Drylotting Cows Alternative Practice To Destocking This Spring

Limit feeding cows in drylot can save the herd, but take heed of these strategies.

Published on: Feb 21, 2013

Coming off of a drought season, most grazing experts are recommending delayed turnout on pasture this spring. That means feeding cows and potentially their calves much longer into spring in a sacrifice paddock or in the feedlot. University of Nebraska Extension beef specialist, Rick Rasby, told producers at a Ranching for Profit meeting in Bassett recently that drylotting cows and calves can work well, but there are important management strategies that need to be considered.

“Confinement feeding cows is not what we want to do, but we might have to do it,” Rasby said. “During the 2012 drought, over 60% of the nation’s cowherd was impacted. In 2011, it was 35% of the nation’s cowherd.” Drought on the southern Plains in 2011 sent cows north to Nebraska and other northern Plains states where moisture was adequate. But last season, many Nebraska producers were forced to sell some of their cows.

FEEDING CAREFULLY: Cows and calves can be successfully fed in drylot, but special management strategies must be followed to save on expenses and maintain animal health.
FEEDING CAREFULLY: Cows and calves can be successfully fed in drylot, but special management strategies must be followed to save on expenses and maintain animal health.

Drylotting cows could be an alternative to having to sell off the herd. “Don’t overfeed them if cows are confined. Feed to a target condition score,” Rasby said. Objectives for drylotting cows include keeping the cows and calves healthy and containing costs as much as possible. Feeds in drylot might include crop residues, grains and co-products. Rasby added that producers don’t have to finely grind feedstuffs. It works to feed grains whole or uncracked.

Cows can be limit fed successfully, but they might act hungry. “You must meet their requirements,” Rasby said. “But you don’t need to give them all they can eat.” If cows are lactating, producers need to remember that the calf will eat 1.5% to 2.5% of its body weight on a dry matter basis so the amount fed needs to be adjusted. In designing pens for drylotting cow-calf pairs, it’s important to set aside an area for the calf only, so they have their own creep feeding area if necessary and a water source away from the cows. The drylot could be a sacrifice area in a pasture that can be easily renovated, he said.

For limit-feeding cows, each animal will need between 24 and 36 inches in bunk space and an area of about 500 to 800 square feet per cow. It’s best to sort young cows from the older cows in that situation, Rasby said.

It takes extra equipment to feed cows and calves in drylot, because it is best to have feed delivery equipment that can weigh ingredients, so the rations are correct. Producers can feed once a day, but could feed twice a day for the first week. The time of feed delivery and the amount fed should remain consistent for the best results. According to Rasby, the real challenge in drylotting cows and limit feeding is keeping up with energy needs of the animals.

If you’d like to learn more about drylotting or limit feeding cows and calves, contact Rasby at 402-472-6362 or email rrasby1@unl.edu.

Forages are as valuable as they have ever been, so the last thing producers want is to waste these expensive feedstuffs. University of Nebraska Extension beef specialist, Rick Rasby, says that UNL research has shown that feeding in racks prevents waste. Cattle fed big round bales in a ring feeder with a skirt, only wasted about 5.9%. Waste went up to 9%, when big round bales were fed in a simple rack. Without the rack, waste went up to 45%. Cone feeders ranked best, wasting only 3.3%. Cradle feeders and trailer feeders both wasted above 11% of the hay fed.

Rasby says that rolling big round bales out in the field, especially on frozen ground, is an acceptable method, but producers should take care to spread the windrows of rolled out forages far enough apart that cattle cannot drop manure on hay in the adjacent windrow while feeding.