December 6, 2013
With winter weather and cold temperatures setting in, it is time to talk about when cows feel cold. The big factors that determine the lower critical temperature for cattle are temperature, wind speed, and heaviness of winter hair coat.
Colder temperatures, higher wind speeds, and lighter hair coats will increase maintenance requirements. With a good winter coat, cattle will perform normally until temperatures drop below freezing (32°F), assuming no wind. If cattle have a heavy winter hair coat they can withstand temperatures as low as 19°F, again with no wind. When temperatures drop farther or wind chill is factored in, energy requirements increase approximately 1% for each degree. An easy way to get a ballpark figure on wind chill is to take the temperature and subtract the wind speed. So if it is 5°F with a wind speed of 10 mph, then the wind chill index is close to -5°F.
Cold following a rain is just as bad for us in the Midwest. Cattle with a summer hair coat or a hair coat that is wet have a lower critical temperature of only 59°F. Wet hair coats provide virtually no protection from wind and cold. This results in onset of cold stress at much higher temperatures. An area to allow cows to get out winter rain, sleet, and wind will reduce cold stress.
If facilities are not available, cows use more energy to help cope with the cold. Cows in good BCS can use body reserves to accomplish this if the cold stress is isolated and not a continuous event.
In longer periods of winter weather, additional energy may need to be supplied in the ration. For example, a temperature of 10°F with a wind speed of 20 mph will result in a 30% increase in requirement for a cow that has a heavy, dry hair coat. If that cow weighs 1400 pounds then she will require an additional 4.5 lbs of TDN in late gestation and and additional 6.2 lbs TDN in lactation. This results in the need for 6 lbs and 9 lbs of corn grain or Corn Gluten Feed (CGF).
I would not recommend feeding these levels of corn to cows. Use CGF, soyhulls, or DDGS as they will not cause a reduction in fiber digestion. It is wise to watch forecasts and plan for the colder weather. Do not vary rations greatly from day to day.
Cattle are hardy critters and can handle some adverse weather conditions. We as caretakers must be aware of the increased requirements cold stress can induce. Supplying windbreaks, covered housing, and additional energy in the ration all will help cattle come through winter in good condition and allow timely breed back in the spring.
November 25, 2013
One of the largest costs for cow-calf producers is feed costs. Costs associated with feeding the producing beef cow represent over sixty percent of the total costs in a cow-calf production system and are the largest determinant of profitability for beef producers. Despite recent moderation in corn price, elevated co-product and hay prices continue to persist. Thus, the key to unlocking profits remains reducing feed costs.
Extending the Grazing Season
The best way to reduce winter feeding costs is to extend the time cattle are out harvesting their own feed. This includes cornstalk grazing, grazing cover crop mixes, or stockpiled fescue. All of these help reduce the costs associated with feeding stored feeds.
The traditional method of winter feeding has been feeding hay. Feeding hay is popular due to ease of handling and simplicity. The most common hay feeding method is ad libitum (unlimited access). Unfortunately, it is one of the most expensive systems. At current prices, feeding mixed hay-good or alfalfa hay-good free choice will result in cow costs of $3.00 and $4.00/cow/day respectively.
In most cases, hay is packaged into large round bales and fed in some type of feeder. Many different designs claim to reduce hay waste, thus prompting research in this area.
A field trial conducted by Oklahoma State University and The Noble Foundation looked at hay feeder design and associated wastes. Four different feeder designs were evaluated: cone, sheet, ring, and poly. Hay waste for the feeders as listed in parenthesis: cone (5.3%), sheet (13.0%), ring (20.5%), and poly (21.0%). Costs were analyzed as well. They assumed a hay price of $116/ton or $70/bale. Assuming a producer with 30 cows will feed 180 bales in a season, the costs associated with hay waste were $667 (cone), $1,638 (sheet), $2,583 (ring), and $2,646 (poly) per season. It is easy to see that improved feeder designs like the cone-shaped hay feeder can save producers money by reducing hay waste.
Feeding hay, although easy, is costly to cattle production. Wastes during harvest, storage, and feeding result in very high costs. Working to eliminate waste is the key to making hay feeding viable.
An alternative to feeding hay is utilizing crop residues. High prices received for corn and soybean commodities have demanded a shift in acres away from hay and pasture to row crop production. In a 2012, Illinois planted an additional 1,800,000 acres of corn compared to 2001 (NASS, 2012). Obviously, there is an abundant supply of cornstalks in Illinois.
Grazing cornstalks is the preferred method of harvest because it is lower cost. Cost of fencing and making water available is always cheaper per acre than costs associated with feeding baled cornstalks (machinery, fuel, storage, nutrient removal, etc.). Grazing cornstalks is a no-brainer for low-cost cattle feed.
In many cases, corn fields are not fenced and water is not available. Cornstalks can be harvested from the field by baling. Baled cornstalks are normally 3-5% CP and 45-54% TDN. It is important to sample and test for nutrient analysis as variability is high. Supplementation is necessary to balance rations using baled cornstalks. Corn co-products such as CGF and DDGS work well for supplementing cornstalks. At current prices, feeding good cornstalk bales free choice and supplementing 5 pounds of CGF and 5 pounds of cracked corn would yield a cost of around $1.85/cow/day.
Cornstalk quality is crucial. Poor quality will result in poor intakes and even more waste than normal, which is high. Cornstalk bales that are damp and moldy, excessively dirty, or contain a high percentage of stalk will not result in adequate performance.
Cornstalks are a viable solution to high-priced hay. They will provide some nutrient value, but mainly serve as a roughage base that needs supplemented with co-products and corn grain. Thus, the prices of these supplements will determine the economic advantage or disadvantage on your farm.
Corn silage has been used for cattle feed for years, but in the recent biofuels era corn silage use has diminished. Increases in co-product feed prices relative to corn price and high hay prices make feeding corn silage very attractive.
Corn silage is very palatable forage. Cows consume good quality forage at 2.5% of body weight. This means a 1400 lb. cow will consume 35 lbs. dry matter or 100 lbs. as-is of corn silage. As a result, limit-feeding corn silage and supplementing protein would best match cow requirements. Using poor quality forages, corn silage and protein supplementation is a proven winter feeding strategy. Feeding corn silage ad libitum will in most cases result in overfeeding.
At current prices, feeding corn silage ad libitum would result in a cost of around $1.90/cow/day ... and some really fat cows. To best utilize corn silage, cut it with some corn stalks to add dry matter and use CGF for some additional protein.
There are many different ways to feed cows in the winter. Feeding hay is the most costly. Utilizing crop residues, cover crop grazing, and corn silage are the best fit options this year. No matter your feedstuff choices, be sure to balance with a vitamin/mineral package and consider ionophores. Least-cost ration formulation and reducing feed waste are vital to taming feed costs and unleashing profits.
November 8, 2013
Cattle prices are looking good so far this fall. As we head into bred heifer sale season, things look to be heating up. Prices for heifer calves have been elevated and there is less of a slide on heifer calves. The market for breeding cattle has been and looks to be good. Producers are seeing incentives to build the herds back up.
While I don't discourage you from building numbers, I think it is important to evaluate your cow body condition scores (BCS). This will allow you to determine if you have the feed resources to build numbers. Body condition scoring the cowherd is one of the best investments in time you can make.
Right now is a great time to conduct a BCS on cows. Cows are at their lowest nutrient requirements in months 7 – 9 post calving. So if you calve in March, now is the lowest nutrient requirement. This gives you an opportunity to sort thin cows and put condition on with feeds that are less expensive. It makes sense to get these cows up to correct BCS (ideally 6) before calving.
If cows are in better body condition score at calving, they will be more likely to breed back and stay in the herd. I feel it is extremely important for producers to focus on keeping the cows they have in production just that... in production. Replacement costs are high and loosing cows due to poor condition is unacceptable.
Back in 1990, Pruitt &Momont showed that cows in a BCS of 6 & 7 at calving had greater than 70% probability of breeding back early and greater than 97% probability of breeding in a 60 day season. On the other hand, cows that were BCS 5 at calving had 60% chance of breeding early and 94% chance of breeding in a 60 day season. Now, cows that were BCS of 4 at calving showed a sizeable drop again. BCS 4 cows were 50% for breeding early and 90% in a 60 day season.
It is very important to have cows in correct BCS entering calving season. Now is the time to correct that. I also suggest that producers minimize weight loss after calving as this could also drag down conception rates. Conducting a BCS on cows now can help you identify cows that need a little extra energy and get them in correct condition for calving. Keeping your producing cows in the production system year in year out will lead to profit.
November 1, 2013
Pasture management decisions made this fall will affect how your forage performs next spring. Thus, it is important to have a plan to make the best of the situation you have.
Pastures that have been overgrazed need some attention before next grazing season. Pastures that have been grubbed down will result in a reduced stand of the desired forage and open up area for weed invasion. To combat this situation, holes must be filled with vigorous seeds of desirable plants. Red clover fits this need perfectly.
Frost seeding red clover is a great management strategy to fill in voids that may have been created with overgrazing. Overgrazing allows for good soil to seed contact and stunts the grass specie growth in the spring, giving clover a chance to germ and establish itself. Clovers, like all legumes, prefer a nuetral soil pH and do not do well in acidic soils. Thus, it is important to apply limestone in the fall to help bring soil pH up before frost-seeding occurs in the spring.
If your pasture has been annually abused, frost-seeding may not be the fix it needs. Control of weed populations will likely be first and foremost. This may require a herbicide application followed by spot-spraying and mowing. To jumpstart and boost grass production in the spring, an application of nitrogen can be useful in the early spring. This works best if there is a good stand of pasture grasses to utilize the fertilizer. I would not recommend nitrogen fertilizer if you are frost-seeding. The N is used by the grasses and will starve out the immature legumes.
By far the best weed management strategy is implementing a rotational grazing system. By rotating cows and resting the forage, weed production will be starved out by strong stands of grass forage. Consider a rotation of your pastures to avoid overgrazing and allow rest periods.
October 22, 2013
This piece is authored by Dr. Dallas Duncan DVM, Large Animal Veterinarian with Mt. Sterling Vet Clinic.
Pregnancy checking of cattle can save producers more money than most other management practices. The single highest costs associated with cattle are feed costs. Meaning, feeding an open cow through winter is a huge drain on a production operation. In my mind, it is essential that cattle be pregnancy checked so valuable hay or other winter feed stockpiles are not wasted on open cows. Over the last few years winter feed costs have ranged from $450-$600 per cow, therefore spending a few dollars per head to make sure cows are pregnant makes good economic sense. In addition, dollars are not only lost in feed costs but also can be lost through mineral, vaccines, de-wormers and any other additional carrying costs. Before having your cattle pregnancy checked a producer should observe the cows to see if they are in the appropriate body condition and to evaluate feet, leg, eye, and teeth problems. It is smart to evaluate these issues as cattle with existing problems are less likely to forage well during the winter months. With high winter feeds costs and the current cull cow prices, it makes good sense to only keep efficiently producing cattle in the herd that are doing their job. Keep in mind that job is to wean as high of a percentage of her body weight as possible every 12 months and do so on as little feed as possible.
A pregnancy exam typically costs a producer approximately $5 per head. When doing the math one can quickly see how $5 per head for a pregnancy check can easily save a production operation hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the number of open cows in the herd. Not only can pregnancy checking save a producer money in feed and maintenance costs, but it can also allows a cattlemen to make more profitable marketing decisions. Knowing which cattle need to be sold allows for decision making concerning weaning of calves early and selling culls when market is high, selling open heifers when they are still young enough to be marketed in feeder sales, and one can sort off and feed thin cows in order to bring a higher price from selling more pounds.
Marketing is not the only aspect that pregnancy checking can enhance, it's a tremendous tool for overall herd management. Problem cows are typically identified and culled sooner in herds that do regular preg checks. Cows can be grouped into early or late season calvers and fed accordingly which will allow them to be more efficient, which equates more profit. Scour vaccines can be given at the appropriate time to optimize colostral antibodies. Knowing that too large of a percentage of cows are open suggests to the vet and cattlemen that further investigation is needed to look for possible abortion problems. Abortion can be due to many infectious agents such as IBR, BVD, Leptospirosis, and Neospora. Conception problems can also be an issue. Nutritional issues such as deficiencies or excessive amounts of energy, trace minerals, and protein. Bull infertility issues can be suggested from a pregnancy exam. Overall, knowing the reproductive status of a group of cattle allows for a much more precise management practice which will result in more profit.If pregnancy checking has been lacking on your operation we would like to assist you with incorporating this management tool. Pregnancy Exam is a small cost with many added benefits and should be one the easiest economic decisions in a cow-calf operation.