North Central Research Extension Center


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A Path to Cow Burnout (past fifty perspective)

Enter into a traditional cow/calf operation in farm country starting with a modest sized herd and some reasonable existing facilities and barns. Calve in the corral and barn in March (heifers two weeks earlier) making sure to check on cows every three to four hours. To keep the lot and barn dry and warm put up considerable amount of straw and bed regularly. Most days are cold so bring heavy cows or fresh dropped calves to calving jugs in the barn to prevent chilling and ear/tail freezing.  Be sure to have a number of good corrals to keep the pairs from the breds, and also bull’s, yearlings, and heifers separate.

 Make sure every calf is handled with a tag, band, and injection at birth. To further aid in combatting scours, coccidia, etc. in lotted calves; run the herd in six weeks before start of calving (Jan/Feb) and vaccinate the cows and then at the start of calving, start daily cow supplementation with rumensin in mixed feed – likely a grain supplement or a mixed ration of processed forage. As these cows are now lactating, hay alone is likely not enough to meet their needs to produce high milk output. Feed daily and with time improve the facility for bunk line feeding to make feeding less difficult.

While most cows have calved by the time spring field activities have started and the calves are growing fast; there are however some late cows still being monitored and calves have to be watched carefully with the droopy and loose ones treated timely to prevent loss and spread. A nice supply of tube feeders, antibiotics, and electrolytes is on hand. A date in mid-April is also set aside to run the calved group through to vaccinate against reproductive disease as the breeding season is fast approaching. There seems to be less help all the time and the herd has been slowly growing as pasture in the neighborhood becomes available from many of the neighbors quitting cows. A new chute and handling system is bought to get the job done. It’s also time for the bull’s spring fertility exam as well as their annual vaccinations.

Limited spring pasture requires some daily feeding up until seeding is finished and cows can be brought in, sorted and trailer hauled to summer pasture around June1st after first fixing the fences on days too wet to farm. It’s also time the bulls are sorted and placed for breeding. It’s been a lot of work to this point, but there are some strapping big 250 pound calves and it’s a pretty picture as the pairs are on nice green pasture. Mineral and salt feeders are stocked and will be maintained over the next several months as the herd is checked on and monitored for pinkeye, foot rots, pneumonia, all things typically encountered sometime during the pasture season.

After managing to get spraying done, some grain hauled, and equipment serviced, it’s a priority to push up manure in pens and pile for fall spreading as well as make hay. Hopefully the weather cooperated and a lot of hay was in the bale by mid-July insuring a good bale count of quality feed. While the fields are changing color and harvest preparations made, it’s time to order the age and source tags, and make plans for pre-weaning vaccinations of calves so they have added value and command top prices. Since pastures are drying down and the calf market is encouraging, creep feeders are hauled out to pasture and oats is hauled and augured to fill them. This process will be repeated every two weeks until weaning.

By now it’s time to pull the bulls and bring home a few old cows and calves so they can be marketed at a seasonal advantage. With calves to be shipped around the first of October, panels and equipment needs to hauled and placed for working the calves and with a limited crew that is put together kind of last minute between harvest completion, baling straw, and weather issues.   When a window of opportunity opens, a little post-harvest haying is done of sloughs as this can cheapen up feed stocks and insure a bit of a reserve supply.

The market determined delivery date rapidly comes and with family and help wherever it can be found the herd is rounded up, trailered home, the calves sorted, loaded and shipped after running over the scale and collecting individual weights which will be transferred to worksheets with calving and parentage information  for maintaining records for herd improvement. While there are always a few runty and out cattle, the weights are impressive and a lot of pride can be taken in the top notch feeders likely to do very well for their new feeder buyer.

Now that the cows are back at home and before the weather turns, several important tasks need to be done. The stockpiled manure can now be hauled as harvested fields are available, the hay and straw has to be gathered, trucked, and strategically stocked by quality, type, and location for access, and the cow herd needs to be worked again to pregnancy test, de-worm, replace tags, evaluate for condition, and weight. The culls are separated and lotted to begin feeding to flesh up and hold till a seasonal price increase in mid-winter. The newly organized herd will hopefully be able to do clean up grazing while it lasts and up until the weather turns.

Likely by Thanksgiving the feeding routine has started and hay is being put out daily. Around Christmas cows are now entering the last trimester of gestation and are now moved into corrals sorted by age and condition and rations adjusted based on analysis performed on collected hay samples.  The cull bulls and cows which have been being fed since fall now need to get trucked to market as the cycle is about to start over as calving again approaches.

With every passing year it seems there is more and more to do and less help to do it.  The wish list for equipment that will make things easier seems to just revolve; as something is checked off another need is added.    The joy in simple tasks; fellowship of others doing the same; pride in the livestock, accomplishments and independence that drives one to continue and build for the future  inspite of marginal returns and setbacks, begins to weaken.

As a part of the aging process; one day without a strong support base, infusion of new help and enthusiasm, and light at the end of the tunnel, a decision is made to sell out or down.  Opportunities in the farming sector or off farm may provide a better return to time and effort and a dimension of quality of life.  One less will be reading the timely reminders of all management  practices, and new technology adoptions being promoted.  Another case of cow burnout.

Filed under: Livestock
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