Getting a Head Start on the New Year

January 3, 2014 05:13 AM

By: Thomas Cobb, Livestock & Dairy Extension Agent, North Carolina Cooperative Extension

As the heart of winter approaches, most producers have brought the equipment into the shop and are working on maintenance and repair. Already, most are busy preparing for spring and getting ready for, hopefully, what will be a very productive growing season. So what are some things that we should be thinking about to help make ourselves more productive and prepared for the upcoming year?

Soil is the lifeline of all agricultural crops. Whether you raise corn, soybeans, hay, or a variety of different crops, making sure that your soil nutrients are adequate is extremely important. Taking a soil test this will give you the management tools that can help you accurately measure the nutrients particular to your situation. 

Feeding hay is something that has become more of an art throughout the years. There are several things to consider when deciding hay feeding situations. What are the nutrient requirements for the animals? Part of livestock management is making sure that the feed available is meeting the nutrient requirements for the goal that we want those particular animals to accomplish.

So, the question is: How does hay fit into that feeding management? For example, a brood cow is going to be mostly consuming a forage diet. However, the nutrient requirements can vary depending on the situation. Is she nursing? What trimester of pregnancy is she in?

All of these factors can change what her requirements are. So, our hay needs to be meeting those requirements. Otherwise, other supplements may have to be used. However, an animal that is being supplemented with something like a grain or silage ration, the nutrient requirements in the hay that they are fed may not have to be as high, due to the supplementation.

Therefore, to accurately meet the requirement, forage analysis needs to be done so it can be determined what the nutrient value of the hay is. Where should hay be fed? Where hay is fed is a management decision that should be made on what best suits the individual. There are different options:

  1. Feeding hay in round bale feeders in a lot that has been designated as a sacrifice area.Sacrifice areas tend to be designated areas that have poor soil fertility and forage production. Some concerns with this could be situations during spring that can lead to hoof and leg problems and concentrated animals that can spread respiratory diseases more easily.
  2. Feeding hay in round bale feeders on pasture. This can be effective as long as it is properly managed. If feeders are not moved often enough, the concentration of animals can damage pasture. The feeders should be moved often and be placed in areas that have adequate ground cover and are not wet and saturated.

This time of year, preparation for crops is making sure that the equipment is serviced and ready for the upcoming season. This is a good time to calibrate sprayers, clean the combines, grease those fittings that might have gotten neglected during the rush of harvest, clean the filters, change the oil, and do all of the routine maintenance that keeps things running as smoothly as possible.

Also, this is a good time to start looking at the calendar. Go ahead and evaluate the varieties that you are going to use, and see what the recommended planting dates are. Mark that on your calendar. Of course, everyone knows that Mother Nature may not have the same idea, and those dates are probably going to change. But, it will help to keep things organized, so that when it is time to get to work, things will be ready and prepared.

This is also a good time to look at past rotations and think about the future. Crop rotation is vital to management of weeds and pests. So, look at those last harvest records, and see what has been planted and what may need to be switched. If a field has been in corn for two years, you may need to start thinking about a legume to help fixate some nitrogen back into that soil. Sometimes, the simple things are the ones that are forgotten.

Now is the time to evaluate situations and look at trying to create a management schedule. Breeding is something that producers should be thinking about. You should set target dates of when calving, kidding, lambing, farrowing, etc. will begin and end. By doing this, we can allow ourselves the opportunity to think about the breeding dates, how we going to breed this year, and how we are going to use the herd bull or synchronize our animals. If you are going to AI, you need to be thinking about what sire will best fit your herd, and make sure that there is semen available.

Disease management and vaccinations should be evaluated. A vaccination program should be established so that animals are treated in a manner that will allow the best defense. Deworming, pinkeye, and phenomena are examples of some decisions that might have to be made. Also, if any livestock are going to be going to shows this season, regulations and requirements need to be evaluated, so that administration of the right treatment can correlate with the timeline of the shows.

Whether dealing with livestock, crops, hay, soil test, or just simple maintenance of equipment, this is the time of year to evaluate your management goals and strategies, so that you can be better prepared when the time comes. By doing this, it will allow for operations to be more efficient and can help things from being neglected
once the busy season is upon us.


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