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

Bale Feeder Design can Reduce Hay Waste Mon, 05 Nov 2018 13:37:00 +0000

Full Article as published in the Illinois Beef magazine available here


Feeding hay ad libitum is the most popular winter feeding strategy in the Midwest. In most cases, hay is packaged into large round bales and fed in some type of feeder. Many different designs claim to reduce hay waste, thus research in this area has helped identify designs that reduce hay waste.

Low hay supplies prompt me to review this research. Many producers need to stretch the hay they have. Those looking to buy more hay this winter may find themselves paying steep premiums. Reducing hay waste can be a worthwhile investment in any year, but when hay prices are elevated it pays quickly.

I have pulled two trials that do a nice job of showing the benefits to an improved hay feeder design. First, Buskirk et al. (2003) evaluated large round bale feeder design and the subsequent effect of hay utilization and hay waste. The study compared four different hay feeder designs: cone, ring, trailer, and cradle. All feeder designs resulted in similar cow intakes. However, the amount of hay wasted was different between designs. Hay waste was least to greatest in this order: cone, ring, trailer, and then cradle. The type of hay offered in this trial was second cutting alfalfa and orchard grass. The hay tested approximately 13% CP, 53% NDF, 35% ADF on a dry matter basis. This trial shows that feeder design does impact hay waste. This trial is illustrated in Table. 1 and the feeder design is shown in Figure 1. (green feeders).

Table 1. Effect of feeder type on hay waste and cow intake (Buskirk et al., 2003)

Feeder Type







Initial cow weight, lb.






Hay disappearance, lb DM/hd/d


26.6 x

30.5 y

28.3 x y


Hay waste, lb DM/hd/d

0.9 x

1.5 y

3.5 z

4.2 z


Hay waste, %a

3.5 x

6.1 x

11.4 y

14.6 y


Hay intake, lb DM/hd/d






Intake/cow BW, %






a Hay waste as a percentage of hay disappearance

xyz Within a row, least square means without a common superscript letter differ (P< .05)

Researchers at Oklahoma State University (Lalman) also looked at hay feeder design and associated wastes. Four different feeder designs were evaluated: cone, sheet, ring, and poly. Hay waste for the feeders as listed in parenthesis: cone (5.3%), sheet (13.0%), ring (20.5%), and poly (21.0%). Costs were analyzed as well. They assumed a hay price of $116/ton or $70/bale. Assuming a producer with 30 cows will feed 180 bales in a season, the costs associated with hay waste were $667 (cone), $1,638 (sheet), $2,583 (ring), and $2,646 (poly) per season. It is easy to see that improved feeder designs like the cone-shaped hay feeder can save producers money by reducing hay waste.

Table 2. Effect of feeder design on hay waste and cost (Lalman)

Feeder Type






Waste, % bale wt.

5.3 x

13.0 y

20.5 z

21.0 z

Total waste, lb/bale

63.6 x

156 y

246 z

252 z

Cost of waste/bale, $*

3.71 x

9.10 x

14.35 y

14.70 y

Cost of wasted hay/month, $*





Cost of wasted hay/season, $*





xyz Within a row, least square means without a common superscript letter differ (P< .05)

*Assuming $70 per 1,200 bale, feeding 180 bales per season

In summary, bale feeder design can impact hay waste. Reducing loss from hay waste can not only be a good way to stretch short hay supplies, but it can also contribute as a cost-saver to the cow/calf enterprise. Reducing waste is a component of lowering feed costs. Profitable cow/calf producers will always be focused on reducing feed costs.


Buskirk, D. D., A. J. Zanella, T. M. Harrigan, J. L. Van Lente, L. M. Gnagey and M. J. Kaercher.

2003. Large round bale feeder design affects hay utilization and beef cow behavior. J.

Anim. Sci. 81:109.

The Noble Foundation, Robert Wells and David Lalman. 2011. Hay feeder design can reduce

hay waste and cost.

views/2013/11/pdf/hay-feeder-design.pdf. (Accessed 15 August 2018.)

Cornstalks for Cow Feed is a No-brainer Mon, 01 Oct 2018 10:47:00 +0000 The best way to utilize cornstalks is to graze them. Cattle graze selectively, looking for the more palatable feedstuffs. The more palatable parts of the plant are also more nutritious. Cattle first eat the remaining corn grain, then husks, then leaves, and finally the stalk.

Cattle will eat the more digestible and higher protein portions first. Therefore, a good mineral is probably the only supplementation needed for the first month unless the herd includes fall-calving cows or stocker calves. For them, a supplement will be necessary to meet nutrient demands of lactation and growth, respectively.

Using an equation developed at the University of Nebraska, a field that averages 200 bushels per acre yields 2,832 pounds of leaf and husk. Only 50 percent of the 2,832 pounds is available for the animal; the rest is trampled or lost in weathering. Thus, 1416 pounds of DM husk and leaf per acre are available as feed.

A 1300-pound cow consumes 884 pounds of DM per month. At 200 bushels an acre, approximately 2/3 acre of cornstalks are needed to feed the cow for 30 days. To feed the same cow on cornstalks for 60 days, 1.3 acres would be needed. Producers should scout fields for ear drop or down corn areas. A significant amount of grain loss in fields can cause acidosis or founder in animals. Fields with these areas will need careful management via strip grazing or completely fencing the problem areas out.

Advances in portable electric fencing technology can be your friend when grazing cornstalks. Strip grazing can be easily achieved with geared reels, step-in posts, and a solar fence charger. While strip grazing has showed to increase the utilization of cornstalks, it is important to be timely with moves. Paying attention to cow behavior will be the simplest way of knowing when to move the fence. Rain and wet weather can increase trampling and require quicker moves.

On the other hand, some technology may work against you. Many newer combines are equipped with mowers on the head to reduce residue build up. If you plan to graze the cornstalks it is recommended to turn the mowers off. Mowing reduces particle size and speeds up degradation of the cornstalk. Mowed residue will break down faster. Thus, less will be available for animals after a few weeks.

Extreme weather conditions during the growing season are worth reflecting on. Dry conditions can create accumulation of nitrates in the lower stalk. Fortunately, cattle will eat the stalk portion of the plant last. As a result, concern of nitrate poisoning is low when grazing. Best practice in this scenario is to ensure cows are not forced to eat the stalk. If baling cornstalks for feed, a nitrate test is recommended.

Foliar diseases were a challenge in many corn fields this year. Plant tissues that are affected by disease will break down more rapidly too. I suggest looking to healthy fields for the best cornstalk grazing or baling. Fields that had fungicide applied may be more suitable for grazing and baling this year.

If you do not have the capability to graze cornstalks, they can be baled. Baling cornstalks will add costs to the feed in the form of fuel, labor, equipment costs, and fertilizer replacement costs. Even with these costs, it can still be an economical feed. Hauling manure back to the harvested fields will displace some fertilizer costs associated with cornstalk removal.

Generally, fertilizer value of a 1200-pound round bale of cornstalks is around $12. Remember harvesting costs such as fuel, labor, transportation, and equipment wear are all real costs to evaluate.

As an aside, less wheat acres in some areas of the country translates to a shorter supply of straw. Current prices for straw are strong. So, if you need bedding, consider baling cornstalks. It will be more cost effective than buying straw.

All in all, utilize cornstalks to fill a forage gap and for bedding needs. Just like poor hay, baled cornstalks will need supplemented. Grazing cornstalks is a no-brainer. Use clean, healthy fields for the best results. Cornstalks can be great alternative forage and an opportunity to hold costs down on your cattle farm.]]>