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How to Handle Cattle During a Drought

California Cattle

California’s historic drought has affected people and businesses throughout the state. Like many people in the agricultural sector, cattle ranchers are in the process of adapting to what may be a temporary condition or a new reality. In either case, there are things you can do right now to keep yields up and stay profitable. In this article, we look at some of the best practices for raising cattle during a drought, and what you can do to keep your herds safe and healthy.

Weaning Early

Early weaning is one of the most commonly cited ways of reducing water and forage requirements during a drought — a lactating cow typically needs between 50-65% more nutrients than a dry one. When the decision is made to wean at less than three months of age, intensive management is required to ensure health and growth. Creep feeding prior to weaning can be especially useful in easing the transition. While this naturally involves higher costs, the expense will be offset by making better use of your existing water reserves. When managed carefully, early weaned calves can achieve conversion rates of between 5 and 8 lbs. of dry matter for every 1 lb. of gain.

Culling the Herd

The decision to cull your herd of poor producers can be a difficult one, but the sooner you can do it, the better off the remainder of your cattle will be. Be realistic about the earning potential of older, late-calving and open cows, and of worn-out bulls. Culling reduces pressure on pastures and lowers your overall requirements for both forage and supplemental feed. Closely watch the market and look for advantageous opportunities to cull.

Moving Forage More Effectively

One of the keys to handling cows during a crisis is to make the best use possible of your forage. Use hay rings or a cone feeder, rather than feeding on the ground, to prevent waste. Feed your cattle on a stricter schedule, and don’t leave out more than is required. The months after weaning are critical to improving body condition, so be sure to supplement as necessary during this important time. Be sure your fields are properly stocked. Overstocked fields will be more adversely affected by drought conditions, while under-stocked fields won’t provide the best use of your resources.

Reducing Stress

How you handle cows in a crisis plays a large role in your ability to manage drought conditions. Stressed-out cattle won’t be as productive and will be more prone to expensive health problems. Ensure cows have adequate drinking water and shade. Another way to reduce stress is to invest in quality livestock chutes and handling systems. At Arrowquip, we manufacture innovative products that allow you to easily control and transport your herds. Contact us or one of our dealers in California today for more information.

There’s no question that cattle handling in California is undergoing a period of profound change. By being proactive about how you handle your herd and investing in quality equipment, you can position yourself for a strong, profitable future even in times of crisis.

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