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