As I prepare this column, it would appear there is at least a small reprieve from some of the economic gloom and doom of the past 6 months. Now I understand that this does not take away from the fact that everyone’s input costs have jumped drastically over the past couple of years. But it should get you to thinking of ways to maximize your production and more efficiently use your resources.
Pregnancy examination is, I believe, the number one management tool to utilize in dairy and beef operations to maximize efficiency. Feeding open cows with today’s feed cost just does not make any sense. A quick search on the internet revealed the average cost to maintain a beef cow is around $2 per day; for a dairy cow, this daily cost is between $3 to $6 depending upon housing and management style. Yet, as I found on another internet search, only about 15 to 25 percent of cows and heifers are checked for pregnancy each year. Average cost for this procedure will vary around $3 to $5 dollars per head for palpation and $5 to $15 per head for ultrasound. Veterinarians, in general, are very proficient at pregnancy diagnosis, and have the experience and skill necessary to accurately diagnose your herd. Having your veterinarian on the farm is also an opportunity to discuss other aspects of your herd health program. Now, many of you will say that “preg checks” are just a cost you can exclude in a tight economic year; my response to you is that finding one open cow more than pays for all the time I would spend at your farm examining cows. This also requires the owner to practice strict culling procedures once open animals are identified. In my experience, cows are open for a good reason, and “giving them a second chance” generally does not work as these open cows fail to breed in a timely manner the next breeding season.
The next area where you can spend to save is in forage testing. With all the rain we have had this year in southwest Missouri; it appears that there are huge numbers of hay bales being produced. But just how good is that bale of hay you will be offering your pregnant or nursing cows this winter? Forage testing can reveal how good the quality of your hay actually is. Maybe that grass hay you put up in May got rained on a couple of times. This is going to affect protein and energy levels of the hay, regardless of the visual appearance of the hay. I have seen many samples of hay that “looked good” but tested far below what was considered average for that particular type of forage. We all know that good nutrition is imperative for good cow health and production. Don’t assume you know how much is enough hay this winter; you will lose pounds of calf next season if cows are under conditioned, and you are wasting money if cows get over supplemented and are over conditioned.
Mike Bloss, DVM, owns Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kirstin Bloss, DVM, in Aurora, Mo.