Setting goals for your cow herd after the blizzard

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. – The loss of known genetics and performance in cattle herds in areas of western South Dakota hit by the Winter Storm Atlas October 2013 is a big issue said Ken Olson, SDSU Extension Associate Professor & Beef Specialist.

Now that many cattle producers are working to rebuild their cow herds, Olson reminds them that the fact they are unfamiliar with the background of new cows or heifers they add to their herd will be a challenge they should not overlook.

“In the past, knowing who your cows were and what they were capable of doing was tremendously important to your goals. It affected how you marketed your calves and how well they fit that market. It determined the genetics in the bulls that you purchased. Now you must rebuild with new cattle that you know less about,” Olson said. “Today, with replacements coming from a variety of channels – donations, sale barn, private treaty – cattle producers knowledge about genetics and past management runs the gamut from none to a great.”

To further complicate matters, Olson said a producer that is in the process of rebuilding a herd may have cattle from more than one source. This creates a situation with many more unknowns than in the past. How is a producer in this situation to get back to the status quo?

Although it won’t happen overnight, Olson said producers can speed up the process by using the appropriate tools and technologies.

He lists some tips below:

• Immediately start keeping performance records on the new cattle to determine how their performance matches with the survivors of the original herd. This performance data can be used in a number of important ways.

• Use data to determine which cows fit with your goals and which ones don’t.

• Use data to select the genetics of future bull or semen purchases to move the progeny of the new cows closer to your goals.

• This may be a better time than ever to use AI. The reliability of proven AI sires based on EPD with high accuracies will provide the most rapid approach to establishing predictable and repeatable genetic capacity in the progeny of your cow herd.

• Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your new calf crop to determine if they will fit your current marketing plan. If the calves of the new cows don’t fit your existing marketing goals, then you may need to change the marketing goals until you can change the cattle through genetic selection to fit your original goals.

• Add postweaning performance records, including feedlot and carcass traits, to accelerate the quantity and value of performance records. Learning the value of the calf crop from new cows may best be accomplished by using a calf feeding program such as the SDSU Calf Value Discovery program. Feeding a subset of these new calves in a program like this can jumpstart your knowledge of how they fit the remainder of your original herd.

“The key elements of rebuilding a cow herd that was devastated by the blizzard will be to quickly establish what the production characteristics of the donated and purchased replacement cows and heifers are, and then to establish breeding and marketing goals that fit the capabilities of these new cows,” Olson said. “These may be temporary changes in goals until you can “re-invent” the new herd based on genetic selection and your management style to fit your long-term goals.”