June 20, 2012
Sometimes it is hard getting those old cows to town... go ahead the picture is supposed to make you smile. Culling cows is a part of every cattle operation and in most herds culling occurs every year. Sometimes we hate to part with cows, but in a drought situation culling cows can asure we still have adequate feed resources for the younger, more productive cows.
It just so happens that we have seen record high prices for cull cows. Cull cows have been bringing $90/cwt. consistently in salebarns across the Midwest. In times of drought, there is no reason to keep cull cows around any longer than necessary. It is important to understand how cull cows are sorted at the salebarn to maximize value of the cows that are culled.
The scores of cull cows that the USDA reports on are:
Breakers and Boners are higher priced than Leans and Lights. It is important to make culling decisions early in a drought to avoid marketing thin cull cows that end up in Leans and Lights categories. These cows are lighter weight and lower priced... both losses of money.
Criteria for culling cows in order of priority:
Although culling is not something most producers look forward to, it accounts for 15%-20% of a cow-calf producer's income. In a drought, it is an important strategy to making the most of what you have. Don't let poor/late culling sort you into the red ink.
June 19, 2012
One thing that distinguishes a successful producer from his peers is the ability to adapt and respond to changes. Changes in weather and forage availability are many times out of our hands, but how we react to those changes can be the difference in profit or loss.
Supplementing cows with alternative feedstuffs during a drought is a common practice. Harvested forages, such as baled hay, can be used to replace available forage for grazing. The most common problem when trying to substitute harvested forage is that cows tend to prefer the palatability of fresh forage. This means that not until the available forage is virtually gone will cows choose the harvested forage. Due to this, feeding harvested forages is likely a last resort and certainly contributes little to "stretching" thin pastures.
In Illinois, many cattlemen are also grain farmers. The availability of corn grain is very high, but grains such as corn are a poor supplement choice for grazing cattle. Starch-based feeds (corn) have been shown to cause negative associative effects when supplemented to a forage based diet. This negative impact on forage digestion decreases the utilization of the forage and its nutrients.
Corn co-products are a valuable tool in the grazer's tool box. Co-products such as Distillers Grains (DGs) and Corn Gluten Feed (CGF) are fiber-based. The starch is removed in the wet and dry milling process and thus when these co-product feeds are fed in forage-based diets they have no negative associative effects. This, along with good protein and energy value, makes DGs and CGF good candidates for supplementing to animals grazing forage.
In a recent conversation with Dr. Dan Shike, Assistant Professor and Beef Cattle Nutritionist with University of Illinois, we discussed supplementing coproducts to grazing cows. In times of low forage availability, cows can benefit from coproduct supplementation. If the goal is to meet nutrient requirements of the cow, a minimal amount of DGs alone can be supplemented. "When small amounts of DGs are supplemented to cows on very poor quality forage, the added protein can increase forage digestion and increase passage rate leading to no reduction in forage intake. Although no changes are seen in forage intake, the cows are likely to gain or better maintain weight" said Dr. Shike. If the goal is to replace grazed forage intake, then mixing the co-product with a cheap forage such as crop residues and feeding the mixture works best. Nuttleman et al. 2010 showed when wet DGs and wheat straw were supplemented it replaced grazed forage intake on nearly a 1:1 basis.
As cattlemen we know cows have the unique ability to convert forages to protein and that cows are meant to work for us as foragers. However, the weather sometimes dictates we need to help those cows out when the grass goes scarce.
For more information on "Utilizing Coproducts in the Grazing Program": http://web.extension.illinois.edu/oardc/downloads/43697.pdf
June 13, 2012
Early weaning (EW) is a management strategy that can alleviate grazing pressure on pastures. EW can be the necessary decision to keep from feeding cows all summer or having to liquidate cows due to lack of forage.
Maddox (1965) suggested that by the time a calf reaches 120 days of age, more than half of the calf's energy requirement comes from sources other than milk. This means that calves are consuming forage in no other supplement is provided. In spring calving herds, grass quality is declining at a corresponding time to when milk production plateaus. This results in calves needing other sources of nutrition. Boggs et al. (1980) showed that milk intake of calves declined 93% from April to August. This results in calves eating forage to compensate for the gap in nutrition, which can take available forage away from the cow.
Removing the calf will not only eliminate their forage intake, but also eliminate the nutritional demand of lactation on the cow. Cow intakes have been shown to decrease by as much as 40% when calves are early weaned. This intake reduction could be the needed decrease to deal with lower forage availability of a drought.
There are disadvantages to EW:
These disadvantages may be over-ruled in times of drought.
Advantages besides decreasing forage intake of cows are: cows tend to have better BCS, heavier weights, and wean heavier calves the following year. EW calves also have better quality grades, higher % Choice grade, and higher ADG in the calf phase.
EW calves from first calf heifers and young cows can improve reproductive performance along with decreasing intake. Young cows are still devoting energy to growth and thus negative energy balance occurs more frequently. EW the calf decreases the energy requirement of the cow. Young cows are good candidates for EW.
Early weaning is a valuable management strategy that can reduce forage needs in times of drought. EW can also improve carcass quality and calf phase gains in beef calves. Cows also tend to be in better condition and heavier weight due to EW.
Although not the ideal scenario for most cattlemen, EW can be a management decision that is needed in times of low forage availability.
June 12, 2012
Creep feeding is a management strategy that provides supplemental nutrition to calves still nursing momma cows. Sources of creep feed usually include grains, co-products, commercial supplements, or if available high quality forages.
Creep Feeding is a practice that has been used to increase weaning weights. In today's market where pounds are worth quite a bit (500lb. calf is ~$180/cwt.), creep feeding can net a return. Check out this bit by SDSU's Heather Larson http://www.cattlenetwork.com/cattle-news/Net-return-on-creep-feed-158447765.html
Advantages of Creep Feeding:
Disadvantages of Creep Feeding:
A common misconception is that creep feeding will reduce nursing pressure on the cow. This is not the case. Calves prefer milk first, thus calves that are creep-fed will have similar milk intake to non-creep-fed calves.
Although creep feeding will not help reduce suckling of the cow, Cremin et al. reported in 1991 that when calves were offered free-choice creep feed, forage intake decreased. Every pound of creep feed consumed replaced approximately half a pound of forage.
Obviously, creep feeding has a minimal impact on reducing forage intake of the herd. The reduction will occur in the calves and most likely little to no reduction in the cows. Creep feeding can add valuable weight at weaning, provide easier transitions at weaning, and allow a producer to fill nutritional gaps that may occur in the calf due to low milking cows or high growth potential of calves.
June 12, 2012
We were thankful yesterday to see rain clouds here at the Orr Research Center, but we would have certainly welcomed them to stay a lot longer. Much of Illinois has experienced some level of drought stress this spring. The lack of moisture has definitely had a negative effect on pastures.
We are accustom to heavier stocking rates and more plentiful forages in the spring in the Corn Belt. This year we had earlier green-up and, in most cases, earlier turn out. However, the moisture hasn't been there and we have depleted much of that forage ahead of normal schedule.
Due to these circumstances, producers need to consider management practices to adjust to lower forage availability. There are many strategies producers can deploy in times of dry weather. The ultimate goal of any of these strategies is to reduce stocking rate and relieve grazing pressure. Here are some strategies for managing low forage availability:
Having other forage sources available in times of dry weather is always the best plan. Hay ground that can be grazed, summer annuals following small grains, and crop residues to relieve pastures in the fall are all options. Any time beef producers can avoid hand feeding or feeding purchased feed, profitability will be better maintained.
Having a rotational grazing system in place also boosts a producer's ability to stay on grass during long periods of dry weather. Rotational systems increase utilization of the forage and rest periods let the grass recover. Managed grazing can be a focal point to not only increasing beef production per acre, but also giving you more flexibility in dealing with weather.
Other sources of forage or better utilizing the forage you have available are important strategies in dealing with a lack of forage availability. More blog posts will come with information on Creep Feeding, Early Weaning, Supplementing Cows with Alternative Feeds, and Culling Cows.
June 4, 2012
Pinkeye has been popping up in herds the last few weeks. Pinkeye is caused by the bacterium Moraxella bovis which is also found in the eyes of healthy cattle. Eye irritation is a key factor in developing pinkeye. Tall/mature grasses, sunlight, dust, and flies all create eye irritation. This year we've had all of those irritants present in cattle herds. In many cases we've had more dust due to dryer weather, more flies thanks to the mild winter, and grasses that headed out early.
The primary culprit of spreading pinkeye is face flies. Thus, fly control plays a major role in prevention of pinkeye.
Early detection of "watery eyes" and infected animals is also important to treating and controlling the disease. Early treatment will reduce eye damage and decrease the risk of the pinkeye spreading throughout the herd.
Treatment of this disease involves long acting tetracyclines (LA 200, Tetradure 300, etc.) and in advanced cases bulbar conjunctival injections of penicillin. There are also powders and sprays that can be applied to the eye.
Prevention tactics should be used extensively to control pinkeye. Vaccinations are available to guard against the major strains of Moraxella bovis. Management practices to help prevent pinkeye include clipping/mowing tall grasses that cause eye irritation, avoiding congregating cattle in drylots and dusty areas, ensure shade is available to reduce sunlight exposure, and controlling flies. Methods of controlling flies include fly tags, insecticide pour-ons, backrubbers with face strips, and feed additives (IGR), and knock down sprays.
The cost associated with pinkeye goes much further than the cost of treatment. Pinkeye results in decreased gains, poorer milk production, and is an added stressor to the immune system of cattle. Older numbers have shown that pinkeye costs an estimated $150 million just in the United States. With the value of pounds in today's market, don't let pinkeye cost you.
For more detailed information on Pinkeye, the stages, treatment, and prevention methods click here: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/oardc/downloads/43489.pdf