As snow melts and signs of spring start to emerge, many cow-calf producers are either just beginning to calve or their calving season is drawing to a close. For those nearing the end of calving, spring offers an opportunity to look back upon the successes and challenges of the season to make changes for next year. Spring is also a great time to begin planning for summer turnout and to consider implementing management practices that may offer health and performance benefits to your herd this summer.
Before turning cattle out, consider your pasture inventory and develop a grazing plan for the summer. Keep in mind last year’s grazing rotation and any fencing, fertilizing, or seeding projects that you have planned to maximize land productivity. Utilizing a rotational grazing plan that changes the time of year each pasture is grazed and allows adequate rest between grazing events can be one tool to improve pasture productivity. Timing of turnout can have an impact on pasture health throughout the growing season. While enticing, turning cattle out too early when plants are still using root reserves to grow can setback regrowth, reducing summer yield potential by up to 60 per cent. Delay grazing until plants are at least six to eight inches tall ensures that root reserves have been replenished and plants have shifted to photosynthetic growth, allowing them to recover more rapidly from grazing.
For many producers, the sorting process allows one last opportunity to handle each animal before they are turned out for the summer and individual animal management becomes much more challenging. Body condition scoring is a useful tool to identify any thin cows that should be held back for extra care or feeding. Lame cows, or those suffering from any other ailments, may also be good candidates to be held back. While branding or handling calves, consider using an implant if it fits with your marketing strategy. Implanting nursing calves before spring turnout is one of the most cost-effective methods to improve gains prior to weaning. Some implants available are safe for use in heifers intended for rebreeding but be sure not to implant intact bull calves.
Consult your veterinarian for options to strengthen your herd health program. Most spring vaccination programs for cows and calves include vaccination against infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) types 1 and 2, bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and parainfluenza-3 virus (PI3), and often mannheimia haemolytica (Pasteurella) in combination with a clostridial vaccine. Talk to your veterinarian about need for additional vaccines that vary by herd or region such as anthrax. Be sure to keep vaccines stored at the correct temperature to maintain efficacy. While most parasite control occurs in the fall, spring treatments may be needed for herds with a high burden of internal roundworms. Depending on the timing of turnout, pour-on products may also be useful to reduce fly and mosquito burdens.
Mineral supplementation on pasture is necessary to meet macro- and micro-mineral requirements of grazing cattle, with specific requirements varying by forage type. Be sure to provide minerals and salt in areas that are convenient for cattle to access to encourage adequate intake. Minerals play important roles in growth, fertility and immunity. Not providing adequate mineral supplementation may be at the expense of your herd’s health. Lastly, be sure to collect samples early for water sources in summer pastures and have them tested ahead of turnout to avoid issues associated with water quality.
In Saskatchewan, testing of water sources for livestock use is a service offered at no charge to producers through your local Ministry of Agriculture, Regional Services Office. Contact your local livestock and feed extension specialist for assistance with water analysis or to discuss opportunities to improve your herd management regime before spring turnout.
To hear Glenda-Lee's conversation with Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist Jordan Johnson click on the link below.