This year's drought continues to affect Nebraska cattle producers as they move up management decisions to accommodate feed shortages.
With as much as 97% of Nebraska's pastures deemed in poor condition, most producers are already identifying which cattle will be the best candidates for breeding in the spring, according to Richard Brandle, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension beef veterinarian.
"With the feed shortages that we've already had, likelihood is that there's going to be a number of those animals at a lower condition than we'd normally expect," Randle says.
Some herds will need to undergo closer examination during culling, he says, in terms of teeth, eyes, feet and udders, to further adjust to feed shortages. Randle explains that farmers are working to keep their herds as compact as possible to help maintain the health of the herd.
"There's going to be more culling than normal," he says. "You have to reduce the herd to feel safe based on your winter feed storage."
Producers are also coping with drought-induced forage shortage through early weaning. Some of these calves may have been sent directly to auction, rather than kept on for backgrounding after weaning. Although most calves that are weaned early do quite well, Randle said that the younger animals are at a higher risk. Producers who wean early should watch the calves more closely for any health problems, he cautions.
"It should be considered if early weaning does take place, that they are at a higher health risk," Randle says. "It relates to having facilities ready to address those health issues."
According to the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska producers need to be creative due to the shortage of forages and feedstuffs.
"There are several unique crops that are grown in Nebraska primarily for human consumptions, but with this year's past weather conditions, they can be a viable feed source for livestock," says Karla Jenkins, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension range management specialist.
One example of a feed source that will be readily available is pumpkins after Halloween. Their use as a cattle feed is not uncommon, Jenkins says.
UNL data shows that pumpkins are a good source of energy and are adequate in protein for beef cattle. "Pumpkins are high in crude protein and dry matter digestibility, and they also have high moisture content which makes them a great feed supplement when mixed with dry forages," she adds.
Nebraska is home to many pumpkin growers.
Other crops that can be incorporated into cattle rations are field peas, dry edible bans, chicory, whole beets and beet pulp.For more information on the feed value of alternative crops, click here.