"Looking back on it now, I know that Grandpa was right," says Glenn Selk, OSU Extension Cattle Reproduction Specialist "He (like many other experienced ranchers) often quoted: 'You cannot starve a profit out of a cow!'"
As we enter the winter of 2008-2009, that advice will ring as loud and clear as ever, he says. "Cow-calf producers have faced record high fertilizer prices, record high feed prices, and record high fuel prices within the past 12 months. Some unfertilized introduced pastures did not grow as much forage as usual. The grass hay harvested from unfertilized pastures is lower in nutrient content than usual"
While feed prices have moderated a little, but still remain a major cost item on the operation. "These factors and softening calf prices have led some cow-calf producers to allow the cows to go into winter in marginal to poor body condition. Unfortunately, the cows (and the hormones that control their reproduction) don't care about the Dow Jones Industrials or even the price of urea fertilizer," says Selk.
Therefore it is still important to have the cows in good (BCS = 5 for mature cows; BCS = 6 for replacement heifers) body condition at calving. Follow this link to view the OSU Fact Sheet ANSI-3283 "Body Condition Scoring of Beef Cows”.
"Body condition at calving (this February and March) is a key factor that determines how many days it will take that cow or heifer to come back into heat cycles to have a chance to rebreed so that she will produce a calf for you in the spring of 2010," says Selk. "Research at several universities has indicated that we should expect only about 60% of the cows in a body condition score of 4 (thin) to rebreed in a defined breeding season. Compare that to over 80% of body condition score 5 (average) cows, and over 90% of the score 6 (good) cows rebreed in a defined two to three month breeding season."
If you are struggling to provide enough forage and supplemental feed to keep the cows in good body condition this winter, now would be a good time to remove some of the thinner, older cows and keep the ones that are in better body condition, recommends Selk.
"We could turn a deaf ear to Grandpa's advice and spend a little less money per cow, but a lowered percentage of the thin cows will produce a calf to sell the next year. While we may save some dollars on the current feed bill, taking poor care of the cows now will result in selling fewer calves in 2010," says Selk.
In addition to poor rebreeding from cows with low body condition scores, increased incidence of weak calves, calf scours, and even "downer” cows often accompany underfed spring calving cow, he adds.