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Down the cow path

“Corn, beans and Florida” is an expression I have heard about farmers for years. While it may ring true for a few grain farmers, it certainly does not for most livestock farmers. Once the crops are in and the fall field work is done, there is plenty to do on a cow-calf operation that does not include going to Florida for the winter!

Of course there are meetings of all sorts — new chemicals, new corn and bean hybrids, farm bill, crop insurance, farm succession and planning to name a few. Farmers are also spending the winter months working on or updating their machinery and delivering corn and beans that have been sold.

Once we got our cows pregnancy-checked and culled the open or late calvers, we focus on the nutritional needs of the cows through the winter. The cows must be kept in good body condition for when they calve in March or April. The first step was actually taken at pregnancy checking. The cows we kept were vaccinated to help the cows pass immunity to their calves against bacterial viral respiratory diseases and also to help prevent diarrhea in the calves. We also treat the cows to control internal and external parasites.

The next important step is nutrition. On our farm the cows get free choice alfalfa hay, salt blocks and 32 percent protein lick tubs that also contain important micro- or trace ingredients such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, zinc and boron. We feel we are meeting the nutritional needs because we have very high quality hay. Some producers that do not have access to good hay feed, corn silage or supplement poor quality hay with dried or wet distillers grains (DDGS or WDGS). Another supplement is corn distillers solubles (CDS). CDS is becoming a very economical supplement if you can get a reliable supply. All these supplements are by-products of the ethanol industry.

Early winter is also the time to look at upgrading or changing the cow herd genetics. If it is time to get a new bull, this is probably the most economical way to go. It is less costly than trying to replace half your cow herd. There are private treaty bull sales all around the state. There are also university-sponsored bull sales all winter. One of the largest bull sales is held Feb. 21 in Springfield. This is during the Illinois Beef Expo held at the state fairgrounds. The expo is a four-day event featuring breed association sales, judging contests, junior shows and the Illinois Beef Association trade show along with the main event, of course, the Illinois Performance Tested Bull Sale. Angus, Simmental, Charolais, Hereford, Shorthorn, Limousin and Gelbvieh are among the breeds to be represented.

As I mentioned earlier, winter is for meetings, and March is probably the busiest month of all. March 13 is the IBNIPPA legislative reception, and March 14 is Illinois Ag Legislative Day. Both events will be held in Springfield, of course. March 9 is important locally as the Bureau County Cattlemen will host its annual meeting. Our speaker will be the new Illinois Beef Executive Vice President Reid Blossom. Invitations are in the mail, but if you don’t receive one and would like to attend, call me at 815-646-4735 or Mike Thacker (815-303-9650) for reservations. The meeting will be held at the Ye Olde Underground Inn beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced late in 2012 the final rule for ADT animal disease traceability). Points of information concerning the rule are printed in the January/February Illinois Beef magazine. The Illinois Beef Board felt this was a necessary service to its members. If you do not belong to the Illinois Beef Association, you can join online or call a board member such as myself, and we will gladly sign you up and explain the benefits of membership.

On our farm we are about five weeks away from calving time, and it has been a mild winter for the cows so far. This past week of rain has brought some needed moisture, although I don’t know how much of it got through the frost. It has made the field where we feed the cows pretty muddy, but the next freeze will allow us to clean the barn so the cows will have nice dry bedding for the remainder of the winter, and the calves will have a dry, warm place to get out of the weather.

A little personal P.S. to the beginning of this column in that this year this cow-calf producer will be going to Florida. We will be attending our daughter’s wedding. Hopefully we get a break in calving and get back before it is time to plant. Congratulations Dawn and Chris!

Until my next column, thank the Lord for all His blessings, remember what Easter is really about, have a safe and successful calving season and Eat Beef — it’s what you want for dinner!

Larry Magnuson farms south of Tiskilwa and serves on the Illinois Beef Board.

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