May 17, 2013
Pastures have really matured in the last week. Seed heads are prevalent in most pastures and stems are starting to show in some of the grazed paddocks. As a result of the fast growth and quick show of seed heads, I foresee many producers haying pastures to: 1- reset the growth cycle and 2- replenish low hay inventories.
Taking hay off of pastures is not free. For each ton of dry hay removed approximately 45 lbs. of Nitrogen (N), 12 lbs. of Phosphorus (P2O5), and 50 lbs. of Potassium (K2O) are removed. Using current fertilizer costs, the total nutrient value of hay harvested per ton would be around $65/ton.
If you plan to make hay from pastures be aware of the nutrient removal. Plan to replace these nutrients as soon as possible via manure, fertilizer, or winter feeding in these pasture areas. Pastures longevity and productivity depends on your management.
ALSO, I would recommend that producers hold off from baling too much pasture. Last year many farmers got "hay happy" and baled a high percentage of pasture acres to build hay reserves... then the rain shut off... and they fed that baled hay in the summer. This is extremely inefficient. Make sure that you have adequate pasture to be grazed before you get "hay happy."
May 10, 2013
Grass has been green for some time now, but cool temperatures hampered early growth. With a couple of warm days this past week, the grass has finally begun to take off. The quick spring growth is the plants effort to get to its reproductive state. When the plant becomes reproductive (produces seeds) the mission is accomplished and growth slows. Palatability and quality also decline as the plant matures.
Thus, it is important to keep the plant vegetative. This can be accomplished by grazing or mowing. Quick rotations through pasture paddocks can help keep plants vegetative without overgrazing. The key is to take the tops off of the grass to return it to a more immature stage where it will work hard (grow fast) to get to the reproductive state. If you can keep the plant vegetative (between 4 and 10 in. tall), you will increase pasture production, palatability, and forage quality.
I have spotted some seed heads already in pastures that have yet to be rotated through at the Orr Beef Research Center. The picture above was taken 5/10/13 here at the OBRC. The picture illustrates seed production starting in fescue. Orchard grass seed heads are even more prevalent than the fescue. I suggest producers monitor pastures and consider rotating cows quickly to keep plants vegetative.
May 1, 2013
April 24, 2013
The flush of spring grass is a welcomed sign to beef producers that have been feeding cows for what seems like forever. However, producers preparing to move cows out to pasture need to be aware of two big concerns.
First, Grass tetany is a concern with lush spring grass. This immature grass is very high in moisture and low in mineral content and dry matter (DM). The main culprit of grass tetany is deficiency of magnesium (Mg), this is why a "high-Mg" mineral is recommended. Start feeding the mineral 2-3 weeks before turnout. Calcium can also play a role in the equation as well, thus a calcium deficiency can also contribute. It is important to feed a high Mg mineral and check that Ca levels are adequate too. After you have the right mineral, they must consume it. If cattle are not consuming mineral at 3-4 oz per head per day, the feeder should be moved more in line with daily travel and closer to the water source. If this fails to increase consumption, then direct feeding the mineral with a grain or co-product supplement is needed. Results of grass tetany to the cow can be dramatic: stumbling, staggering, muscle twitching and possible death. All within a very short amount of time.
The next problem is meeting nutrient requirements of cows out on spring grass. Because spring grass is lush and high in water content, it becomes hard to supply adequate nutrition. Mature cow size and milk production have increased in the beef cow population. This means that in cases, cows cannot physically eat enough grass to meet dry matter and nutrient requirements. Research at the University of Illinois shows that cows will rarely consume over 100 lbs. of any feed due to fill and capacity of the rumen. However, a 1400 lb. cow will require 120-150 lbs of spring grass to meet requirement. In some cases when, grass is very immature and wet (<20% DM) the intake would need to be even higher. This means we need to intervene with a mild supplement level.
Producers can supplement cows with a dry feed that supplies ample energy, protein is not the focus. Examples would be soyhull pellets, grass hay, cornstalk bales, or even decent CRP hay. These supplements will provide DM to slow passage rate and some energy to balance out the high protein forage. The modern beef cow has been selected for maximum production traits, if we want maximum production without sacrificing reproduction; we need to be able to meet requirements during breeding season. It is evident that a diet of lush spring grass does not always meet the nutrient demands of lactation and reproduction in today's cow size.
April 12, 2013
Anticipation and anxiety fill Illinois farmers' heads. Late winter weather in the Midwest has many farmers in hurry-up-and-wait mode in effort to get the crop in the ground. When the sun starts to shine and the breeze starts to blow, many farmers could find themselves having to choose between planting corn or breeding cows. Thanks to proven synchronization methods it doesn't have to come to that.
With a little bit of planning you can fit AI'ing cows into any hectic schedule. Years of research and application have provided good evidence that Timed-AI can result in comparable conception rates to heat-checking and breeding on the 12 hour rule. Yes... that is correct. You don't have to check for heats and worry about who came in heat and who didn't. You just breed them all by appointment. Protocols have different lead times, so it is important to plan in advance.
The success of Timed-AI is dependent on the same mentality as any AI protocol. There must be strict adherence to the protocol and a meticulous attitude in following the procedure. If you plan and do things right, the results are very good.
Among many things you should consider when choosing a protocol is whether you are looking to breed heifers or cows. In most cases the protocols will differ. If you are unsure of the specifics click on the links at the end of this post or contact your veterinarian or extension specialist.
If you foresee yourself caught in the collision of planting season and breeding season, take a look at the options for synchronization and Timed-AI. The option to have your veterinarian out to breed cows exists if you can't pry yourself from the tractor... at least you are only paying for one trip to the farm.
April 12, 2013
If not for the start of baseball season, I am not sure that I would believe it is spring. Obviously, Mother Nature has fallen in love with the curveball. Despite the uncertainty of the weather, it is clear that to be in the cattle business cows have to breed. Simple as it sounds, it is not so easily executed.
Reproductive success or failure hinges on numerous factors, but the biggest factor is likely nutrition. The easiest, cheapest way to know if cows are receiving good nutrition is to evaluate their Body Condition Score (BCS). Cows in good condition will be in scores 5, 6, and 7. Research has shown that cows in good condition will breed earlier and are less likely to be open. The difference in a 4 and 6 score cow is 17% more pregnant in a 60 day season.
With the drought and late winter weather, it is not uncommon to find some of your cows thinner than usual. What if you have thinner cows? Get them gaining weight. It is proven that if thin cows are gaining weight during the breeding season they will have good pregnancy rates. Many heifers are not thin, but overdeveloped. If you try to lean up fat heifers during breeding your rates will be poor. Cows and heifers should be gaining weight to see good pregnancy rates.
So you have nodded your head through the first three paragraphs, but still aren't sure why your pregnancy rates are down. Some other factors that need evaluating: cow size, dry matter intake, hauling times, and time of vaccination.
Genetic trends show cows are bigger and heavier milking now. Thus, they require more nutrients and more dry matter (DM). Spring grass is lush, wet (20-25%DM), and may not meet cow requirements. A 1400 lb. cow needs to eat 120 to 150 lbs. of fescue grass to meet requirement. This is unlikely.
When hauling cows during breeding it is best to haul them 1-4 days after breeding or wait until 45 days post breeding. Embryo implantation is occurring which is sensitive to stress events. Other stress could occur from heat, new feedstuffs (moved to pasture for first time), or immune stress of vaccinations.Reproduction is a sensitive mechanism. Minimize and eliminate stressors during breeding season. Ensure cows are gaining a little weight even if it requires supplementing. Applying some planning and management to your herd can ensure you hit a home run getting cows bred.
April 4, 2013
On Tuesday, Dr. Ken Nimrick, retired WIU professor and cattleman, shared his secret to being profitable in the cow/calf business at the IL Forage Institute. His secret is simple..."By land for $200/acre." Of course, those of us in the audience all laughed. For good reason too, as most tillable farm ground has been setting records and all land prices have escalated. It is not uncommon to see good tillable ground selling for $12,000 - $15,000/acre and even some pasture acres for over $4,500/acre.
Dr. Nimrick pointed out that to be profitable, you must first know how to figure profit (Profit= Income – Expenses). Simple equation, but at times producers lose sight of this simple math. He stressed managing for profit, not production. He commented that reducing costs is vital in the current industry dynamic. There are two kinds of costs, fixed and variable. The only way to reduce fixed costs is to eliminate them or use them more efficiently by increasing numbers. Too many fixed costs can eat away at profit quickly. Examples of fixed costs would be tractors, trailers, barns, land, taxes, insurance, etc.
University of Illinois conducted a SPA report in 2005 that showed nearly 60% of the variation in profit for cow calf producers is due to feed costs. This is a variable cost. Reducing variable costs, especially feed, will have a large impact on profit.
The quickest way to reduce feed costs is to graze longer. Spend less time, money, and labor bringing feed to the cattle. Keeping cattle grazing longer requires one of two things, more land or more management. With land prices high, more management is the most economical.
Implementing a managed grazing system can increase grazing days and improve the financial efficiency of converting sunshine to beef. This requires planning, fencing, water, and some cost. So how much can you pay to implement a managed grazing system? If you invest $100/acre in developing a managed grazing system and improve carrying capacity by 50% (which are very realistic expectations), then you have bought land for $200/ acre.
Dr. Nimrick was not in fact joking when he talked about buying land at $200/acre. If you can manage your pastures for increased carrying capacity, you are in essence buying some very cheap land.
March 26, 2013
I was able to attend the Midwest section of ASAS animal science meetings in Des Moines, IA earlier this month. I had the opportunity to view numerous research projects presented and a vast amount of good science being applied to the beef industry. It is always a thought provoking event, but this year I left the meeting with some big questions.
The biggest question I feel is "Are beef producers ready to take on the challenges we are about to face?" As I reflect on the majority of our local, state, and regional meetings... I realize that we have been focusing largely on just making it. Just making it to spring of 2013 and out of a drought.
The drought threw a curve ball to producers this past year. Illinois cattlemen had to focus on where to get feed and water... two things we take for granted. At this juncture, I took to answering drought related questions seemingly full time and still am answering them yet this month. It's important to realize much of the plains are still experiencing a drought and if the drought extends we could be right back in the hole. I am not expecting to see a huge decline in drought related questions.
So, I ask myself "Are beef producers ready to take on the challenges we are about to face?" With the focus still on drought in much of the US and many producers stretching feeds right now... I would say the focus is not as much on the future, but maintaining the present. This is not bad. It should be priority to stay in the business. However, I would encourage producers and decision makers to take a bit of time to look down the road.
Feeding an exponentially growing population is going to be a challenge. I believe we can overcome this challenge with sound science and good management. However, we as producers need to be aware of these technologies and maximize their contribution.
We also must realize we are going to battle policy and law written and voted on by the wealthy. Can the wealthy impose their preference of food and food production on the poor? We have to justify our production practices already. What happens if we can improve cattle with genetic technology to get sick less, produce more nutritious meat, eat less while producing the same, etc.? Can this technology even be used or will it be deemed unacceptable by society? I think these are questions that are without answer in my head... I have my opinion, but certainly not the answer.
I am excited as to the future of beef production. I feel like we have the opportunity as cattlemen to produce a product that helps feed the world. I think we have the opportunity to improve genetic selection, improve forages for feed, improve management and handling of cattle, improve reproductive efficiency, and subsequently improve the way of life for those to follow. Are you ready to face these challenges and move the production of food animals forward?
March 25, 2013
Wow! The difference a year makes. This time last year we were planting corn in many parts of central and southern Illinois. Not so for this year, many are clearing more than a foot of snow that fell hard and fast yesterday. It makes you start to wonder if we can fire Punxsutawney Phil.
From a cattle producer's standpoint, this late winter weather has shackled the chances of getting to grass soon and certainly got many stretching limited supplies of winter feed. The last blog post gives some insight on how to stretch feeds.
Looking forward, when green grass does get here... and it will, it is key to apply management. Pastures will need to recover from abuse this fall and have the opportunity to develop and maintain root mass. This root mass will be extremely important to productivity of the plant. Managing pastures to avoid overgrazing will be extremely important. Fight the urge to run out to the first sign of green and let the grasses establish themselves.
If you must get out onto pasture early, then rotation will be important. Make sure you can give the grass a rest period to recover. Quick rotations always fit best with lush spring growth. Then slow your rotation as grass growth moderates in the late spring and summer months. The rule of thumb is "take half, leave half."
As for now, we welcome the moisture, but would like to see it accommodated with warmer temperatures so that we can grow some grass.
March 6, 2013
Winter weather's strong presence in late February and March has some producers in Illinois scrambling to stretch already limited feed supplies.
The best way to stretch feeds is to reduce waste. All feeding strategies have some waste involved. Waste can occur in feed preparation, feed storage, and of course at feeding. By now, improvement must come by decreasing waste at feeding.
Feeding hay is the most popular way of wintering cows in the Midwest. Unfortunately, feeding hay is associated with high amounts of waste. Feeding hay without a feeder can result in up to 40% waste. The most popular feeder in the Midwest is the ring feeder. Improved ring hay feeder designs have shown to limit hay waste and save you hay. Utilizing these feeders can help you stretch your hay supplies.
If your main forage is corn silage, then limit-feeding may be a strategy to stretch it. If cows are lactating, limit-feeding corn silage will need to be supplemented with a few pounds of grain or co-products. It is also important to point out cows will not feel full and are more likely to pressure fences. Some producers that have poor quality forages like straw or cornstalks can include those feedstuffs in a balanced ration to add filler.
If you are in a position where you need to purchase additional feeds, look into corn co-products like DDGS and CGF. Soyhulls are also an option. These "by-product" feeds will be cheaper than feeding corn and other grains. Some producers have asked about buying protein tubs. I recommend that protein tubs not be used as a substitute for lack of feed. Protein tubs are best used to increase forage utilization, not replace the lack of forage. Protein tubs cannot supply enough protein and energy. They are designed for low intake. If forage/feed is limited, producers need to get more nutrition down cows than a tub alone can provide.
Consult with your nutritionist to ensure cow requirements are being met. A little feed or management of feed can pay large dividends when breeding season approaches. By the way if you are breeding for Jan. 1 calves... Cows will be need to be bred the end of the month... only a few weeks away! Cows that are in thin condition and cows that are losing weight have poorer conception rates. Mother Nature is testing us with some cold, snowy, wet, winter weather. It is important to monitor and maintain adequate nutrition, because it has a huge impact on reproduction.