By Heath Herje
This summer, I've hammered on the subject of drought and poor pasture and range conditions, and for good reason.
During the past 50 years (minus a few dry ones), producers have grown accustomed to ample rainfall and cheap feed, making their overall management decisions cheap and easy.
Now, as we enter into our second continuous winter under extreme drought conditions, and with hay and feed prices at all-time highs, tough decisions are becoming routine and with expensive consequences. With extremely poor range and pasture conditions across the county, cattle producers need to pay extra attention now to conditioning bred heifers for optimal health. Bred replacement heifers that will calve in January and February need to continue to grow and maintain body condition through the fall months and into winter.
Ideally, 2-year-old heifers should be in a body condition score of six at the time their first calf is born. This allows them the best opportunity to provide adequate colostrum to the newborn, repair the reproductive tract, return to heat cycles, rebreed on time for next year and continue normal body growth. In terms of production and management, the heifers typically need to be gaining about one pound per head per day from now until calving time, assuming the animals are in good body condition coming out of summer.
Also, the heifers will need supplemental protein if the major source of forage in the diet is bermudagrass, native pasture or grass hay. If the forage source is adequate in quantity and average in quality, say six percent to nine percent crude protein, heifers will need about two pounds of high protein — between 38 percent and 44 percent crude protein — in supplement each day.
This will probably need to be increased with higher quality hay such as alfalfa or additional energy feed such as 20 percent range cubes as winter weather creates additional nutrient requirements. Soybean hulls or wheat-mids also may be used to ensure the adequate energy intake of pregnant heifers. Provided adequate rainfall produces necessary growth, wheat pasture can be used as a supplement for pregnant replacement heifers. Using wheat pasture judiciously makes sense for pregnant heifers for two reasons:
• Pregnant heifers consuming full feed of wheat pasture will gain at about three pounds per head per day. If they are on the wheat too long the heifers can become obese and cause calving difficulty.
• The wheat pasture can be used for gain of stocker cattle or weaned replacement heifers more efficiently. If wheat pasture is used for bred heifers, use it judiciously as a protein supplement by allowing the heifer’s access to the wheat pasture on alternate days.
Some cattle producers have reported that one day on wheat pasture and two days on native range or bermudagrass pasture appear to work best. This encourages the heifers to go rustle in the warm season pasture for the second day, rather than just stand by the gate waiting to be turned back in to the wheat.
Whatever method is used to grow the pregnant replacement heifers, producers should be aware of how their management is ensuring good body condition by calving time so heifers will grow into fully-developed productive cows. Rotational grazing, allowing pastures adequate rest, and proper supplementation all aid in successful beef operations.
Heath Herje is an agribusiness educator for Cleveland County Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. He writes a periodic column for The Norman Transcript and distributed through CNHI News Service.