Monday, February 20, 2012

Warm Winters Make Fat Heifers

I doubt many are complaining about the fair weather we have been having this winter. We probably won’t get too many like it in our lifetime, so I for one am enjoying it. The gains and feed conversions I’ve seen on all classes of cattle are astronomical this year.  Although warmer weather certainly helps, the lack of really blistering winter wind and the absence of low pressure fronts moving through our country and throwing cattle off feed has probably helped as much as anything.
Of course this is the northern Plains and the weather pattern may change tonight, but we are already past the worst of a normal winter, so from here on out I don’t expect much more than heavy, wet snow and brief periods of cold weather. Maybe not good news for cow outfits that are in the middle of calving, but I’m sure they’ll make do.
Of all the good things this warm winter has brought us, the one area of caution I’ve noticed has been bred replacement heifers and yearling replacement heifers. Heifers are getting fat, fat, fat.
Typically we like to see bred heifers at about 75 – 85% of mature weight by calving time, which for most guys translates into bred heifers weighing somewhere around 1,100 and 1,200 lbs. This year however, I’ve seen a lot of breds around the country that are already gobby fat and probably weighing near 1,400 lbs.
Calving fat heifers is a bad deal if you’ve never done it before; especially if the weather stays warm. The birth canal is less flexible due to fat deposits, heifers easily overheat and give up pushing while they are calving, and they generally don’t milk well because of fat build up in the mammary tissue. Furthermore, I’m sure you all know how well heifers breed back after they’ve had a hard time calving.
Although heifers in good condition (body condition score 5-6) generally have a shorter post-partum interval, excessive fat (body condition score 8+) can have exactly the opposite effect.
Just keep an eye on the amount of condition on these heifers is the point I’m trying to make. I’ve seen several situations where feed rations that normally would target 2 lbs of gain per day have turned into 3.5 lbs per day because these cattle aren’t fighting snow and wind this year. Holding these heifers back to 2 lbs per day gain is plenty to keep these heifers on their performance targets. If it does turn cold, crank their ration up, but if it stays warm, back them down so they stay around a body condition score 5-6.
Same deal with the yearling replacements. We like to see them around 60 – 65% of their mature weight by breeding time which for most is somewhere around 950 lbs. A lot of heifers passed the 900 lb. mark in JAN and are on pace to reach 1,100 to 1,200 lbs. by MAY. Growing these young heifers too fast could wreck a lot of them permanently, so hold them back a little if you have to and keep their weight and condition about where it needs to be.
 Thank You and Have a Great Day!!