Fall can be a busy and challenging time for cattlemen in the northern Great Plains.
“Time is limited, labor generally is short and the weather is unpredictable as summer tasks are being completed and preparations are made for winter,” says John Dhuyvetter, area Extension livestock specialist at North Dakota State University’s North Central Research Extension Center near Minot.
“It’s easy to let the cow herd take care of itself, especially after getting the cattle moved back to fall pasture and shipping calves,” he adds. “However, there are several cow care management items associated with the season.”
One of them is weaning. Producers often do weaning by the calendar to meet a shipping date or traditional operations schedule. In other situations, it is left until time becomes available or conditions dictate.
When weaning late in the season, producers need to be particularly sure they are meeting cattle’s nutritional needs through grazing and supplementation, Dhuyvetter says. Typically, pasture after mid-October lacks adequate protein for the lactating cow. Forage availability and digestibility also may be low, resulting in cow weight and condition loss.
Even the dry cows’ energy and protein needs may not be met in late-fall grazing. This also is true for young cows that need to gain 50 to 100 pounds of body weight at this time to improve their body condition score. Producers need to assess the availability and quality of forage to determine whether they need to provide supplemental hay feeding or a self-fed protein supplement.
Sorting the herd for higher-need and special-needs cows also may be warranted in the fall. Grouping and giving thin and lame or injured cows some extra care and feed can maximize their cull value.
Mineral deficiencies are another issue in the fall. While cows grazed green and actively growing pasture in the summer months, their consumption of mineral supplements may have been low. As their diet changes to mature and weathered forage, mineral concentrations, particularly phosphorous levels, decrease. To prevent deficiencies and cravings, producers must provide supplemental minerals at this time. These minerals might be included with other supplements or offered free-choice as a salt and mineral mix.
Fall also is a traditional time for booster vaccinations, deworming and pregnancy testing. Going through the herd one cow at a time allows for identifying problems, recording the inventory and making management-marketing decisions for late-bred and open cows.
“Late fall often is considered a low-input, low-need period for cow herds,” Dhuyvetter notes. “It is, however, the opportunity to set the stage going into winter, prepare for marketing to add value to culls, and an opportune time to evaluate and position for the coming wintering period and new production year.”