weaning, or incorporated into their feed supplement this winter, would probably be wise. Dormant forage is usually low in phosphorous so remember that, especially for cows. A magnesium mineral is often used to prevent grass tetany in lactating cows that graze winter small grains.

What about parasites? In general, deworming is cost effective as long as the pastures are free from, or low in, worm egg contamination following treatment. If worms are a concern for spring calving herds, it may pay to dewormdry cows if they are going to a clean pasture. Clean (or relatively clean) pastures could be either improved annual pastures, or perennial pastures that have been deferred from grazing for several months (esp. hot summer months). In areas where worms are a concern for fall calving herds, it can often be beneficial to treat suckling calves that are older than 3 months-of-age, even if they are going back to a recently grazed pasture. For best results, use name-brand products for parasite control and remember to rotate classes of dewormers: avermectin, benzimidazoles, imidothiazole (i.e. a white paste or drench vs. a “transparent” product). Liver flukes can also be a local problem in low-lying, moist areas. So if this is a concern, remember to use an internal parasite product with activity on flukes (clorsulon, albendazol, or avermectin + clorsulon). Also, consider external parasite treatments if lice or grubs have been a historic problem in your area.

You may be considering vaccinating for reproductive diseases this fall. This is not ideal for spring calving herds. Most reproductive vaccines (virals and bacterials) work best if they are given about 2 to 3 weeks pre-breeding, and in accordance with label recommendations. If however, your management situation or other factors are causing you to consider giving these vaccinations to pregnant, spring-calving cows this fall; then it is highly recommended that you first consult with your veterinarian.

It was a very tough summer across a lot of Texas. Recent rains will no doubt help some, but it is normal for many cows to be in slightly less than ideal body condition this time of year. Therefore, fall is an excellent time of year to condition score your herd. This will give insight into what may (or may not) be needed in the way of management in the upcoming months. If dry cows are put on good to fair quality fall forage, then most will gain some weight and enter their winter supplementation period in a “maintenance mode”. If however, forage quality is still questionable this fall, and/or the ability to gain weight after weaning is likewise questionable, then consider fall supplementation. Often weight can be added more economically and with less supplement, to a dry cow in mid-gestation (fall) vs. alate-gestation cow (winter). This is because by winter-time, a spring-calver requires extra nutrients for her larger, rapidly growing, pre-natal calf. That situation is typically compounded by more stressful weather and poorer quality winter forage. All this adds up to a less efficient use of supplement for the purposes of winter weight gain. Another way to use fall body condition scoring is to consider splitting the herd into groups tailored for supplemental feeding needs. Each group would be fed (or not fed) according to their projected weight gain (body condition) needs going into winter.

Fall is a great time of year to evaluate both animals and pastures. Plan accordingly, because high input winter months are just around the corner.