Last week the Marias River Livestock Association hosted presentations on feeding and vaccinating during drought conditions. Dr. Cathy Lockard from Friesen Nutrition emphasized the importance of cattle nutrition. During the drought we face a lot of challenges to feeding properly, explained Dr. Lockard.
“High grain and feed prices, low forage quality…it makes nutritional management difficult,” she said.
When nutrition suffers you could start to see the effects in just about every critical characteristic of your cattle. Dr. Lockard listed how the deficiency of certain key nutrients can cause “delays in puberty, impaired sperm production, repressed immune and reproductive systems, slowing of muscle growth, bone malformations and urinary issues.” During a drought it is critical to feed cattle carefully and to be vigilant of signs of nutritional issues.
One common issue seen in drought is nitrate toxicity because plants store nitrate in drought conditions. Cattle consuming these higher levels of nitrate can become poisoned, leading to the loss of their fetus and severe illness in the cow. Dr. Lockard says the signs of nitrate toxicity are lethargy, rapid breathing, diarrhea and frequent urination, dehydration and muscle tremors. She suggests you call the vet if you notice this. She also explains that it is not too complicated to prevent.
“A little bit of nitrate is okay so dilute down your high nitrate feed…you don’t need to waste it. Place the low nitrate hay, for example, on top of the high nitrate hay, so the cow gets a mixture,” she said.
The other tip for feeding during a drought if your resources are limited is to be strategic with which animals need the most nutrients. Dr. Lockard explains that nutrients are used up for vital functions first, then lactation, then reproduction and then growth, in that order. So you need more nutrients for cattle you want to gain weight or who are lactating. This seems like a given, but keeping this in mind can help you determine which parts of your herd to focus your best feed on.
“Lactating cows have the highest energy and protein requirements so you may want to control feed them in a separate corral if that is an option for you,” explains Dr. Lockard. “Dry cows on the other hand don’t need as much weight gain and can do with less nutrient input.”
The other tip for saving resources in a drought is to wean early. Dr. Lockard explains that if you wean before 150 days your mother cow won’t need as much nutrients because she won’t be lactating for as long. The calf on the other hand will need additional resources and carful feed planning.
A representative from Elanco, a cattle pharmaceutical company, also presented some suggestions for treating your herd during a drought. The representative recommends that you monitor more closely for respiratory issues so that you can pull the animal from the herd and get it treated. Dr. Barr Gustafson, our local vet (interviewed at a separate occasion), recommends the same thing, to monitor your herd. Dr. Gustafson explains that the dusty dry conditions agitate the calves’ lungs and can lead to phenomena. The signs are discharge from the nose and eyes, rapid breathing and coughing, droopy ears and low food intake.
A representative from the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) also attended to make a special announcement. The MSGA has launched a Drought Resources Hub where they encourage Montanan ranchers to report their drought conditions so that the data can inform drought mitigation. The hub also has several resources to assist ranchers during the drought. You can access their hub at mtbeef.org. If you want to learn about the preventions or any of the nutrient supplements, vaccines or medicine options from Elanco or Friesen Nutrition, you can reach out on to the Marias River Livestock association for a video recording of the event.