cows walking

Following the calves: When Mother Nature doesn’t care

Calving season, check. Start of AI season, check. Criss-crossing the U.S. talking about commercial DNA, check. Rain…..not so much.

I have been watching South Dakota weather reports as if they were my own. Ever since being up in the Faulkton and Highmore, S.D., areas this April, I’ve been waiting for them to get their moisture. Pastures are supposed to be greening up with spring rains. Theirs weren’t.

This is a shot from April, when the pastures would normally be greening up and growing. They were struggling.

I was back in late May, and it still hadn’t rained.

When I caught up with Troy Hadrick for a “Following the calves” update last week, I was relieved to hear that nearly 3 inches of rain came in two back-to-back-to-back storms. He’s feeling fortunate, but it’s just not enough.

“Our cool season grasses are done and that’s where the majority of our tonnage is,” he says. But the recent rains might give the corn some grow so it at least make silage. It might kick-start the sudangrass hybrid they planted for this low-moisture scenario.

“At least we might grow a little bit of winter feed,” he says.

But the cows right now? They need grass that isn’t there.

In late May, the heifers were getting synchronized and bred. Now it’s time for the cows to do the same.

“Breeding season is always stressful, but this has added to it,” Troy says. He’s been figuring, calling experts and debating, and now he has a plan.

When most are sending pairs to town, Troy is going to wean calves early….like this-week early.

“We’ve worked too hard on our genetics to just sell them,” he says. “We’ll pull CIDRs and pull calves off on the same day.”

A quick call to a South Dakota State repro expert assured him that it might even help conception rates, but what he’s most interested in is the feed savings. Some estimate a 35% to 40% reduction in cow energy requirement.

If there’s one thing Troy’s wife Stacy has always emphasized in their business, it’s “have a team.” Troy has relied on his as he works through the logistics of weaning calves early.

It’s not just as simple as picking a weaning date though. The very end of May, Troy flew to Georgia to speak at the Beef Improvement Federation meetings and went directly from that to a Zoetis meeting in Red Lodge, Mont.

After that, he dove into research. He called his veterinarian and they altered the health plan. The calves were vaccinated less than 60 days ago, so they’ll get a shot of Enforce, but they’ll hold off with the 7-way booster to avoid any additional stress on them right away.

He called nutritionists. The cattleman is planning on feeding Purina’s complete pelleted Accuration starter designed for young calves. After 3 to 4 weeks, he’ll move to a total-mixed ration to get them prepared for their trip to the feedyard around 45-days post-weaning.

He studied the facilities setup.

The grass greened up, but never grew.

“We’re going to be weaning at the same place we develop heifers, the same place we breed,” he says. “I stood out there for an hour thinking, ‘How in the world do we do this?’”

The oversized load-out alley will hold the first group.

Then of course, there’s all the worry about how the calves grow when they get there, if he’ll be able to compare last year’s data to this highly unusual year and about a million other thoughts.

“There’s a lot of things you can do to screw them up at this age,” Troy says.

But Troy has done as much pre-planning as he can and he has faith it’ll all work out from there. Because even if Mother Nature doesn’t seem to care for the cows, Troy cares more than enough to make up for that.

May your bottom line be filled with black ink,


PS–Catch up on any of Troy’s previous posts with this list:

Rapid change

Proud to pass it on

Not in South Dakota Anymore

When plan B scores an A+

Calves provide confirmation

Or follow along as we’ve been “Following the calves” in Montana, too.

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