Poor nutrition results in high open rates
Some ranchers in the Nebraska Sandhills are facing extremely high open rates in their replacement heifers.
Preg-checking day is often looked forward to with trepidation, the outcome of a year or more of work. Ranchers in the Sandhills of Nebraska have faced countless weather events and are still suffering the effects. With the cool, wet weather the grass is very washy and lacking important nutrients.
One ranching family in the Sandhills of Nebraska kept 150 replacement heifers last year, fed them more than normal, yet this past January they were 100 pounds lighter than previous years. When they had the veterinarian out a few weeks ago, the open rate was shocking. Out of 150 heifers only 34 were pregnant. “We fed more but by late spring they were only getting cake, because I kept thinking the grass would come. I was a little nervous on how they would breed.”
The summer of 2018 was exceptionally wet in most of the central plains, yet even though the grass was plentiful, it was washy. The high-moisture content lowered the nutritional value, a cow could eat 10 pounds of grass but it was only equal to 1 pound of nutrition, said a local veterinarian. This may have impacted cows’ and even their nursing heifer daughters’ reproductive abilities. “Most of the problems started even last October, the feed was not as good and the hay was of poorer quality. The cattle were underfed and by the time they started to get thin, we were already four to six weeks late. It’s hard to play catch-up. It was wet from October on and then we had the extreme cold, the cows needed more nutrition. Higher protein feeds are good but the cows needed more of the simple carbohydrates for energy. I saw adult cows go down who were depleted on energy. We set ourselves up for it by not having enough feed around and by not feeding enough early on. Also I feel there will be a higher fall out rate on cows, due to them not recovering enough body condition to rebreed this season,” said Cade Moses DVM of Superior, Neb.
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“A lot of cows didn’t have the highest quality of colostrum or the calves didn’t nurse enough during those first few hours, so the passive transfer of immunities didn’t happen. Those cows needed more nutrition in their third trimester then they got. The calves born in the cold were slow to get up and nurse so that set them up for health problems later on,” Moses said. “Those calves that struggled in their first month of life, we will see effects all the way through their productive cycle. They won’t perform as well in the feedyard and heifers kept for replacements won’t be as productive females. They will fail to live up to their full genetic potential.”
Brigham Scott DVM of Cow Country Animal Clinic of Thedford, Neb., said the open rates in replacement heifers have been really bad this fall. “Most producers are running from 50 to 60 percent open with a few even worse.”
Scott believes that poorer feed quality and the weather are the main contributors to the high open rates. He believes this problem stems back to when these heifers were in utero themselves. That was a tough winter and the grass was washy so the mother cows didn’t receive all their nutritional requirements and it has affected the calves. Compound that with the washy grass of 2018 and an exceptionally harsh winter and spring the heifers have had a lot stacked against them. Producers have fed more than normal but Scott feels that even then it wasn’t enough.
“Protein tubs are great but a cow can’t eat enough to get the amount her body requires. There was lots of grass and the cow was full but she wasn’t getting the nutritional requirements she needed. Some guys tested their hay and it was only 3 percent protein.”
Scott recommends good nutrition and a good mineral program so that the cows are healthy and able to fight off diseases, milk good and breed back. “I had one guy tell me he had spent $1,000 more feeding his heifers last winter, and he had more bred, having more calves will make up for the additional feed expense.”
“This year has been a difficult year, the cold wet weather, most years we have maybe two weeks of really cold, last winter it was a least a month or more of extreme cold along with storms at least every week. The energy requirements of the cows skyrocketed, and took the energy out of everything,” said Raleigh Kramer DVM of Stockmans Veterinary Clinic of North Platte, Neb. “A replacement heifer should be gaining three quarters to a pound and a half a day. The winter messed up our heifer development, they didn’t grow and in some cases went backwards. A slow rate of gain left them behind and they didn’t cycle. I’m seeing it with the adult cows too. With our grass resources in the Sandhills, yearlings will grow but we walk a fine line for a lactating cow, especially young cows that are still growing themselves, but we have to for efficiency.”
Ranchers in the Sandhills traditionally winter their cows on range and cake, with some feeding hay during calving. The tough winter of 2019 has many thinking about what they can do differently this winter. Kramer recommends producers look at each operation separately and make changes in their feed program to accommodate additional feed requirements. “We were hit hard and weren’t able to manage out of it last winter. We need to stay ahead of it before they start to lose condition.” ❖
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