BEEF TALK: Winter weather is no excuse for thin cattle

DICKINSON, N.D. -- A troubling event occurred this past week at an auction barn. There was a feeling of "not wanting," but also a feeling of "that is the way it is."...

DICKINSON, N.D. -- A troubling event occurred this past week at an auction barn. There was a feeling of "not wanting," but also a feeling of "that is the way it is."

The auction barn is known as a social center and a place to sell cattle. People share stories and experiences that go along with an industry that is speckled with considerable individualism.

This past week at the auction barn, the business of selling cattle was taking place. One could observe a number of things that really involved livestock, people, perception and reality.

The effects of a long and cold winter were evident. The cattle were thin, particularly the older cattle, and it was obvious the tough winter was gaining the upper hand.

Proper feeding


This reality pointed to the fact that now is the time to re-evaluate feed intake. Cattle need energy and a balanced ration to survive the demands of winter and pregnancy.

Thin cattle simply are underfed. These thin cows will have problems at calving and rebreeding.

They will have little milk, poor colostrum and weak, emaciated calves. It is time for a simple decision to be made. Visit your cattle nutritionist today or your veterinarian tomorrow.

Back to the sale barn. The cattle were handled well and the sale was prompt and efficient.

However, one cow did stand out. The cow was the cause of my troubled feeling. It was a feeling of concern.

The cow was licking off her newborn calf that was born at the auction barn.

While the pair was properly cared for, an auction barn is not the place for birthing a calf.

'That is the way it is'


A cow that is nine months pregnant and due to calf should be at home, but I had the feeling "that is the way it is."

A few more pens down the line, a pregnant mare was awaiting sale. The mare looked like many mares because she was preparing for foaling when the weather warms up and spring settles in.

Mother Nature has equipped horses with a very timely reproductive system that times foaling with spring, thus limiting the number of concerns about foaling during winter storms. This is true for all wild mammals, each with its own reproductive system, well tuned to its respective environments.

However, this mare was out of place, so the feeling of "that is the way it is" came back.

However, that really is not true. Producers need to perform a self-evaluation of situations like this.

Cows or mares are the reproductive unit that forms the foundation of the herd.

Management needed

Management is the key to the success of any operation. The management of herds includes the evaluation and re-evaluation of production practices.


Even without records, a cow that is due to calf is noticeable. In reality, if one stays up and waits for her to calf, you may wait a couple of weeks, but sloughing her off in the market chain is inappropriate.

Likewise, why is a bred mare being sold at this time? Perhaps the stud should not have been put out.

Now, before the e-mails start flying, I do understand that plans can change and "that is the way it is." However, breeding livestock requires planning. When those plans slip, the cow calves in the auction barn.

That is reality. However, the perception is one that casts a shadow not just on one producer, but all producers. Cattle that enter the market chain enter as market beef, and it is up to us as producers to evaluate ourselves to make sure we only send market beef to auction.

We should manage around cull cows. At the same time, we are responsible for the animals we breed and we must remain responsible to the end.

May you find all your ear tags.

Editor's Note: Ringwall is executive director of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association. He directs the day-to-day office operations of the NDBCIA, working closely with more than 250 member producers. He is the author of the Cow Herd Appraisal Performance System computer program that incorporates and analyzes data collection from conception through consumption. A native of Columbus, N.D., Ringwall obtained his undergraduate degree in animal science from North Dakota State University in 1975. In 1982, he earned a master's degree in animal science, and in 1985 he received his doctorate in animal breeding, both from Oklahoma State University. Ringwall has served agricultural producers in Ramsey, Benson and Cavalier counties of North Dakota as an extension agent. His office is located in Dickinson, where he holds a dual appointment as director of the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center and extension beef specialist. He can be reached at (701) 483-2045.

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