The Cattle Connection The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 CRP Hay: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:06:00 +0000 Many cattle producers are still looking for economical forage to use as winter feed for beef cows. Cornstalks, bean-stubble, wheat straw, and CRP hay are a few of the low-quality forages that are being considered by farmers. Some areas that experienced drought conditions this summer had CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) acres released for haying. Thus, questions are coming in about CRP hay. CRP hay is not something cattle producers use annually and many may be unfamiliar with its characteristics. Thus, I will discuss my thoughts on CRP hay… The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good – we have forage for cattle to consume. Without a base forage, you may have had to resort to limit-feeding high concentrate diets. Those definitely are not an easy transition from grass and the cows tend to bawl and pressure fences. Likely, CRP hay was economical to put-up or purchase. The Good is simply that we have something for cows to keep their bellies full and provide a base forage to their diet.

The Bad – CRP hay is poor quality forage. It should be viewed as a feed ingredient, not the entire diet. Hay from CRP will be low to moderate in protein (8-10%CP) and low energy (<50% TDN). Cattlemen need to supplement this forage with protein and energy. Co-products, grains, or other supplements are needed to meet nutrient requirements of the cow. In many cases, this forage will be mature and long stemmed. Consequently, the rumen will have to work harder to digest this forage. Supplemental protein will be needed to help feed the rumen microbes and ensure proper digestion. Bottom line, test your CRP hay and supplement it accordingly.

The Ugly – Something we may not immediately think about is the potential of CRP hay to contain a large amount of weeds and more importantly weed seeds. These weed seeds are likely to end up in the manure of cows that are fed this hay. Where this manure is deposited or spread is important to controlling future weed populations. If you are feeding CRP hay on pastures, be aware that you may be introducing numerous weeds to your pasture.

All in all, cattle can utilize poor quality forages. Hay made from CRP acres will likely need supplemented to meet the nutrient requirements of beef cows. Thus, it is important to test this forage and utilize co-product feeds and/or grains to supplement protein and energy. Be aware that weed seed may be of higher inclusion in this hay. As a result, feeding areas may need to be managed for higher weed pressure in the future.
Orr Beef Research Center’s 2018 Field Day scheduled for September 5th Tue, 28 Aug 2018 09:40:00 +0000 BAYLIS, Ill. – The annual Orr Beef Research Center Field Day will take place at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5. The meeting will be held at the John Wood Ag Center located on State Highway 104 in Baylis. Speakers from the University of Illinois will lead discussions that will address research, current topics, and situations producers are facing on-farm. A meal will be provided to those who take part in the discussions and tour.

The program includes Dan Shike, U of I Department of Animal Sciences professor and cow/calf researcher, and U of I graduate research assistants who will update attendees on the latest research at the university.

Topics will include:

  • Research evaluating the influence of dried distillers grains with solubles on bull development and reproductive traits
  • Preliminary research on the effect of heifer development system on heifer performance and reproductive traits
  • Research results on an evaluation of parasite resistance in cattle treated with LongRangeTM

Travis Meteer, Illinois Extension Beef Specialist, will discuss stretching a short hay supply and extended housing of cows in a drylot system. He will also talk about current and future research projects at the Orr Research Center.

A tour of the Orr Center will be given immediately following the presentations. Producers will have the opportunity to view facilities, cattle, and pastures. Updated dry-lot pens and pasture renovation projects will be available for viewing.

This field day will equip producers with the newest research findings, applicable management strategies, and practical knowledge to help increase profits in their cattle operation. Speakers will be glad to address any producer questions during the evening.

More information on the field day is available at or contact Travis Meteer at 217-236-4961 or

Still Time to Grow Forage Thu, 23 Aug 2018 08:20:00 +0000 Limited hay supplies have cattle producers looking at opportunities to grow more forage yet this fall. An early maturing crop is going to open the door for use of row crop acres to grow more forage.

Many producers have already identified the opportunity to put Oats, Cereal Rye, Turnips, or other forage crops in this fall. As a result, expect to see shortages in seed supplies, higher priced seed, and some delay if seed is not in stock. However, don't let this keep you from consulting your seed salesman. They will have options for you.

I feel cover crops may be as good of an option as ever. The ability to grow more forage will be very valuable this year. Hay prices continue to be elevated and burdensome on ration costs. Forage produced from fall covers could prove to be an extremely wise investment.

A few questions that are common when discussing fall cover crops are:

Q1: What timeline do I have to get fall forages planted?

A1: Oats and Turnips: Prior to September 1st; Annual Ryegrass: August 15th through September 30th; Cereal Rye or Triticale between September 1st and October 15th – Normal growing period is 60 to 75 days. If you find yourself after October 15th, Cereal Rye is your best option.

Q2: What are the seeding rates?

A2: I like the mixture of 2 bu./acre Oats and 4 lbs./acre of forage turnip. Also, 1.5 bu./acre Oats and 1.5 bu./acre of Cereal Rye for grazing in the fall and early spring. If seeded alone: Drill Annual ryegrass at 20 lbs./acre, Cereal rye at 90 lbs./acre, Oats at 3 bu./acre

Q3: How much rainfall do I need to have a successful seeding and somewhat normal yields?

A3: It is nice to recieve ½ to 1 inch within 10 days of planting and another inch of rain in the next 20 days. If cover crops are aerial seeded, two good rains are needed. The first for incorporation of the seed and the second to feed the germinating plant. If cover crops are drilled, the first rain is not as important, because the seed is already in the ground.

Q4: What about herbicide carry-over?

A4: It can be an issue. Luckily most parts of Illinois have received adequate rainfall, however some herbicides have a longer residual than others. Idle wheat acres should be safe. Planting on corn silage acres or after corn should spur investigation into the herbicide package used on those acres before planting. Check the herbicides used or do a bio-assay. You can grab some soil from different spots in the field, plant your seeds, water for a week or two and see what you get. Normally, if there has been over 1 pound of Atrazine applied problems are likely.

Q5: Are any crops less sensitive to herbicide carry-over?

A5: Annual, Italian, and Perennial Ryegrass are less sensitive than the brassica plants

Q6: What is the best specie for forage production?

A6: Oats are the best for fall tonnage. Cereal Rye is the best for spring tonnage. Triticale is great for spring-harvested forage and doesn't mature as fast as rye. Brassicas are a great protein source, but best in grazing situations. I would recommend a blend of cover crops. Blends will be better for grazing for sure. Consult your seed salesman or Extension specialist to help put a blend together for hay or grazing.

Capitalizing on the opportunity to grow more forage in 2018 should be a focus of profit-minded cattlemen. Fall forage opportunities are very good this year given some rainfall. They may provide the extra feed and grazing days that we greatly need this year.

Inventory Stored Feeds Thu, 16 Aug 2018 10:26:00 +0000 Currently, low hay supplies and overstocked pastures are commonplace in the Midwest. Limited forage availability is still a challenge for cattlemen. As a result, it is vital for cattle producers to inventory feeds. An inventory of what is on-farm will help producers budget purchased feeds.

Simply counting round bales, feet of silage bags, and carefully estimating remaining grazing days is a good place to start. While getting an accurate count of stored feeds is important, understanding how far the stored feeds will go is necessary.


A cow will eat 2.5% of her body weight in hay. That means a 1300 lb. cow will eat 32.5 lbs. of hay. When offered free choice, waste can be 25% or more. That means she will use ~40 lbs. of hay per day. A month of hay for that cow would be close to 1200 lbs... Thus, the old rule of thumb is one big round bale per cow per month.

Supplemental energy and protein

The amount of supplement required is directly linked to the quality of the forage. If you have stockpiled fescue to graze or good quality hay, then supplement needs may be fairly small. However, hay that is over-mature, baled late, or has been rained-on could need supplemented to meet cow requirements. It is always best to sample your hay and have it tested for a nutrient analysis.

Table 1 and 2 show the amount of corn or Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles (DDGS) needed to supply energy at maintenance requirement for a 1400 lb. cow with average milk production. It is assumed she is calving in the middle of the 150 day feeding period, eating 2% of her body weight in hay, and not in need of increased diet energy for cold stress, increased mud, or long distance to travel to water or feed.

Table 1. Amount of corn needed to meet maintenance energy requirement, per cow for 150 day feeding period


Corn, lbs. (as-is)







Table 2. Amount of DDGS needed to meet maintenance energy requirement, per cow for 150 day feeding period


DDGS supplement, lbs.







The tables show there can be quite a difference in additional supplementation needed to reach cow energy requirements only because of difference in hay quality. Using Table 2., the amount of DDGS needed for a 60 cow herd eating 54 TDN hay would be 35,700 lbs. The amount of DDGS needed for a 60 cow herd eating 46 TDN hay would be 55,140 lbs.

Very poor quality hay may cause lower intakes, which would result in more supplement needed. For example, if hay TDN is 46% and the cow only eats 1.5% of her BW, then the budget for DDGS needs to increase to 1384 lbs. per cow for the 150 day feeding period. That would equate to 83,040 lbs. of DDGS needed for a 60 cow herd. If your cows are thin or heavier in weight or do not have shelter then you will need to allocate more supplement for added energy requirements.

Remember, it is recommended that corn not be fed over 0.5% of a cow's body weight to avoid acidosis and negative associative effects. If hay is of such poor quality that cows will require over 0.5% of their body weight in supplement, a co-product or blend of fiber-based supplements should be used. Corn gluten feed, soybean hulls, distiller's grains, and wheat midds are likely candidates for a mix.


After you have a feed inventory, it is important to identify what feeds fit different stages of production. Utilize poor quality forages like cornstalks and rained-on hay when cows are at their lowest nutrient requirements (mid-gestation, dry). By simply matching your feeds with the nutrient requirements of the cow you can avoid paying for high priced supplement.

At the same time, save your good quality forages like your better hay and corn silage for closer to calving. These higher quality forages will offer more nutrition. They are also more palatable and thus higher intakes help achieve proper nutrient requirements.


Sometimes feed budgets are like hitting a moving target. Waste and shrink associated with the feeds that are being inventoried is often a hard number to predict. It is also a hard number to stomach. The wastes associated with hay can be quite large when stored outside and fed ad libitum. Shrink in grains, co-products and silages also needs considered. Shrink for grains should be around 2%, yet wet feeds and silages are generally around 10% shrink. Minimizing shrink should be a focus of the profit-minded cattlemen.


All in all, cow/calf producers need to be aware of their stored feed needs. As always, extending the time a cow spends grazing and harvesting her own feed will reduce costs. However, when the time comes to supply harvested feeds to meet the cow's nutrition requirements… producers need to be prepared. Take inventory, test forages, and make sure you have adequate supplies of the ingredients needed to formulate a balanced ration for your cowherd.

Fly Control Tue, 17 Jul 2018 10:53:00 +0000 Authored by Ashley Cooney, Intern, University of Illinois Orr Beef Research Farm.

It's the middle of fly season and a good time to put a fly control program into place or to evaluate how effective your current fly control program is. Flies can cause up to $1 billion in revenue loss, so it is vital to have a good fly control program. The loss in revenue is caused when flies found on cattle are over the economic threshold. The economic threshold, or the number of flies that cause negative effects on cattle, is 100 flies per side for a cow and 50 flies per side for a calf. Negative effects from too many flies include interrupted grazing, lower performance, lower average daily gain, and pinkeye propogation.

The flies that are most commonly found on cattle are horn flies, face flies, stable flies, and house flies.

  • Horn flies: found on the shoulders, back, and belly of cattle. They can eat 20-30 blood meals per day. They lay their eggs in fresh manure
  • Face flies: found on the eyes, mouth, and muzzle of cattle. They feed on secretions and are vectors for pink eye
  • Stable flies: found on the legs of cattle. The economic threshold of stable flies is 5/leg. They cause cattle to stomp their feet and switch their tails
  • House flies: bite and feed on cattle's blood. They are a vector for anaplasmosis

There are different types of control that producers can use to create a fly plan. The types of controls can be fly tags, feed-through, oiler, pour-on, and direct spray.

  • Fly tags: Ear tags that are coated in insecticide. They target face flies only, have a shorter lifetime, and can be more expensive. There are many options for rotational use with fly tags.
  • Feed-through: A feed additive or supplement given in a free choice setting that contains fly preventatives. It needs to be fed 30 before fly season starts to be effective and only prevents horn flies. It is inexpensive, has no labor involved, and breaks the life-cycle of the fly.
  • Oiler: A back rubber filled with fly control chemicals that cattle can rub against. It will have to be refilled and in a location where cattle will be forced to use them, whether that be a in a gateway, around a mineral feeder, or any other area that cattle frequently go to. It controls face flies and is low labor for re-applying fly control.
  • Pour-on: This is an insecticide that is poured on to the back of a cow. The amount of time that it lasts is variable, so it must be re-applied frequently and is labor expensive. It can prevent some internal parasites on top of flies. This is a good to be used as part of a component in a fly control program. It can be used to control the horn flies and then you can use fly tags to control face flies.
  • Direct spray: This is an insecticide that is sprayed onto a cow's back, belly, or legs. It can be very labor intensive. It will immediately decrease the fly load and is very effective for flies everywhere on a cow. The direct spray is intermediate for expenses.

When creating a fly control program or evaluating one for its effectiveness, it is important to consider resistance. The best thing that producers can do to avoid flies becoming resistant is to rotate the classes of chemicals used. There are two major classes of chemicals that should be rotated to avoid resistance: pyrethroid and organophosphate. Newer classes are being developed and they should be considered as part of your rotation. Rotating the class of chemical used in fly tags every year will help reduce resistance. You should also delay treating the cattle for flies until the flies have reached the economic threshold (200 flies on cows, 100 flies on calves). Producers should also consider using fly control products during the late fly season which will help cut back on the number of larvae that will go underground during the winter. Finally, in the fall, producers should remove the fly tags from the cattle.

A fly control program can save producers money and help cattle stay healthy. A good fly control program will be designed to reduce fly populations, repel existing fly loads, and decrease larvae and breeding areas.

More information available here

Comparing Spring vs. Fall Calving Mon, 02 Jul 2018 11:16:00 +0000 Authored by Ashley Cooney, Intern, University of Illinois Orr Beef Research Farm. At the Illinois Beef Association's Summer Conference, I had the chance to talk to producers and learn about how they operate their farms. One conversation with a producer stuck out to me and got me thinking. The producer's cow-calf operation had two calving seasons: fall and spring. My conversation with the producer led me to a comparison of the calving seasons and which one could be the most ideal.

Producers should consider the advantages and disadvantages of spring calving when deciding when to calve. One advantage to spring calving is that during peak lactation cows have plenty of forage that can meet nutrient needs. Another advantage is that during the winter time when the cow is dry, she will not require a massive amount of high-quality feed. One of the disadvantages to spring calving would be unpredictable weather and cold temperatures during calving. Another disadvantage is that conception rates can be lower due to the hot weather. Spring born calves tend to have a lower weaning weight due to there not being enough good quality forage. The final drawback with spring calving is that selling prices of the spring-born calves tend to be about four percent lower than the annual average price.

Producers should also consider the advantages and disadvantages of fall calving. An advantage to fall calving is that the market price for these cattle is about four percent above the annual average price. This is because the demand is high, but the supply is low. Another positive is that the cows generally have a higher body condition at breeding, which will allow earlier breeding at higher rates. Also, the weather is more predictable come calving time. One disadvantage of fall calving is that the producer will have a higher winter feeding cost. This is because the cows will be lactating in the winter and will require a higher nutritional need. Another problem to consider is that the colder temperatures and snow can be harder on the calves' health. Producers should also keep in mind that it might be harder to find labor to help with the calving.

Some advantages can come from having two calving seasons instead of one. One advantage would be that the bull would be used twice in a year which would make the bull cost decrease. Another positive would be that you are spreading the market risk out by selling calves at two different times. One thing a producer should keep in mind is that if they decide to have two calving seasons instead of one, they need to make sure that they have plenty of calves being born during both seasons to avoid being discounted from having a small lot size.

Depending on forage and labor facilities, producers may benefit from having two calving seasons as you get more use out of the bull and the market and be able to benefit from the advantages of both seasons. However, producers need to look at the disadvantages and advantages of each calving season and decide what is best for them and their operation.


Oklahoma State University, J.C. Hobbs

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Beef

Progressive Cattleman

Cattle Today

The Power of Observation Thu, 14 Jun 2018 08:48:00 +0000 Beep! Ding! Buzz! The noises and alerts that come from a cell phone can absolutely dominate your day. Answering calls, emails, texts, social media alerts, and on and on… the happenings around you can come and go while you are still staring at your phone.

While taking pasture samples a few weeks ago, I challenged myself to observe. I turned my phone to silent and left it in my pocket. I wanted to focus on the pasture conditions and the behavior of the cattle.

Here are a few really simple observations I made when sampling pastures:

  • Cattle like shade
  • Cattle don't like fescue in the spring, they prefer clovers, Bromegrass and Orchardgrass
  • Cattle don't eat the grass around manure, spiny weeds
  • Cattle graze harder closer to the water
  • Flies cause cows to huddle and not graze

These observations are rudimentary. However, I think they warrant discussion.

First, Cattle will seek shade. In every paddock, the majority of the cows were grazing in the shade. That day the weather was fairly typical of an Illinois June. It was warm, a bit humid, but there was a nice breeze. It was obvious that cattle preferred the shade.

Many times when developing a rotational grazing plan, producers ask "Do cattle need shade?" I think answering this question becomes easy when observing cattle behavior. Allowing cattle access to shade makes sense to me. It is their natural behavior to seek shade. They may not need it or use it on every day of the year, but I would recommend having access to shade in a planned grazing system.

Next, it was easy to see that the cattle were not mowing the paddock from front to back at a certain height like a mower. They were selectively grazing. They preferred more tender, larger leaf plants over more stemmy, mature growth. They also tended to graze legumes, Bromegrass, and then Orchardgrass before endophyte-infected Fescue.

Cattle are largely path of least resistance eaters. They like the stuff that is easy to eat. The tender, immature plants. Generally, those plants are often higher in nutritive value than a mature plant too. Unless we stock cattle at a very high density, they will typically eat the good stuff and ignore the rest.

I think this observation can help answer a lot of questions. If you're seeding a new pasture, plant a mixture of species, but plant species that cattle like to consume. Also, if you have pastures that are predominately Fescue, maybe fall grazing should be the priority for those areas. Few things are as good as stockpiled Fescue in the early winter, but cattle sure don't care for it in the spring.

Now, I also observed several spots that were ungrazed adjacent to areas that were heavily grazed. Many times the areas that were left ungrazed were inhabited by a manure patty or a spiny weed. Cattle do not like to graze next to manure and they do not like to graze in areas of irritation.

Distance from water also influences grazing pressure. If cattle have to trail a long way to water, they will not graze that area as frequent. This is especially true in the summer. In the summer, cattle are hot and tend to drink more water. They will undoubtedly graze the area close to the water heavier.

When planning a grazing system water is likely the biggest influencer. Locating the waterer within 700-800 feet of the farthest area in the paddock will help keep grazing uniform. Having the ability to take water to different areas of the pasture can help increase pasture utilization and can greatly benefit a strip grazing or rotational grazing set-up.

Another observation was that fly pressure makes cows huddle up and stop grazing. Cows will huddle and group or stand in water or mud to limit surface area exposure to flies. This causes a decrease in time spent grazing or resting. Thus, less feed intake and more energy expenditure results in poorer performance. A good fly control program will help your cows spend more time grazing.

A large percentage of questions I receive from producers hinge on their observations. Accurate and thorough observation can quickly identify problems that need solved. I believe that the power of observation can not only identify problems, but also serve to answer many of the questions. Today with so many distractions, mainly a cell phone; it is hard to take the time to observe. I encourage you to take that time to observe. Observe your cattle. Observe their environment. Not only is it relaxing to observe cows grazing in a pasture, but observing can also be one of the most valuable components to effective herd management.