Searching for Opportunities

– Kevin Laurent, Beef Extension Specialist, Princeton Research and Education Center, University of Kentucky

To say that 2019 has been a challenging year would be a huge understatement. From the excessive rain the first half of the year, to the drought and depressed markets of late, 2019 will definitely be remembered as one of those years much like 2007, 2009 and 2012. Like most challenges in life, there always seems to be an opportunity if we just look hard enough. Some may think these so called opportunities are dressed in camouflage and I wouldn’t dare argue with you. However, there have been a few positive signs recently with the market trending higher and many areas receiving some rain. Although we are far from out of the woods on either front, there are a few strategies we can use to minimize losses now and improve our situation in the near future.

  1. Wean the calves and precondition them prior to sale. Markets continue to reward weaned calves and preconditioning budgets look very favorable at this time. Two common preconditioning mistakes are not feeding enough concentrate and feeding poor quality hay. For short term feeding programs (<100 days) calves need to gain better than 2.5 lbs. per day to have the best chance of return. Feed the calves hay that is greater than 10-12% protein along with a 14% protein concentrate feed. Concentrate should be fed at a rate of at least 2% bodyweight. Also consider extending the feeding/preconditioning period to 60-90 days prior to marketing to increase pay weights. Finally, sell these calves in a CPH-45 sale or similar type sale where there will be other preconditioned calves. If you have never weaned calves before, talk to your local county ANR extension agent or KBN facilitator about enrolling in the new PVAP-Precondition program.
  2. Shut the gates and rest your pastures. Closing gates and preventing the herd from roaming will allow the remainder of the farm to rest and recover prior to winterand will reduce the chances of cows eating noxious weeds that they would not normally consume. Concentrate the herd in either a drylot or better yet in a paddock or field that is low in fertility. Remember, roughly 80% of what a cow eats is excreted as manure and urine, so concentrating and feeding the herd on a weak pasture can serve to fertilize that area. For more pasture tips see Dr. Teutsch’s article on “Reviving Drought Stressed Pastures”.
  3. Test your hay and begin feeding dry cows. Dry cows in mid – gestation have the lowest nutrient requirements of any class of cattle on the farm. Feed the lowest quality hay to dry cows at this time. Hay that is greater than 8% protein and 48-50% tdn will maintain or add condition to dry cows. To be sure, enter your hay test results in the UK Beef Cow Forage Supplement Tool ( to easily determine your supplementation needs.If you are running short on hay, consider limiting the time that cows have access to the hay (6-8 hours) or unroll a set amount of hay each day. Realize that this is a viable option only when cows are in good condition (body condition score 5 or above) and hay quality is good. Do not consider this strategy if cows are thin and/or hay quality is poor.

These are just a few of the strategies that can be employed during these challenging times. For more information always remember to contact your local county ANR extension agent or KBN facilitator. In the meantime, let’s pray for higher cattle prices, adequate rain and a late winter.