The Cattle Connection The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 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.

Haying pastures likely not the cure for depleted forage supplies Thu, 24 May 2018 13:32:00 +0000 Severely tight hay reserves will undoubtedly cause many farmers to aggressively put up hay this spring. When the weather is right and hay fields are mowed there will be many farmers looking over the fence at pastures as an opportunity to make more bales. While it is important to get hay reserves built back up on your farm, I would caution producers against baling pastures.

Illinois is not home to many pasture-rich cattlemen. Thus, baling pastures will likely rob forage that could be consumed by cows during the grazing season. Cows harvesting pasture is much more efficient than a mechanical harvest. The last thing any farmer wants to do is bale grass in the spring to feed it in the summer.

Next, taking hay off of pastures is not free. For each ton of dry hay baled, approximately 40 lbs. of Nitrogen (N), 20 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 $38/dry ton. A big round bale that weighs 1,200 lbs. at 85% dry matter would remove slightly over $19 of N, P, and K per bale.

While many farmers will bale their own hay and tend to not value the cost of the harvest process, it is important to consider. According to the last-updated figures provided by University of Illinois' FarmDoc for cost of harvesting forages, a harvest process of mow-rake-bale would cost approximately $50 per acre. If you harvest 2.5 bales per acre, the harvest cost per bale would be $20 per bale.

It is simple to combine the cost of nutrient removal and the cost of harvesting to figure a rough cost per bale. So, add the $19 in removal of nutrient to the $20 in harvest cost and the total cost of a bale sitting in the field is $39 per bale. Other costs that should be considered would be cost to move bales from the field to the storage site, cost due to storage loss, and cost due to waste at time of feeding. These costs can easily double the cost of a bale of hay by the time it is ran through a cow.

Now, with all that said, the numbers behind the cost of haying pastures can look as good or as bad as you want to interpret them to be. The good or the bad depends on what you are comparing it to. I think there are some other factors that one should consider when thinking about baling pastures.

I believe a big factor to consider is the stress that total removal of forage puts on the pasture when the growing season is going around the second turn. In the backstretch of the grazing season, is the "summer slump." The summer slump is when cool season grasses slow in productivity because of the hot temperatures of the summer months.

Mowing pastures to the ground to harvest hay just prior to the summer months can put severe stress on the plants and ask them to devote serious energy to replenishing leaves to harvest sunlight for photosynthesis. This takes away from root reserves and will make the plant more susceptible to drought. Taking hay off of pastures opens the ground up. This often allows sunlight to reach the soil directly, heating up soil temperature and hastening the slowing of cool season grasses. This stress and exposure can stress cool season pastures and drastically slow down regrowth.

Knowing the stress that baling pastures can put on future forage regrowth, I think it is important to consider some alternatives to baling pastures. Many cattle producers may have sacrifice paddocks or small areas that need renovation. These areas could easily be used to grow summer annual forages like sorghums and millets. These forages could be grazed in the summer slump allowing cool season forages to stockpile for fall and winter grazing, thus extending your grazing season. Extending the grazing season will lead to feeding less hay.

Other alternatives to baling pastures could be harvesting a small amount of acres for corn silage. Not only does harvesting corn silage address immediate needs for feed inventory, but it also opens acres to allow for a seeding of oats and turnips to be used for fall and winter grazing.

Can your farm better utilize crop residues for grazing or baling? Would an addition of a water source allow for considerably more cornstalk grazing in the fall? Could baling cornstalks help fill winter forage needs? Is there an opportunity to seed cereal rye after a corn harvest to result in late-fall grazing and spring harvested forage? Have you implemented a rotational grazing system to maximize current pasture acres? These are all questions that should be part of the conversation when looking to rebuild forage stores.

While the urge to bale pastures will be as strong as ever this spring and summer, I would recommend looking at other options to build forage stores. Knowing most Illinois cattle farms are already short on pasture, I believe it is the wrong place to look for filling forage needs.

Q&A: Utilizing stunted cereal rye for forage? Tue, 08 May 2018 13:21:00 +0000 Abnormally cool spring weather has not only slowed pasture growth, but also changed the growth curve of cereal rye. I have fielded several calls pertaining to best harvest methods and potential feed value of stunted cereal rye. One main point I immediately share with farmers is there is still feed value in the crop when harvested timely, but obviously yields will be lower due to this year's long winter. Here are a few questions and answers.

When is the ideal time to harvest cereal rye?

Late boot stage. Cereal rye matures quickly, thus the ideal time to harvest may be only a one week window. Height of the plant is not a good indicator of harvest time. This year cereal rye is maturing at much smaller heights than previous years.

What is the best harvest method?

If your stand is weak and the forage height doesn't justify the cost of mechanical harvest, grazing is a harvest option. Using a higher stocking rate will quickly remove the forage to help ensure timely planting of a cash crop. However, if wet weather ensues, cattle can end up trampling a lot of the forage and temporary compaction issues may result. So, it is important to manage a grazing situation closely. Ideally, grazing should have already occurred if that was the best method of harvest.

At this point, grazing is a less viable option for timely removal of the forage. Thus, mechanical harvest is the go-to. I would suggest chopping the forage. This will help the forage pack and ensile. It also reduces the particle size and makes the forage more palatable at feed-out.

Wet baling is a good option. I prefer wet baling over dry baling because of the ability to harvest at higher moisture in a smaller window of time. When properly done, wet baling can result in a very high quality, palatable feed. However, if you wait until the rye is over-mature, bales will be coarse, stemmy, and it is harder to remove air pockets to achieve proper fermentation. These factors reduce palatability at feed-out and reduce the quality of the feed. A baler with knives can help this problem, but may not completely solve it.

Dry baling requires a longer harvest window and may be challenging with spring weather patterns. Moisture may vary in the field and in the windrow. This often causes uneven bale moisture and leads to problems in bales that are too wet. Bales that are too wet for dry hay are susceptible to molding and fire risk. Be careful trying to dry bale. It is hard to achieve complete dry down of heavy stands of cereal rye. Wrapping bales that are between 20-40% moisture is not an alternative. Bales at these moisture levels will not ensile properly and could propagate dangerous bacteria like Listeria and Clostridiums. These bacteria can cause health problems and even death to cattle at certain concentrations.

What is the target moisture at harvest for chopping or wet-baling?

Target 50% moisture with an acceptable range of 40-60% for baleage. For chopped forages, I would recommend being on the higher end of the range. With a target of 55-60% moisture.

Should I use inoculant?

Yes. Inoculant will help add bacteria favorable to proper fermentation. If plant sugars are low, which is common in over-mature cereal grains or rained-on hay, a supplemental source of sugar may be beneficial to achieving fermentation. Mowing forages in the afternoon on sunny days helps increase plant sugar levels.

What kind of feed value will it be?

Feed value will vary. As forages mature, tonnage will increase and feed quality will decline. Cereal rye that is in full head will likely test 8-10% CP and in the low 50s for TDN. It is important to note, when taken at the ideal harvest time cereal rye can test in the low teens for CP and around 58-62 for TDN. This year will be different than recent years, so… as always, sample your forage and run a nutrient analysis before feeding.

If I elect not to harvest as forage, what can I do to still be able to plant cash crop?

Everyone needs an exit strategy. If at some point you determine making feed from cereal rye is no longer cost effective, you have a few options for termination. Chemical termination is one. Spraying the stand of cereal rye with Glyphosate or Paraquat Dichloride can terminate the stand. Consult your chemical rep or Extension agronomist for rates and application best management practices.

Rolling with a crimper can be a termination method. This method is gaining traction with several farmers, but does require some specialized equipment and knowledge of the process.

I think it is very important to consider the following cash crop. Soybeans seem to allow more flexibility. They will tolerate larger residue amounts better than corn. If corn is the desired cash crop following rye, the forage is best removed and some starter fertilizer is likely needed. Allelopathy, the release of chemicals from one plant negatively impacting growth of a neighboring plant, can be a concern in corn following cereal rye.

Focus on Getting Cows Bred Early in the Breeding Season Wed, 18 Apr 2018 11:47:00 +0000 I was speaking at a meeting one evening and I was talking about how nutrition affects reproduction. I got to the portion of the talk discussing how post-partum interval affects cows getting bred in a 60 day season. I asked the members of the crowd to raise their hand if they maintained a 60-day calving season. Very few hands went up. One of the few was attached to a gentleman that spoke up and said "I only calve 60 days out of the entire year… but I never know which 60 days or where they will fall on the calendar."

We all laughed, but that gentlemen brought light to the fact that many producers do not focus on a tight calving window. If you have a spread out calving season, I suggest you work to break cows into a spring and fall group. However, be cautious that just shifting cows from spring to fall and vice-versa will result in little herd improvement. Break them apart to allow management and then sort off the cows that can't hang.

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, $160/cwt

Researchers from University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Funston et al.) 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 weigh 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 post breeding
  • Provide adequate shade in breeding pastures
  • Conduct a breeding soundness exam on all bulls prior to turnout
Stretching an already short hay supply Fri, 06 Apr 2018 13:53:00 +0000 Spring forgot to set the alarm clock! While we are waiting for Spring to wake up and replace this persistent winter weather with warm temperatures, many cattle owners are struggling to stretch an already short hay supply.

Turning out at the first sign of grass growth has consequences. Plants need the opportunity to establish a good root base. Grazing plants too early and too often can deplete root reserves and result in poor pasture performance for the remainder of the year. The above ground growth is a good gauge of how much root growth is occurring under the surface. Thus, if grazing occurs to short plants, the plants will be stressed and struggle to build a root base needed to be productive during the season.

Knowing that overgrazing early in the season can harm the productivity of the pasture for the remainder of the season, I would advise producers to look at options to continue to stretch limited hay supplies. A few options that should be considered are:

  • Limit waste as much as possible. Consider improved feeder designs
  • Eliminate extra mouths. If you are planning to sell cattle or cull animals, go ahead and get them marketed. Purchasing hay for animals you plan to sell shortly is a bad idea. Market them now.
  • Consider limiting time of access to hay. Research at the University of Illinois shows limiting a cow's access to hay for only 6 to 9 hours can reduce waste when compared to ad libitum access. More details here:
  • Limiting time of access can be achieved by locking cows away from the hay feeder. Be sure to allow enough feeder space for all cows when limiting access. Supplementation will be needed. Consider DDGS, CGF, soybean hulls and grain mixes to meet nutrient requirements.
  • Utilize alternatives like cornstalks, straw, oat hulls, etc. when economical.
  • Consider higher inclusions of co-products like DDGS, CGF, soyhulls, etc. Limit feeding a ration of 15 pounds of hay and 15 pounds of DDGS/CGF/Soyhull mix can be viable for a lactating cow. Changes to mineral supplementation are likely necessary. Fifteen pounds of hay is close to half what a cow would consume when given free access.
  • Consider an ionophore in your supplement to improve feed efficiency, especially when limit feeding
  • Keep pens and feeding areas as clean as possible. This helps avoid hay and forages being trampled into the mud or manure.

This is all easier said than done. I know that. However, thought and time spent executing a plan to continue to stretch hay and feeds can result in better pasture productivity for the rest of the year.

If you must get cows out onto pasture (may be the best for calf health), create a sacrifice area. Many producers have already done this. This will limit the damage and protect other acreage from overgrazing early. This area will be abused and will need renovated. This area can be a great place for summer annuals like sorghums or millets. If you have a rotational grazing system, turning out early can be less damaging. Rotational grazing can help better manage the forage height and allow rest for forages that have been stressed.

This year has been challenging. Damaging pastures due to overgrazing early in the season will only create more challenges in 2018.

Illinois Performance Tested Bull Sale Results Tue, 27 Feb 2018 10:30:00 +0000 The Illinois Performance Tested (IPT) Bull Sale was the lead-off event of the 2018 Illinois Beef Expo held on Feb. 22 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. The sale averaged $3,875 on 50 lots.

"This sale continues to be one of the best sources for total performance genetics in the Midwest," said Travis Meteer, IPT sale manager. "During the past 50 years, the sale has sold 4,740 bulls valued at over 8.7 million dollars."

There were three breeds represented in the 2018 sale: Angus, Simmental, and Polled Hereford. Meteer said a yearling Angus bull was the top seller, selling for $9,000. The bull, MG Leupold 11E, was sold by Murphy Angus LLP, Illiopolis, to John Brunner, Springfield. Murphy Angus LLP also had the second-high selling bull. He was lot 9 and sold for $6,000.

The top selling Simmental bull was consigned by Rincker Cattle Company. He sold for $5,800 to Dean Nelson, Oneida. The second-high selling Simmental bull, and highest indexing Simmental bull, was consigned by Rincker Simmentals and he sold for $5,300 to Thomas Lave, Effingham, IL

The top selling Polled Hereford bull was consigned by Sturdy Herefords, Rochester. He sold for $4,300 to Melvin Smith, Effingham. Travis Hagen, Hamburg, took home lot 62 for $4,000. Lot 62 was the high-indexing Hereford bull consigned by Rabideau Polled Herefords.

The University of Illinois (U of I) Extension, U of I Department of Animal Sciences, and consigning breeders sponsored the sale. Also, Vita-Ferm, ABS, Boehringer-Ingelheim, Zoetis 50K, Illinois Angus Association, and Illinois Simmental Association provided industry support, Meteer said.

Producers interested in viewing a breakdown of all the prices can visit the IPT Bull Sale website at Also included on this site are the individual bull prices from the 2018 sale and the numbers and averages from the previous 49 sales.

Seed-stock breeders interested in consigning to the 2019 IPT Bull Sale should contact Travis Meteer at 217-430-7030 or to request a copy of the rules and regulation and nomination form. Nominations need to be made by Dec.15, 2017, for the 2019 sale.