“Cattle producers are dealing with varying degrees of drought and forage resources,” says Patrick Davis MU Extension livestock field specialist. Some cattle producers have received adequate rain and are recovering from the 2022 drought through rebuilding forage and cattle resources. Other cattle producers have received limited rain and are continuing to deal with drought conditions from 2022 with less resources in 2023. Depending on which group you are in, Davis discusses some tips and strategies to help cattle producers feed their way through the drought as economically efficiently as possible.

“Use a culling plan to reduce the herd stocking rate to match feed resources,” says Davis. This plan should include which cows you plan to cull and when you plan to cull them based on feed resources. Also, consider the strong cow market when making these decisions. Cows that are open, and poor performing should be at the top of the cull list. In addition, cows that are old, thin or have blemishes such as structure, udder or disposition issues should be considered for culling. Davis urges cattle producers to plan to only keep cows that breed and calve annually, maintain adequate body condition, and produce an acceptable calf as efficiently as possible.

“Early weaning spring born calves is an option to reduce cow nutrient needs to better match limited feed resources,” says Davis. Calves have been weaned as early as 60 days, but it is more practical for beef cattle producers to early wean calves at approximately 120 days. A successful early weaning program hinges on proper calf health, management, feeding and environment. If you are new to early weaning calves, Davis suggest visiting with your large animal veterinarian and local MU Extension livestock field specialist to discuss a proper calf management plan to make early weaning successful on your operation.

“When buying hay make sure you buy from someone you trust and evaluate it for nutritional value,” says Davis. Like last year there will be a lot of poor quality hay sold. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the hay for nutritional value so that a proper feeding plan can be determined. If the hay is suspected to be high in nitrate have a quantitative nitrate test done in addition to the nutritive value test. Once the nitrate concentration is determined in the hay, feeding strategies can be developed to reduce potential toxicity issues.

“Try to buy feed commodities in bulk to reduce cost, but make sure you can store and feed the commodities,” says Davis. When buying bulk commodities to feed, make sure you have proper bin capacity or a barn that can serve as a commodity shed that will keep the commodities dry and out of the elements to reduce spoilage and waste. In addition, if you are buying wet bulk commodities make sure those are fed in proper time to cut down on spoilage, mold, and waste. Make sure proper equipment is available to mix and feed commodities in an efficient and timely manner. Evaluate the nutritive value of these bulk commodities periodically so that a proper feeding regimen can be determined to make sure the diet is meeting cattle nutrient needs. Compare bulk commodities on a price per nutrient dry mater basis and purchase the cheapest priced commodity to fulfill cattle nutrient needs economically.

“Use rotational grazing to save forage as well as allow pastures to rest and recover,” says Davis. Using electric fence to control cow access to grass reduces pasture overgrazing and allows pasture rest and recovery. In addition, forage is more efficiently grazed by the cow which means more forage is available for the cows to graze. Davis urges rotational grazing to be a permanent strategy in cattle operations to help build a better forage base which will lead to a more profitable cattle operation.

For more information on the subjects discussed in this article Davis suggests contacting himself or your local MU Extension livestock field specialist.