This year’s calves are already bounding out of the barn and stretching their legs — but as ranchers are busy preparing for next season’s herd, they are facing some obstacles.
Jeremy Strommen, who works with artificial insemination, said “It’s really tough because those cows are looking for the grass. There usually is grass by now. It’s really tough to keep them going. And we’re still running where we’d normally cut back our feed ration, we’re still running the same ration we were a month or so ago when there was no grass.”
With the area in extreme drought, intense enough to be compared to the dust bowl — pastures will be and are being affected, in a number of ways.
Janna Block from NDSU Research Extension Center in Hettinger said, “Obviously you’re going to have issues with quality and quantity.”
And, it’s not only the pastures that are affected.
Block said, “We’ve already had water quality issues.”
Some ranchers are having to move their cattle, even sell some livestock to other states with greener pastures.
“Unless they’re being bought by those type of people that are running a few more head this year, most of them are going for slaughter,” said Strommen.
So how do we know the cattle have proper nutrition?
Block said, “One tool that we use is called body condition score, and that’s just a visual assessment of fat and muscle stores on the animal and it gives you a good look at the past nutritional program.”
This scale ranges from 1 to 9, with one being extremely thin, and nine being obese.
“Mature cows, we want to see them at a 5, we want them at a 5 at calving, and then maintaining that into breeding,” said Block.
There are some ways of maintaining proper nutrition even in the midst of a drought.
Strommen said, “Rotational grazing is a huge thing. A lot of guys don’t do it and they graze their pastures down to nothing which invites weeds and brush and all sorts of other things into that habitat.”
Bottom line is, more rain today creates healthier cattle tomorrow.