As another long, mostly dry summer draws to a close, many cattle producers go into autumn in drought with no relief in sight. Cattle breeders should start planning now for how to manage through another few months of drought. There is no “cookie cutter” solution to this issue, however, a few basic strategies should be considered in formulating a breeder management plan for this autumn.
Pregnancy test and class your breeders: Spring calving herds should pregnancy test ASAP. Identify empty and late conceiving cows and market them. Autumn calving herds should have done this by now. Aggressively cull off type, cast for age and unsound animals. Aim to retain your fittest, most productive females and allocate precious feed, financial and management resources to them. Continue vaccination and drenching programs to keep retained breeders healthy. By acting now, you can avoid ending up with cattle that are too weak, poor or heavily pregnant to market.
Early wean calves: It is far more efficient to feed a weaned calf and non lactating cow separately, than to feed a lactating cow and calf unit. Calves can be successfully weaned down to 100-130 kg with the right management. At this size, calves can be supplementary fed to achieve worthwhile growth rates. Nutrition and health management of weaned calves is vital. The aim of an early weaning program is two fold. One, end up with a properly weaned, immune competent, healthy weaner that is “going forward” and marketable. Two, relieve the pressure on your breeder cows so that they can maintain or improve body condition by the time they calve. This will give them the best chance of re conceiving in the spring.
Supplement feed: A supplementary feeding strategy for breeders can take three forms.
- Topping up existing paddock feed resources by feeding hay, concentrates or by products such as whole cotton seed.
- Driving intake of dry, low value standing feed by feeding a urea based supplement.
- Full production feeding when there is little or no standing feed left.
Producers need to carefully consider the financial and logistical implications of whichever option they take. If you are going to supplementary feed breeder cows, do it properly and make it pay. Otherwise you are wasting your money and risk ending up with an animal welfare disaster. Hopefully, we will see some effective rain soon. In the meantime: Make a plan. Stick to it.
- Scott Parry, NorthWest Vets Coonamble, Walgett, Lightning Ridge.