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Winterizing the cowherd

published: October 30th 2020
by: Dr. Joe C. Paschal

When I was an animal science student at Texas A&M, beef cattle production was taught by a cowman named Frank Litterst, Jr. Later, I was his graduate assistant, and he was my lifelong mentor. He has been gone a few years now, but he led a long full life. Many of you know and remember him because when I mention his name you tell me.
    He organized his lectures around a cow calf production calendar. When I became an Extension livestock specialist, I adopted many of his themes (and his slides and notes) and used them in my presentations with you. There were lectures on breeds and reproduction, grazing management and marketing, supplementation, and herd health, but my favorite lecture was when he spoke on “Win-terizing the Cowherd”. It seems appropriate to cover now, even though winter for some of us is still pretty far off weather-wise.
    The major point he always made in preparing cows for winter was to gather them up and pregnancy test them (if they were spring calvers). He usually suggested this before the cull cow market began to break, at one time that was late October, but it is sooner now. As the supply of cull cows increase, the prices fall off sharply. Back then it cost less than a dollar a day to run a cow, now it is likely closer to two dollars so open cows can cost you a lot of money pretty quick. According to most producer surveys, only about 60% of us pregnancy test our cows. Usually that percentage gets lower in smaller cowherds, so we leave a lot of profitability on the table when we do not pregnancy test.
    There really is no excuse to not “preg check” your cowherd in a timely manner. There are many skilled beef cattle veterinarians across the state that will either come to you or let you take your cows to them. Charges vary but the costs are certainly less than your annual cost of running an open cow. I realize there are folks who are skilled in pregnancy testing their own cows, but having a vet do it allows for an extra pair of hands and eyes to look over your cowherd and see if there are other issues you might not be seeing. Be-sides knowing which cows are bred, you can also determine when they will calve. There are other methods of pregnancy testing using blood or serum (BioPryn and Idexx) and using transrectal ultrasound. I have used all of them. Now go preg check your cows!

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