Early Weaning – A Good Bet For Producers in Drought-Stricken Areas

Editors Note: This article comes to us from the August 2103 issue of Agricultural Research, a publication of the USDA Agriculture Research Service and was written by Sandra Avant. At the beginning of 2013, cattle ranchers in the Northern Plains were among U.S. agricultural producers still feeling the lingering effects of the sweltering 2012 drought, the worst in half a century. Beef cow numbers were at the lowest in 50 years as U.S. beef producers—severely affected by extended drought—tried to recover from some of the driest months on record. Across the Northern and Southern Plains, beef producers hit the hardest by drought are threatened by limited forage resources for cows, which restricts calf growth, resulting in lighter calf weaning weights. In addition, drought can decrease cow body weight and condition and weaken immune functions that may affect overall health and reproductive performance. For decades, scientists at the Agricultural Research Service’s Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory (LARRL) in Miles City, Montana, have studied management options that minimize the effects of severe drought on rangeland livestock production. Recently, LARRL animal scientists Richard Waterman, a rangeland nutritionist, and Thomas Geary, a reproductive physiologist, teamed with local ranchers and collaborators at Montana State University (MSU) and the American Simmental Association in Bozeman, Montana, to evaluate early weaning of b

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