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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 881

April 16, 2014



Forage Focus: Grass Tetany, Causes and Prevention - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Wayne County

Grass growth is starting and one potential problem that can be encountered early in the grazing season by livestock is grass tetany, sometimes called grass staggers. Grass tetany is caused by a low blood magnesium level in the affected animal. Magnesium is one of the macro minerals required by animals and it is involved in crucial metabolic functions such as the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contraction. About 70% of the total body content of magnesium is stored in bones and teeth and adequate blood levels of magnesium are dependent upon daily magnesium intake.

Cool season grasses and small grains such as wheat and rye grazed in the early spring present the greatest risk for grass tetany problems. These forages are most often low in magnesium and calcium and high in potassium. During the early spring when soils are cool and if soil potassium levels are high, these species will take up potassium more readily than magnesium, sometimes termed luxury consumption of potassium. High plant nitrogen levels following a fertilizer application in the spring can also limit magnesium availability. The chapter on grass tetany in the Beef Cattle Handbook says that there is a relationship between potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and nitrogen (N). If the ratio of K: Ca + Mg is greater than 2.2 in forage then that forage is termed tetany prone. Vegetative small grains can commonly have K concentrations of 3 to 5 percent with low levels of Ca and Mg that result in a ratio greater than 2.2. A high dietary intake of nitrogen has also been associated with the development of grass tetany. The highest risk grass and small grain pastures for grazing livestock are those that have high soil potassium levels and/or have been recently fertilized with nitrogen or potassium. Legume or legume/grass pastures offer a much lower risk of grass tetany because they contain higher levels of calcium and magnesium.

All livestock are not at equal risk to develop grass tetany. A cow's requirement for magnesium increases after calving. Cows nursing calves that are under 4 months of age are at greatest risk for grass tetany when they are grazing lush, rapidly growing grass pastures. Steers, heifers, dry cows and lactating cows with calves over 4 months in age are all at lower risk for grass tetany. In general, mature animals are more at risk than young animals because mature animals are not able to mobilize Mg from bones as readily as a young animal when blood Mg levels drop.

The first signs of grass tetany in the animal are restlessness, nervousness and flighty behavior. There may be twitching of the skin and muscles that progress to muscle spasms and convulsions. The affected animal may exhibit loss of coordination and stagger around. Eventually the animal will collapse, lie on her side and paddle with her front legs. Death occurs as a result of respiratory failure during a seizure. Although the symptoms are known, many cattle owners find a dead animal before observing symptoms because the interval between the first symptoms and death can be as short as 4 to 8 hours. If the animal is found in time, treatment is in the form of a solution of magnesium and calcium administered intravenously.

The best way of dealing with grass tetany is through prevention. High risk animals grazing lush, rapidly growing grass pastures should be provided with supplemental magnesium. Generally this is done in a mineral mix. Free-choice high magnesium mineral should contain 12 to 15% magnesium from magnesium oxide. Cattle need to consume four ounces of the mineral supplement daily. Magnesium oxide is unpalatable, which can result in low mineral intake. To help encourage intake, it can be mixed with grain or a flavoring agent like molasses. Generally, this high magnesium mineral mix can be started one to two weeks before the early spring grazing period and continue through late spring when forages are more mature and temperatures are consistently warmer.





Beef Herd Expansion = More Fencing, Choose Supplies Carefully - Merri Collins, McArthur Lumber and Post

Wood prices are predicted to reach record highs by the end of 2014. This is due to timber-supply shortages related to environmental factors such as heavy rainfall. The increasing demand for wood products as the economy and housing markets begin to recover also plays a large part in rising prices. With low supply and increasing demand, the wood product industry and its consumers are facing price hikes on wood everywhere. -(Wood Working Network Press Release)

Due to this shortage "You get what you pay for," will take on a whole new meaning for farm fence customers this year, making research and purchasing long-lasting products even more crucial to avoid spending double, or even triple the amount of your initial investment.

When making an investment to fence your farm, consider the "4 W's" (Who, What, When and Warranty) before locking in a purchase!

Who set the pressure-treating standards for the posts? The AWPA (American Wood Protection Association) has written a book of standards to ensure customers receive the highest-quality and longest lasting wood products available. AWPA pressure-treating standards are based on scientific research, experimentation with wood preservatives and input from a diverse mix of engineers, scientists and individuals with years of experience in the wood industry. Manufacturers of fence posts should always follow AWPA guidelines to meet or exceed their treatment standards, if a company does not adhere to these standards it cannot produce high-quality, lasting fence posts.

What species of wood is the post made of? It is common for farm fence posts to be made from pines. The longest-lasting wood used to make fence posts is Southern Yellow Pine, but you have to investigate further; is the Yellow Pine high-density (strong) or low-density (weak and soft)? High-density Southern Yellow pines are thick and sturdy, making cracking the post, even with the pressure from a post-driver pounding posts into hard earth difficult. Low-density Southern Yellow Pines are slightly thinner and weaker thus more prone to cracking, but are still more desirable over other pines. Less desirable Pines used in fence posts include Lodge Pole and Red Pines. High-density Southern Yellows are imperative to ensure longevity of a post and are the choice of seasoned professionals in the farm and fence industry.

All timbers need to be harvested live to ensure that wood has not began rotting. Pressure-treating protects wood from rot, it does not cure it.

When were the posts tested for moisture levels prior to pressure-treatment, and how were they dried? Posts must be tested for moisture levels before treatment, or like a soaked sponge the posts will not be able to absorb more liquid, preventing preservatives from penetrating the wood of the post. Posts are tested for moisture using a special device commonly known as a "Moisture Meter," and must not contain over 30 percent moisture in order to fully absorb preservatives.

The wood-heart, the naturally untreatable center of a post, is surrounded by sapwood that protects the wood heart just like a ribcage. The sapwood is the part of a post that preservative chemicals must penetrate. AWPA standards dictate if two-inches of sapwood is available, two-inches must be penetrated with preservatives. If two-inches is not present then 85 percent of the available sapwood must be penetrated with preservatives. This is another reason assuring the post you purchase is high-density, there is a larger area of sapwood to further protect the heart.

Warranty! Why is having a warranty on a fence post important? Just like any other large investment it is important to ensure you are receiving what you paid for, and a company can take responsibility if their product falls short. Buy a post with a warranty detailing its projected longevity and replacement process!

Remember the "4 W's" when shopping for farm fence posts to make a good investment in the future of your farm! For more information on AWPA guidelines, and specifics, visit www.awpa.com





Make a Record of Twins - Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Extension

Estimates of the percentage of beef cattle births that produce twins vary. One estimate (Gilmore) puts the percentage at about 0.5 percent or 1 in every 200 births. Approximately one-half of the sets of twins should contain both a bull and a heifer calf. Make sure to write down these calf numbers of twin births while they are still nursing the cow. Be certain to not retain the heifer born twin to a bull as a replacement female.

Freemartinism is recognized as one of the most severe forms of sexual abnormality among cattle. This condition causes infertility in the female cattle born twin to a male. When a heifer twin shares the uterus with a bull fetus, they also share the placental membranes connecting the fetuses with the dam.

A joining of the placental membranes occurs at about the fortieth day of pregnancy, and thereafter, the fluids of the two fetuses are mixed. This causes exchange of blood and antigens carrying characteristics that are unique to each heifers and bulls. When these antigens mix, they affect each other in a way that causes each to develop with some characteristics of the other sex.

Although the male twin in this case is rarely affected by reduced fertility, in over ninety percent of the cases, the female twin is completely infertile. Because of a transfer of hormones or a transfer of cells, the heifer's reproductive tract is severely underdeveloped and sometimes even contains some elements of a bull's reproductive tract. A freemartin is genetically female, but has many characteristics of a male. The ovaries of the freemartin do not develop correctly, and they remain very small. Also, the ovaries of a freemartin do not produce the hormones necessary to induce the behavioral signs of heat. The external vulvar region can range from a very normal looking female to a female that appears to be male. Usually, the vulva is normal except that in some animals an enlarged clitoris and large tufts of vulvar hair exist.

Freemartinism cannot be prevented; however, it can be diagnosed in a number of ways ranging from simple examination of the placental membranes to chromosomal evaluation. The cattleman can predict the reproductive value of this heifer calf at birth and save the feed and development costs if he is aware of the high probability of freemartinism. (Source: "The Causes and Effects of Freemartinism in Cattle" by Laurie Ann Lyon.)

In some cases, there are few, if any, symptoms of freemartinism because the male twin may have been aborted at an earlier stage of gestation. Hidden "freemartins" are often difficult to identify if replacement heifers are purchased. Therefore this is another good reason to cull any open (non-pregnant) replacement heifer soon after her first breeding season.

Cows that are nursing twin calves will require an estimated 13% more energy intake to maintain body condition. The additional suckling pressure on the cow will extend the post-calving anestrus period. Therefore, cows nursing twins will take longer to re-cycle to rebreed for next year's calf crop. In some cases, producers may want to consider early weaning of the twin calves to allow the cow to re-cycle in time to stay with the other cows in the herd.





OCA Seedstock Improvement Sale Results

The Ohio Cattlemen's Association hosted their annual Seedstock Improvement Sale on April 12 at the Union Stock Yards sale facility in Hillsboro. A total of 37 yearling and two-year-old and older bulls were sold for a total of $97,350 to average $2,631 per head.

The high-selling bull was Lot 1, an Angus bull sired by G A R New Design 5050 consigned by Kiata Farms of Hamilton, Ohio. He sold for $4,300 to O'Banion Farms of Waynesville, Ohio. The second high-selling bull was Lot 29, a Simmental bull sired by SS Ebonys Grandmaster consigned by Evan Smith of Smith Farm Simmental in Canal Winchester, OH. He sold for $4,200 to William Shaw of Logan, Ohio. The third high-selling bull was Lot 2, an Angus bull sired by G A R Ingenuity consigned by Kiata Farms of Hamilton, Ohio. He sold for $4,000 to Paint Creek Cattle Company of Chillicothe, Ohio.

A total of 35 Angus bulls sold for an average of $2,589/head, one Simmental bull sold for $4,200 and one Simmental-Angus bull sold for $2,550. Gene Steiner served as the auctioneer for the sale.





Check Those Bulls Now - Kris Ringwall, North Dakota State Universtiy Extension

Our thinking needs to move to the bulls in the herd because it is the time to start worrying. A bull that is not reproductively sound today more than likely will not be settling cows in June.

The reproductive process in a bull is not something that can be turned on and off. In reality, a bull's reproductive process never should turn off. If it does, to get it to turn on again is a major, time-consuming process. One could liken the problem to an engine that has the wrong fuel in it during the dead of winter and is stalled on a frozen highway 300 miles from the nearest service station.

As an optimist, one would think that one will get the engine going again, even if it takes until the spring thaw. Any immediacy in getting the engine started probably will cost a lot of money and still take time, so don't use the wrong fuel and save yourself a lot of stress and work.

Likewise, now is the time to check the bulls to avoid any crises management issues before the weather is nice and the bulls are loaded on the trailer to service a friendly pasture of cows. The cows often are the focus of attention because they have those nice-looking calves walking alongside and are the primary feeding group.

Only after all the cows and calves are fed do we wonder if the bulls have been fed. When one looks at how much bulls cost these days, they should get the same treatment as cows. How often does one drive by a producer's lot to look at the cows only to notice that the bulls are eating on an old bale of hay in the bull pen? There aren't that many bulls, so they end up nibbling on the outside of the bale, which eventually turns old.

This is not a good plan; it may lead to procrastination and missing an opportunity for the early diagnosis of a problem. Why early diagnosis? A bull has a very complex process called spermatogenesis. This process occurs in the testis and starts when a cell decides to become a sperm cell. From the onset, the bull requires at least 54 days to produce a viable sperm cell and another seven to 10 days for the sperm cell to arrive at the launch pad. That's more than two months that is needed for a bull to initiate the ability to settle a cow.

To further complicate matters, we know one sperm cell is not nearly enough. In reality, the bull needs to produce billions of sperm cells in preparation for a day's breeding. Obviously, awareness and expectation of bull fertility needs to be placed at the top of the managerial list today.

Start by making sure the bulls have a complete nutritional program that is evident in good body conditioning. Do not hesitate to call your consulting nutritionist to ask for a re-evaluation.

Are the bulls getting what they need? Thin bulls, those with ribs showing and other bone structures very prominent, need a nutritional re-evaluation regardless of what is being fed.

Once the nutrition level is set, start asking questions. Has age taken a toll that has rendered some bulls incapable of a vigorous breeding schedule? Are structural problems and injuries created by day-to-day jostling evident? Likewise, make sure one has not overcompensated and created bull couch potatoes. These bulls are overpampered and overfed, and lack the physical conditioning or desire to get the job done when turned out with a group of cycling cows. Both over and underfeeding are not good.

A lot of effort is wasted on good cow management when bull management is lacking or nonexistent. Bulls need to be in good physical condition to meet the rigors of an active reproductive life. Exercise doesn't hurt.

A thorough breeding exam is required, even for the healthiest-appearing male. The exam should include a physical evaluation of the body condition, feet and legs, eyes and any indication of illness. A rectal exam to evaluation the prostate and other internal reproductive organs, plus an external examination of the testes, scrotum, penis and prepuce is required. A semen evaluation based on volume, color, motility and morphology should conclude the breeding soundness exam.

All these evaluations need to be done now, one to two months prior to bull turnout to acquire the needed replacements and correct other deficiencies in the bull pen. The last evaluation is done at bull turnout, which is making sure the bull wants to breed cows.

May you find all your ear tags.





Consistent Hay and Cattle Patterns - Matthew A. Diersen, Professor, Department of Economics, South Dakota State University

Not all relationships hold cleanly over time. One way to keep some perspective and some sanity when trying to evaluate markets is to look for consistency. Are higher calf prices leading to more replacement heifers? Yes. Is the heifer mix on feed lower too? Yes. Thus, there are consistent indicators of expansion. Are the latest hay statistics also consistent with expansion? Here are some thoughts.

The 2014 Planting Intentions report has expected harvested hay acres in the U.S. almost unchanged from a year ago. At face value, the 58.3 million acres are up by 10,000 acres over last year, consistent with expansion. However, the change or increase is slight. Cows and replacements will need hay from this summer as feed this fall and winter. Replenished hay stocks may partly explain a muted acres response in cattle states. As of December 1, several states in the central U.S. had much higher stocks than a year earlier. Of those Iowa, Minnesota, and Kansas all have fewer hay acres expected for 2014. Missouri and Oklahoma stand out as states with higher stocks and more hay acres expected for 2014.

Hay prices remain vulnerable to increases on a number of fronts with the stable acres level anticipated. The May 1 stocks a year ago were at a very low level nationally. The prospects are for a slight improvement in 2014, but not by enough to sustain rebuilding demand. The recent weather also points to greater winter use and a potential delay in pulling supply forward in 2014. A second vulnerability is yield. The rolling 10-year average U.S. yield is 2.39 tons per acre. The past few years, the actual yield has been below that figure. Another below-average year would strain supplies. Agriculture price inflation also keeps pressure on hay prices. Some of what has pushed hay prices higher in recent years has been higher prices for other crops. As an input, hay prices have been inflated by those other prices. As the price of corn has fallen, some of that pressure has subsided. However, cattle prices and other crop prices remain high. Any increase in corn prices would quickly push hay prices higher.

Domestic use is the final aspect tying hay prices to cattle numbers. In recent years, backing out trade volumes from hay disappearance gives better insight into domestic use. The use figure bottomed out at 1.83 tons per acre following the 2012 harvest. The longer-run use figure is above 2.00 tons per acre. These figures account for the recent decline in livestock inventories. If cattle expansion is to occur, that use will likely have to increase. As cattle on feed are fed longer, they consume more corn, but also more roughage like hay (more demand). As heifers are retained as replacements, they typically consume a greater portion of forage in rations (more hay demand). As cow-calf operators look to expand, they may also want to have a buffer stock of hay on hand (more demand). The projected hay balance sheet suggests that all of those factors can be accommodated, but with little room to stay consistent with an expanding cattle supply.



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BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.

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Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Agricultural Administration; Associate Dean, College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences; Director, Ohio State University Extension and Gist Chair in Extension Education and Leadership. TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181.



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