Like much of the Midwest, southern Illinois has been hit hard by drought this summer. Cattlemen from Iowa who rode a bus on the 2012 Iowa Beef Tour for three days July 16-18 from southern Iowa, through Missouri and into southern Illinois, saw it firsthand.
They saw the nearly 4,000 acres of dry pasture at the University of Illinois Dixon Springs Ag Research Center, and soon after they arrived and got off the bus a downpour hit. Frank Ireland, an animal scientist at the center, said the region is 14 inches below its normal amount of rainfall for this time of year. "It's impacting our research projects here at the station," he notes, adding that it has delayed a PhD student's research there one year.
The drought has impacted pastures, including warm season annuals that grazers rely on during summer months. "We just didn't get the rainfall for those grasses to come up," Ireland notes. The center usually has 1,000 big bales of hay to feed the 1,000 head of cattle on site; there will likely only be half that amount this summer. "This year is going to be a challenge," says Ireland.
Early weaning of calves is leading to improved feed efficiency for cattle
Despite this, Ireland notes that the research center has recently completed, or is close to completing studies that should prove beneficial to producers across the board. Many of these findings relate to feed efficiency, and Ireland points out that one of these findings involves early weaning.
With calves averaging about 65 days old, and ranging from 40 to 80 days, he says these calves weaned early have a potential conversion rate of 4.2 to 1 versus the normal 7 to 1. "The feed efficiency is tremendous on them," he adds. "We pick up about a 35% increase in carcass quality."