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Re-stocking Considerations

Posted Mar. 1, 1999

Due to the severity of last summer's weather, many producers were looking at a cost of $400-500 to hay and feed from late summer to grass this spring. The economics of the situation at that time dictated destocking. Some sold out completely, but typically 10-50% of individual herds "went to town." Hopefully, those cows sold were old, out of synchronization reproductively, lowproducers, and/or didn't fit the rest of the herd for some reason.

Beef cattle producers are a pretty optimistic group, however. Stress began to lessen as early as last fall when the rains began. Outlook brightened as wheat pasture prospects improved, and the mildness of the winter, at least so far, has moved optimism to amazing levels relative to last August. Now, it looks like an early spring, and right or wrong, many producers are beginning to think about rebuilding their cowherds. If you are one, it's none too early. There are many things to consider.

Last summer you probably culled the older end of your cows: those with less years to pay back the $400-500 cost of keeping them. That same thought process should carry over to your new purchases: a cow young enough to stay in your herd a sufficient length of time to pay out her initial cost. If you are thinking about bred or first-calf heifers, keep in mind that their nutritional and management needs are unique. Often, heifers need to be handled separately until their first calves are weaned. Make sure your management and resources can handle the special needs of these classes of females.

Stage of Reproduction
One of the most cost effective management practices in any operation is a controlled/limited calving season. All aspects of an operation can be improved economically when the entire herd and calf crop can be handled as one contemporary group. If you are considering restocking, don't pass up the opportunity to tighten up your herd's reproduction. Determine which season fits you best and buy replacements to fit it. If you are going the heifer route, it would be preferable to purchase ones that will calve or have calved at least a month ahead of your mature cow herd. This would give them another 30 days to rebreed along with your mature cows.

Any cow you purchase should be calfhood-vaccinated against brucellosis. Your initial immunization and parasite control program will depend on their stage of reproduction and your knowledge of their previous treatment. Consult with your veterinarian to develop a plan of action and to review your annual health program.

There are at least two major considerations in the size and breed of females you purchase. First, and most important, is your land and forage resource. Generally, as intensity of management increases and the forage base moves from range to introduced grasses, cow size can increase accordingly. In my opinion, the most productive cows in our part of the country should weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds in a body condition score of five. Second is the marketability of the calves the new cows will produce. A recent OSU study of feeder calf marketability emphasizes the value of uniformity in the calf crop. Age, breed, and size primarily influence uniformity of the calf crop. Other factors such as availability and personal preferences may play a role in the type of females you select.

Some economists predict that significant rebuilding of the nation's cow herd won't occur until calf prices improve, perhaps not until this fall or the spring of 2000. If so, the demand for quality replacement females may not outpace the supply this spring. This may be the opportunity to rebuild at moderate cost. My approach has always been to buy the best females one can afford. I'll leave it at that. When you de-stocked last summer, you no doubt purged your herd of many problem cows. Don't buy your problems back. Use this opportunity to increase the uniformity, stage of reproduction, and quality of your herd.