By Sean Sherrod, dairy and beef consultant
For calf raisers here in southern Illinois, the summer’s drought has had a big impact on autumn management decisions.
In this part of the Midwest, seasonal calving is common, especially on dairies with fewer than 300 cows. It’s simply too hot to have those calvings during the summer, so we see heavier calving rates from Labor Day through May. Likely more than half of those calvings will take place in September, October and November. This year is no exception.
When we see big upswings in calving rates, we often get nervous about meeting labor demands in the maternity area. But in this region, it brings out the best amongst calf raisers. It’s like your house. You’re probably more likely to do a great job cleaning if you know you’re having company. You’re a little less picky if it’s only you. Likewise, busy maternity pens keep everyone on their toes and teams do a great job of following protocols and catching the details.
As I work with dairies throughout this region, I am seeing an increase in Jersey-Holstein crossbreeding. I imagine this is due to a couple of factors. First, producers are putting more focus on milk marketing and are aiming for increased components. In addition, a Jersey will obviously eat less than a Holstein, so this strategy could potentially reduce feed costs without sacrificing too much on the production end.
However, that brings up a good point when it comes to feeding crossbred baby calves. You can’t expect a smaller animal to drink the same amount of milk, especially in the first couple of weeks. We need to keep that in mind as we’re designing liquid feeding programs.
On the animal health side, we’re recovering from a Salmonella outbreak that started around Labor Day. With the drought, it almost felt like a desert. Then Hurricane Isaac dumped seven inches of rain and it felt like a swamp. That seemed to create optimal conditions for these pathogens to thrive. To combat the issue, we looked at feed additives like Bio-Mos®
and reevaluated vaccination and sanitation protocols.
Finally, it comes as no surprise that feed costs will be the major issue moving forward. That’s especially relevant in this area where we receive a lot of dairy bull calves from the northern Midwest states. In most years, this is a great area for raising dairy beef because we have so much grain, but that’s not the case this year as we’re in a grain deficit. In my experience, a producer is willing to feed $10 corn if he already has it sitting on his farm. It’s a different story if he has to buy it. If producers are not willing to pay for feed, we’re probably not going to see as many animals coming into this area and will be feeding a much smaller calf herd this year.