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Animal Health Notebook

Capture more profit through the winter

Thinking through key details of the winter cycle with cows can put money in your pocket.

My buddy Gordon Hazard of West Point, Miss., has likely made more money wintering cattle thru more years than any living Rancher in North America. Hazard has shared his principles and techniques with thousands of producers. A few ranchers have taken Doc’s principles and made successful duplication at their place. Others have left the teaching and a lot of money on the table.

Remember that wintering cattle is the most costly part of most operations and gives us the opportunity for increasing our profitability more than any other management decision we make. Long range planning, routine regular monitoring, lots of diverse standing forage, proper execution, and cattle that fit the environment are necessities.

Hazard can and does normally spend a goodly period of time explaining high growing season compensatory gains based on low cost wintering. Hazard’s cattle look good in December and January, don’t look bad in February or March, and “turn it on” starting in April. He understands the animal metabolism and how to take profitable advantage with his execution.

The cattle are managed to be ready for winter. They are working hard, gaining condition and weight prior to Christmas. As forage quality starts to drop in January the gains also drop but he cushions the stress with supplement. Hazard’s gains on stockers likely average less than

 .6 lbs. /day during January, February, and March. The right kind of cow in his program with a calf at her side and another one on the inside would be expected to average loosing 1 lb. /day from Christmas thru early April. The cattle are full at all times and receive a little supplement every day.

The right kind of cow when in proper condition, full of grass, and properly supplemented can lower its metabolism, loose a little weight, maintain pregnancy, program a fetus, teach a calf to graze, and recoup her condition and weight and be ready to calve in 6 to 10 weeks after April 1st. Properly wintered cattle can gain twice or more the condition and weight in the first third to half of the growing season than cattle that are in heavy condition in late March.

Managing the winter slide - >>>


The keys are good cattle in the late fall followed by a slow downward slide beginning in early winter. The animals respond quickly by lowering their metabolism and increasing the utilization of everything that is available (forage, supplement, body fat). Basic body function requirements drop.

Do not forget that the animal needs to stay full all the time. There is a big difference between a gradual downward slide and falling off the cliff. Diving off the bluff is not permissible.

Multiple times per week monitoring of forage, cattle, and manure is generally a necessity. Daily evaluation with quick positive response is better. There is a lot of good money riding on our ability to execute. A little discipline is good for all of us.

Think about the fat boy who decides to stop eating bread and drinking sodas. He increases his beef and raw fiber consumption and loses 30 lbs. in 45 days. He backslides back to his former lifestyle and gains back 40 lbs. in the next 45 days.

Remember that cows on a downward weight slide do not cycle and breed. Remember that rapid loss of body condition and weight can result in pregnancy loss. Breeding cows in January does not fit the Natural Model in North America.

Ranching with cattle is quite a simple business but like Wally Olson said a few weeks ago when he was here visiting, “there are a right smart number of details to consider and learn”.

Think about it.

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