The Cattle Connection The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 Summer annuals can help solve forage shortages Mon, 13 May 2019 11:59:00 +0000 Are you short on hay? Are your pastures struggling and grazing days coming up short? Do you need an emergency forage if it turns dry this summer? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you may need to look into planting a summer annual forage.

Adding a summer annual forage to available acreage can help fill forage needs, add grazing flexibility, and provide a drought tolerant forage. While utilizing tillable acreage for summer annual forage production is an option, consider areas that may have been heavily abused from winter feeding or sacrifice paddocks that may benefit from the natural weed control of a competitive summer annual stand. Then, following the summer annual with a more permanent perennial pasture seeding in late summer or early fall. Summer annuals also work well before fall-seeding alfalfa.

There are several different options in the summer annual category. Forage sorghums have increased in popularity for a silage alternative and obviously, Illinois farmers know how to grow corn for silage. Teff is also a consideration for those wanting to produce a high quality, finer-leafed forage that can be dry baled. However, for grazing and summer haying, the primary options for farmers are sorghums and millets

Sorghum-sudangrass is a popular option that can handle a wider range of soil fertility and can be planted into slightly lower soil temperatures (~60 degrees F). Millets perform well on good fertile soils and should be planted into soil temperatures of 65 degrees or above. Planting depth should be approximately .75" to 1" in depth.

In most cases, these summer annuals will be ready to graze 6 to 8 weeks after planting. Turning in for grazing when plants are 18 – 24" is recommended. Grazing should be stopped when 1/3rd of the plant height remains or stopped before grazing under 8 inches, whichever is greater. For haying, plants should be allowed to reach flag leaf stage. Mowing heights should be adjusted to leave adequate height for regrowth if more than one cutting is desired. Again, plants grow back more quickly if 8 inches of stubble height is maintained.

It is important to understand that summer annuals require management. Potential hazards to animal health include prussic acid poisoning and nitrate toxicity. Pearl Millet is a safer option when it comes to prussic acid poisoning. When grazing sorghums, prussic acid poisoning, also referred to as cyanide poisoning, is a concern. Concern should be significant when the plant is stressed. A frost is the most commonly discussed stress, but even overgrazing and especially overgrazing immature plants can cause elevated concern for prussic acid poisoning.

High nitrogen rates or excess manure fertilization can cause increased risk for elevated nitrate levels. It is recommended that plants be tested for nitrates prior to grazing and that grazing heights are managed to leave the bottom 1/3rd of the plant or 8 inch stubble height, whichever is greater. When adding fertility at planting, consider the previously statements. In general, adding forty units of nitrogen is plenty and may not be necessary in a grazing scenario or where manure has been applied.

Making sure cattle are full at turnout is important for animal health and minimizing bloat risk. Make sure cattle have had plenty of feed and water prior to turning into summer annuals. Monitor cattle behavior attentively for the first 48 hours after turnout. Do not allow cattle to overgraze. This increases risk of nitrate poisoning and reduces forage re-growth.

Limited forage supplies, poor pasture productivity, and drought management are all good reasons behind considering planting a summer annual forage. Summer annuals can help fill forage gaps in the summer or help you build forage inventories for winter feeding. They are drought tolerant and can offer much needed forage in the summer slump. Be very aware that these forages need monitored for nitrate levels prior to and during grazing. The concern of prussic acid poisoning also exists when using sorghums and sorghum-sudangrass. With careful management, summer annual forages can be a valuable component to solving forage inadequacies.

Getting cows to breed back and breed up quickly Fri, 29 Mar 2019 10:34:00 +0000 This winter was brutal. Weather events, poor conditions, and hay shortages have resulted in some cows that will need extra attention prior to and during breeding season. After a hard winter, it would be salt in the wound to have cows breed late and fall out of your calving season. Monitoring and intervening with some timely supplementation is important and a valuable component to a profitable cowherd.

First, a rough season can help identify the cows that can't hang. Marking cows that are too high maintenance for cull can be a good thing for the future of your cowherd. This winter likely has identified some members of the herd that need to see the gate. However, if the majority of cows are behind merely due to a hard winter and below average feed supplies… then timely supplementation can help keep these cows from falling back in the season.

The biggest focus should be getting thin cows gaining weight. Cows that are gaining weight breed up at a higher percentage. This is easier said than done considering spring calving cows will be lactating and hay supplies are likely exhausted.

For those producers that will still be feeding harvested feeds during the breeding season, utilizing co-product feeds like corn gluten feed, dried distillers grains, and even just corn can help offer additional energy to forages.

For those producers that will be turned out on pasture at the time of breeding, a dry, low protein supplement should be used to help balance your pasture ration. New pasture growth has challenges. It is washy, high in protein, and low in fiber. To transition cattle successfully to pastures with these hurdles from winter diets, we need to offer a supplement that adds dry matter, energy, and fiber. Adding energy is likely the priority. Thus, I have found success in advising cattlemen to feed cows a 50:50 mixture of corn grain and soybean hulls when starting cattle on pasture. Feeding 4 to 5 pounds of this mixture can help add energy to the pasture ration. Offering a bale of hay or any palatable dry forage can help, but stay away from high protein forages like alfalfa. Getting more dry matter, energy, and fiber in the cow will help her better utilize the lush grass pasture for weight gain.

Now, here are a few reasons to focus on getting cows bred early. First, research has shown that getting a higher percentage of cows to calve within the first 21 days of the calving season results in heavier weaning weights and increased pregnancy rates compared to later calving cows. Heavier calves and more bred cows has been and will be a pretty good combination for making money. Later calving cows are more apt to fall out of your calving season and can ultimately cost you several dollars in replacement costs.

Just one missed cycle can add several dollars to the annual cost to keep a cow. It can also result is loss from weaning weight that could have been realized if the calf was older, on the ground and growing sooner. Table 1 shows figures of the cost per cow that fails to breed in the first 21 days of the breeding season.

Table 1. Cost per cow failing to breed in the first 21 days of the breeding season

Cost, Item



Diet Cost, $/day



Feed Costᵃ, $ per missed cycle



Lower weaning weightᵇ, $



Total Cost



¹ Free choice poor quality hay supplemented with CGF, $0.10/d mineral cost

² Pasture Rent=$90/acre, 6 mo. grazing, 2 acre/cow, $0.10/d mineral cost

ᵃ Diet cost multiplied by 21 days

ᵇ Assumed calf ADG of 2.5 and multiplied by 21 days, $150/cwt

Researchers from University of Nebraska-Lincoln investigated the effect of calving period on heifer progeny. Results show that heifers of cows calving in the first 21 days of the calving season have lower birth weights, heavier weaning weights, and higher pregnancy rates as bred heifers when compared to heifers born to cows calving later in the calving season. They also were more apt to calve in the first 21 days of the calving season as they entered production, had lighter calves at birth that weaned off heavier, and they bred-back with numerically higher pregnancy rates as first-calf cows.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a positive snowball effect from focusing on front-loading your calving season and selecting replacements from cows that are calving early in your season. I would not encourage pulling bulls after a 60 day breeding season, because of the premium for bred cows. I would utilize a pregnancy check to identify late-bred cows and then market them before the calving season as bred cows. Just because they don't fit for your operation doesn't mean they don't fit for someone else's. The key is to identify the cows that annually are at the front of your calving season. Select and propagate those genetics to make cows.

Tips for getting cows to breed early in the season

  • Select replacements from cows that calve early in the season
  • Have cows in correct Body Condition Score (ideally 6)
  • Avoid decreasing plane of nutrition at breeding, cows losing weight do not breed up well
  • Invest in a good mineral program, consider injectable mineral products 30 days prior to breeding if mineral status may be compromised
  • Consider synchronization and timed-AI to front-load the calving season
  • Transition cows to lush, spring forage with a dry, low protein supplement
  • Move pre-breeding vaccines to at least 30 days prior to breeding
  • Limit stress. Use low-stress animal handling when processing cows
  • Avoid transporting of cows between 4 -45 days post breeding
  • Provide adequate shade in breeding pastures
  • Conduct a breeding soundness exam on all bulls prior to turnout
Passion and pride fuels the livestock industry Mon, 04 Mar 2019 11:56:00 +0000 I recently attended a University of Illinois livestock and meats judging team reunion. Admittedly, when I received the invitation in the mail I thought to myself… I am way too busy to go. However, my team was to be highlighted on the program as the 10 year anniversary team. Thus, I put it on my calendar.

Upon arrival, I met up with those that were on the 2008 team and we began reminiscing of the "good ole days." The stories were plentiful. Our faces hurt from smiling and the air around us was filled with laughter. We were a rowdy bunch and had our fair share of fun, but the most defining nature of our team was that we were all extremely competitive. That trait combined with an abundant passion for livestock and animal agriculture made our team very successful.

As other teams were highlighted by living legends Dr. Doug Parrett and Dr. Tom Carr, the same message kept ringing through. The teams were filled with competitive spirits with an overflowing passion for agriculture. As teams introduced themselves, it was evident that many of the past judging team members were climbing some high mountains. These folks were all very successful in their paths. They were medical doctors, higher-ups in the meat packing industry, successful business owners, big-time farmers and ranchers, communicators, leaders in the cattle trade, veterinarians, professors and academics, and several more players within their own field. Honestly, the career success was astounding. It was a thrill to be around people that had such a deep passion for agriculture and took utmost pride in their work.

Upon reflection, the passion and pride that was on display at the reunion is just an example of what takes place every day in the livestock world. This winter has been rough. The farm economy isn't that good. However, passion and pride continues to fuel farmers and ranchers every day. I don't know what is more admirable than that. My hats off to everyone who fights the weather, carries the stress of lower commodity prices, and bares the responsibility to care for livestock day in and day out. Your passion and pride for your work fuels the industry, it fuels your community, and it fuels your family.

IL Performance Tested Bull Sale is the Source for Total Performance Genetics Tue, 05 Feb 2019 10:42:00 +0000 Commercial cow-calf producers and seedstock breeders interested in purchasing a total performance tested bull will want to attend the 2019 Illinois Performance Tested Bull Sale. The sale will be the leadoff event of the Illinois Beef Expo. There are 59 bulls cataloged with 23 being longer-aged 2017 mature bulls and 36 yearlings. A breakdown of the breeds includes 31 Angus, 17 Simmental and SimAngus, and 11 Polled Hereford. The sale is scheduled for Thursday, February 21, at 11:00 a.m. and will be held in the Livestock Center on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

The 2019 edition will be the 51st annual sale with 4,740 bulls valued at over 8.7 million dollars sold at previous sales, according to Travis Meteer, IPT Bull Sale Manager. The sale order will be based on a Power Score system that utilizes the economic indexes provided by the breed associations. The Power Score will be calculated on the "Percentile Rank" for these values. The economic indexes are $W and $B for Angus, API and TI for Simmental, and BMI and CHB for Hereford.

Along with strict requirements for superior EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences), bulls must meet some of the most rigorous requirements in the industry. "These bulls don't just have to pass the test… they have to pass every test" says Meteer. All of the bulls must meet a stringent minimum scrotal circumference for their age. Mothers of the bull are required to test negative for Johne's Disease or come from a Level 1 or higher herd of the Voluntary Johne's Certification Program. Bulls also must be tested free for Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) using the Persistently Infected (PI) ear notch screening system. All Senior and January yearlings must be fertility tested. All bulls meet weight, frame, and functional soundness evaluations prior to the sale.

The 2019 IPT Bull Sale offers some of the most elite bulls found anywhere in the United States as verified by their Power Scores. Highlighting the 2019 sale will be several genetic powerhouse bulls that have light birth weight, high growth and carcass desirability. Proven breed-leaders, AI sires, and legendary breed icons fill the pedigrees of the bulls. There are truly unique combinations of performance, pedigree, and phenotype offered through the sale.

The IPT Bull Sale catalog along with supporting information can be found online. The website contains all the pedigree information, adjusted weights, Power Scores and EPDs on seven different traits and two dollar value indexes. In addition, there is a list of registration numbers for all the bulls that allow prospective buyers to print a "Performance Pedigree" from the breed associations. The web site also provides more complete information on how the "Power Score" is calculated, summary of the past 50 IPT Bull Sales. Online bidding will be offered through LiveAuctions.TV. All information is available on the website. The website can be found at

All bulls will sell with genomic-enhanced EPDs, which increases the accuracy and reliability of the EPD values. Most all of this year's consignors have consigned bulls to previous sales and represent some of the elite seedstock suppliers in the state of Illinois and the Midwest. These bulls to sell on Feb 21st are a direct result of generations of planned matings.

The sale is supported by University of Illinois Extension, University of Illinois Animal Science Department, Illinois Angus Association, Illinois Simmental Association, Vita-Ferm, Boehringer-Ingleheim, Zoetis 50K and ABS. For more information on the sale or bulls consigned contact Travis Meteer at 217-430-7030 or email at

Cold Weather Strategies for Cattlemen Tue, 29 Jan 2019 11:21:00 +0000 As livestock owners care for livestock in frigid temperatures, it is important to know where efforts are best spent. Cattle handle cold weather quite well as long as they have a dry, heavy winter hair coat. If you are curious what cold weather is for cows, I have written on that previously. You can find that information here.

Here are a few strategies we can deploy immediately to help cattle in cold weather:

  • Provide windbreak or shelter. A heavy winter haircoat is the cow's best defense to the cold. If that haircoat gets wet or is subject to wind, it is less effective. Thus, keeping cows dry and out of the wind drastically improves their ability to handle cold weather.
  • Provide bedding. Giving cattle some additional insulation from cold ground can help. A heavily bedded area can also serve as a place for cows to nest and get out of the cold.
  • Provide enough windbreak or bedding for all. In situations where calves are present make sure there is plenty of room in these areas. If cows are huddling or crowded, the possibility of calves getting stepped on increases.
  • Make sure water is available. Keeping waters thawed is important. Cows will actually drink more water when experiencing cold stress. Normally, assume cows will drink 1 gallon per 100lbs. However, when stressed they tend to consume closer to 2 gallons per 100lbs.
  • Provide additional energy in the diet. Cows can utilize body fat reserves for energy. However, in an effort to keep cows from becoming thin over periods of cold weather or environmental conditions that increase maintenance requirements, providing additional energy in the diet is suggested. This can be accomplished by providing higher quality forages, supplemental grains or co-product feeds.
  • Feed in the afternoon or early evening. The digestive process of a ruminant animal generates heat. Thus, feeding later in the day can allow for this digestive heat to help warm the animal in the overnight period when temperatures will be the coldest.

As always remember that livestock are hardy critters and with a little help can easily make it through short periods of cold stress. When cold and bitter temperatures are sustained for long periods, special attention to the above strategies will be needed.

Livestock producers worry about livestock before themselves on most all days. But it is important in extreme weather to have a strategy to keep yourself warm and fueled. A few tips for farmers as they need to take precautions when tending to animals in cold temperatures:

  • Dress in layers, insulate yourself with plenty of clothing. Hat, scarf, gloves are a must
  • Wear waterproof exterior layers. Change into dry clothing if clothes becomes wet or saturated
  • Have a change of clothes, extra hat, extra gloves in the truck or tractor
  • Keep your feet and hands dry
  • Bring hand or foot warmers
  • Keep your phone charged or a charger close. You may need to call in reinforcements.
  • Keep tractors, trucks and equipment full of fuel in case you get stuck or stranded. This will ensure the equipment can run and keep warm until help arrives.
  • Don't be afraid to go inside to warm up
Managing Mud on Cattle Farms Mon, 03 Dec 2018 10:06:00 +0000 Wet, cold weather continues to persist in Illinois. Naturally, these conditions create mud. Muddy conditions are rather difficult to navigate on the cattle farm. These conditions can be frustrating for the farmer and the cattle. Challenges associated with mud on the cattle farm need to be identified and evaluated to ensure the environment is not detrimental to animal health and performance.


One of the downfall's to mud is the increase in energy requirement for cattle to navigate the terrain. After all, when you "boot up" and head out to tromp through the mud you are using more energy to travel the same distance through mud too. As you track through muddy lot you are normally out of breath and tired. Same goes for cattle… they are getting a workout too.

The added energy needed results in less going to weight gain and performance. In 1991, University of Nebraska researchers published common numbers associated with loss of gain due to mud.

Mud depth

Loss of Gain

Dewclaw deep


Shin deep


Hock deep


Belly deep


University of Nebraska also published "Mud Effects on Feedlot Cattle" in 2011. This piece authored by Terry Mader, built a model and simulated conditions based on actual cattle feeding studies. The model showed under cold (16°F) and wet (6 in. rainfall for 120-day feeding period) conditions cost-of-gain was 56.1% higher than 26°F and no precipitation. Full article available here.

Another problem associated with extended muddy conditions is foot rot. Constant exposure to wet conditions can lead to breakdown of the skin around the hoof. This opens the tissues up to bacteria and can lead to infection. Swelling and lameness are usually the first signs that an animal has foot rot.

A dryer, less saturated area for cattle is the answer to maintain cattle performance and avoid health issues. Often times a pasture is considered as the savior. Stockpiled pastures with good drainage can be a big help. However, stocking too many animals in a small pasture area or the trailing of animals across pastures can cause disturbance of the soil. If tracked up, the forage stand will be reduced and opened to weed pressure in the following growing season.


Managing mud is a tough task. Sure, everyone would love to have concrete feeding pads or facilities to get cattle up out of the mud. While these are options, they are expensive. If you continually are dealing with muddy conditions, they could be worth the investment. Geotextile fabric and rock will be a good investment for temporary or mid-term mitigation of muddy, wet conditions.

For those dealing with short term mud challenges, picking well drained areas of the farm to concentrate feeding is best. Also, de-stocking an area and spreading cattle out on cornstalk or tillable acreage temporarily may help. University of Illinois research conducted at the Dudley Smith research farm shows no negative agronomic effect to grazing cornstalks. Removing cattle from cornstalks in mid-winter to allow the freeze-thaw-freeze period to occur will help reduce compaction. Anyways, this is just another reason to have cows grazing cornstalks. If cows are trampling cornstalks, providing extra forage and supplement may be necessary. Don't over-stock these areas or mud and compaction could still be a problem.

Another option is to bed cattle. Straw, cornstalks, soybean stubble, wood chips, etc. help cattle stay up out of the mud. Cattle feeding areas exposed to the outdoors will likely need bedded. Be mindful that this may be a temporary solution as the more organic matter added to the pen can create more mud after time. Deep bed packs work well to keep building mounded areas for cattle to stay on "high ground." Lots of bedding will help, but it will also likely result in more manure hauling.

Managing mud is difficult. Frankly, it sucks. It makes for longer, dirtier chores and seems to slow everything down on the farm. While there is no silver bullet for getting cattle out of the mud, it can be managed to an extent. Here's to hoping we get a good freeze and some tame cold weather… so we can all benefit from "poor man's concrete."

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification opportunities Mon, 12 Nov 2018 08:05:00 +0000 Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) is a national program that provides a continuing education opportunity for farmers and ranchers. BQA equips producers with production strategies and general skills to maintain and strengthen a quality, wholesome food supply.

By now, you as a beef producer realize that the beef business is a consumer-driven business. Grassroots programs, like BQA training, are the foundation to reinforcing consumer confidence and securing a bright future for cattle farms. By becoming BQA certified, a producer is not only helping secure a bright future for beef, but also refining management practices and animal handling qualities that can help improve the bottom-line.

The first question producer's ask is "What is the benefit of the certification to me?" The answer to the question is there are numerous benefits. By becoming BQA certified, a producer is directly illustrating the passion and carefulness that they display on a daily basis when caring for animals. As the consumer is further removed from farming and agriculture, it is more important to document your commitment to BQA practices. BQA also equips producers with skills and knowledge to reduce or eliminate carcass defects, carcass bruising, and animal stress. Participating in a BQA program keeps you up to date on the newest beef industry news, helps improve record keeping, opens market opportunities, and simply put… it is the right thing to do!

If you are not BQA certified or your certification is out-of-date, I encourage you to join your fellow cattle producers in becoming certified.

Click here for a list of upcoming in-person trainings.

Training is free online at