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Surviving Drought-High Feed Costs and Low Cattle Prices

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Updated February 2018

Question: What do I need to be doing to get through a period of drought-high feed costs and low cattle prices?

Answer: The basic management principles that enable us to survive bad times are the same as those that enable us to thrive in the good times. Things are different during a drought, but things are also the same.

Many will buy hay and feed from outside sources to winter on. During a drought, there is an increased risk of high nitrate hays and aflatoxin in feed grains. We need to be acutely aware of these things. On the other hand, analyzing and designing the lowest cost winter feeding program that meets our needs is something we should do every year.

Additionally, pasture conditions may require us to cull deeper into our herds than we ever have in the past. Careful thought should be given to which classes of cattle should go first in light of the current situation and our goals. A well-planned culling program should be a part of every cow/calf operation every year.

Here are some short- and intermediate-term planning and preparation tips.

Weaning Home-Raised Calves and Receiving Purchased Stockers: Repair working and holding facilities so the process goes smoothly. Have enough of the right vaccines, bacterins, implants, tags, antibiotics, etc., on hand. Pencil through marketing options such as selling at weaning, preconditioning and longer-term retained ownership. Figure these options for your situation and don't rely on others to answer your questions. Decide on a feeding plan and be ready with the feedstuffs when the cattle are on hand.

Cowherd Management: Appraise body condition now so adjustments can be made before winter comes. Schedule the fall working to include pregnancy checking, immunizations, parasite control and culling. Prepare to evaluate calf production and make necessary changes in the breeding program. Consider marketing strategies for open, non-producing and low performance cows. Plan and acquire appropriate energy and protein supplements to utilize dry standing forage and/or hay.

Any opportunity to be proactive is better than reactive.  Although a drought environment makes things more hectic, basic management and planning are still necessary.