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OSU Extension BEEF Team

BEEF Cattle questions may be directed to the OSU Extension BEEF Team through Stephen Boyles or Stan Smith, Editor

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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 880

April 9, 2014

Evaluate Alfalfa Stands For Winter Injury - Rory Lewandowski, OSU Extension Educator, Wayne County

As alfalfa stands break dormancy and begin growth, growers should make plans to take some time to evaluate the health of those stands and determine if there was winter injury. Some early bud growth was observed the last full week of March in the southern half of Ohio. This evaluation is especially important in those areas of the state where we had periods of near zero to below zero temperatures this winter combined with little to no snow cover during some of those cold temperatures.

After doing a quick literature review, it appears that there is general agreement that temperatures in the 5 to 15 degree F range as measured at the alfalfa crown can begin to damage the plant and prolonged exposure to these and lower temperatures can kill the plant. Generally, the soil temperature at a 2 inch depth is associated with the temperature of the alfalfa crown. Snow cover is an important component of protecting an alfalfa plant from sub-zero temperatures since even a cover of 4 inches of snow can provide 10 to 15 degrees of protection. Once again, the concern is for those areas that experienced periods of zero and subzero temperatures without a 4 inch or greater snow cover. For many areas of the state, however, soil temperatures at the 2-inch depth remained at or above 26F even through the coldest days this winter.

An alfalfa stand health evaluation and winter injury assessment needs to be done by getting out into the field and doing a combination of stand counts and digging up some plant roots. Generally that evaluation should be done when there is 3 to 4 inches of growth from the plant. Evaluation involves selecting random sites throughout the field and counting the plants in a one foot square area. Check at least one site for every 5-10 acres, and like soil sampling, more random sampling is better. In addition to counting the plants per square foot, a count of the total stems per square foot is also useful because healthy plants can often produce more stems per plant thereby compensating for potential yield loss from fewer plants per square foot. After counting the plants, dig up all the plants in a one foot square area for every 5 to 10 acres and examine the crown and roots of the plants.

The winter survival rating determined by the plants per square foot is based upon the age of the stand. The following table is from a 2012 article on the Iowa State University (ISU) Integrated Crop Management web site by Stephen K. Barnhart, ISU Extension forage specialist.

Plants per square foot

Stand Age Good Marginal Consider Reseeding
Year after seeding +12 8-12 Less than 8
2 years +8 5-6 Less than 5
3 years +6 4-5 Less than 4
4 years and older +4 3-4 Less than 3

As mentioned previously, counting the total stem number in a square foot is another method of evaluating winter survival and yield potential of a stand and has been promoted by Dan Undersander, Extension forage specialist at the University of Wisconsin. Here is a summary of that system:

Stem number/square foot Expected result or action
Over 55 Stem density not limiting yield
40 - 55 Some yield reduction expected
Less than 39 Consider stand replacement

Source: Undersander et al 2011, University of WI Extension publication A3620

While plant and stem counts are useful, to get a true determination of stand health, plants must be dug up so that crown and root tissue can be evaluated. To do this you must split the crowns/roots. The inside should be a creamy white color. If it is yellowish brown to chocolate brown color the tissue is damaged or dying. If more than 50% of the roots show these symptoms, reduce your stand counts and yield potential.

One other weather condition that can have a detrimental impact on alfalfa stands is freeze/thaw cycles. These cycles that typically occur in February through March often present the greatest danger of winter injury in Ohio. There is the potential during these cycles to physically lift or heave alfalfa plants out of the soil. This heaving exposes the crown of the alfalfa plant making it more susceptible to temperature and physical injury. In some cases, heaving breaks the root system, effectively killing the plant. Heaving tends to be more of a problem in wet, saturated soils and clay soils.

Although winter temperatures and snow cover amount are primary driving factors affecting alfalfa winter survival, there are also management factors that growers can control to decrease the chance of winter injury. Those factors include:

* Selecting varieties with good winter hardiness and disease resistance.
* Maintaining soil fertility levels. Potassium in particular is associated with enhancing alfalfa tolerance to winter injury.
* Improving soil drainage.
* Harvest management: more cuts is generally associated with a higher risk of winter injury, particularly if the last fall cut falls in that mid-September to mid-October time frame.

Grazing Bites for April 2014 - Victor Shelton, NRCS State Agronomist/Grazing Specialist

The color of green is finally starting to brighten fields of brown and is much more prominent in the southern part of Indiana than the upper most northern portions, which might have some wondering about permafrost there this year!

I often get calls and/or questions about Broomsedge this time of year. Not because it is already growing, but because it is quite noticeable being an orange-brown, "stick out like a sore thumb" kind of grass amongst contrasting new green growth! Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus) is often called poverty grass. If you dared to take a bite of it, you might understand why livestock don't like to eat it, especially when it is mature. It is just poor quality. At best, it is about half the quality of desired forages. Paraphrasing William Albrecht (linked soil health to human health) the plant doesn't have enough value for a cow to trouble herself eating it. That is a pretty true statement with a couple exceptions. Cattle will sometimes consume a little of that mature Broomsedge along with very high protein watery forage in the early spring to help balance out their rumen. We can overcome this issue with other means. They will also consume it fairly well prior to early boot (seed stem elongation), but it is still far from being choice feed.

Broomsedge generally gets the upper hand in the pasture because of very low phosphorus or available phosphorus levels. It also tends to be worse on thinner, more eroded soils and for a good reason. Low pH combined with low calcium is a better environment for this warm season perennial than any of our cool-season forages and thin eroded soils that are usually more acidic. Low pH aggravates the phosphorus issue even more by tying up even more phosphorus. You can quickly guess the best way to combat Broomsedge…fix fertility deficiencies, especially phosphorus and calcium. Fixing fertility is the first place to start to win the battle over this obtrusive species.

If the Broomsedge present is at full mature height and dense, it would be most favorable to mow or clip it down close to keep it from blocking sunlight from the species we want to grow. Assuming we have good species present, mature Broomsedge can block sunlight from reaching the desired forage species and allow it to keep maintaining the upper hand. If you remove it and then fertilize the cool-season desired forages, you shift the advantage to the cool-seasons. With some management, and the help of cooler soils and earlier plant growth, cool-seasons will compete with the Broomsedge to help crowd it out. It is all about competition. When livestock eat one species more frequently than the other, they give the competing species the upper hand. We have to shift this back the other direction.

Once the cool-season forages have successfully captured the majority of the solar energy and have grown back to an adequate grazing height (generally 10-12 inches), the Broomsedge will start trying to grow too, especially with warmer soils which it likes. Grazing the Broomsedge in this early stage, but not removing too much of the desired species, helps put extra stress on the supporting roots of this poor grass and gives more advantage to the desired species. You won't remove it all at once, but you are heading in the right direction. Manure can also be very useful in reducing its foot hold as a means of adding some needed fertility.

Increasing fertility can come in different forms. Feeding hay a portion of the winter in these problem areas can add fertility to the site and increase organic matter - this can be a good fix. Hay would ideally be put in place ahead of use and then best utilized under dry or frozen conditions. Only one bale feeding per spot is best. Too much leftover forage will add additional organic matter and nutrients, but will also slow recovery of the desired forage species. It is surprising how quickly some of those areas can heal.

The picture to the right was taken on a small cattle operation. The producer was allocating out forages in small blocks. This site had a fairly dense stand of Broomsedge present with Tall Fescue and a little clover. He did a great job in maintaining cover and grazing the Broomsedge in the whole area except one last block which did not get grazed the last time around. Notice the difference that one timely missed grazing made.

It is amazing what a difference good cover and fertility makes when it comes to weed control. Most weeds are opportunists, just waiting for the right condition and situation.

Keep on grazing!

Beef Herd Expansion Threatened in the Coming Weeks - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension

It's April and pastures are, or should be, greening up in the southern half of the country. However, cold weather this spring has delayed pasture development in many areas. Winter conditions still exist in several regions in the northern half of the country where spring green-up is still a month away. From a cattle perspective, conditions fall into three categories at the current time. Moisture conditions are adequate to abundant in most of the eastern half of the country. Marginal drought conditions are the norm in the middle of the country with persistent severe drought conditions in much of the West.

Forage and crop conditions should improve rapidly in the Delta and Southeast in the next few weeks. Cool temperatures (and soil temperatures) is delaying forage growth and crop planting in the Midwest, Northern Plains and northern Rocky Mountain region. Warm and dry conditions are forecast for the Southwest and western mountain regions and the west coast. Producers in wet regions will move forward with production plans with warmer temperatures. Producers in drought areas will remain retrenched waiting for improving conditions. Texas and Oklahoma, along with California, Nevada and New Mexico have the largest areas of severe drought (D3 and D4).

It is producers in the marginal drought areas that must be prepared to move quickly to either act aggressively if conditions improve or to act defensively if drought conditions redevelop. According to the latest Drought Monitor, five states among the top ten beef cattle states have the largest areas (percent of state area) of marginal drought conditions (D1 and D2 on the D0 to D4 scale), including Iowa (57 percent); Kansas (85 percent); Nebraska (61 percent); Oklahoma (54 percent); and Texas (39 percent). With the exception of Iowa, all of these states showed strong indications of herd expansion with significant increases in beef replacement heifers on January 1, 2014. In fact, the increase in replacement heifers in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas was 132,000 head, which is more than the net increase of 90,200 head of beef replacement heifers in the entire country. In addition, both Kansas and Oklahoma had 2013 increases in the beef cow herd. These four states accounted for 31 percent of the U.S. beef cow herd on January 1 and the ability of these states to maintain herd expansion plans will likely determine the overall impact on the U.S. beef cow inventory in 2014.

Current weather predictions suggest improving moisture conditions in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, and much of Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. Drought conditions are predicted to persist into summer from southwest Kansas to areas south and west, including western Oklahoma and Texas, as well as New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, California and Oregon. These last six states accounted for nearly 8 percent of beef cows on January 1, 2014. An El Niño is forecast to develop this summer or fall which will likely bring some relief to much of this region but perhaps not soon enough to avoid additional liquidation in the first half of 2014. If current forecasts are realized, improved conditions in the central Great Plains and eastern Southern Plains may be enough to support limited beef cow herd expansion in 2014. However, conditions in this region will likely either improve or deteriorate with typical warm and windy spring weather in the next few weeks. Forage and water supplies will tighten rapidly and soon without moisture. Failure to sustain herd expansion plans in the central and southern plains will result in no growth or more herd liquidation for the entire country in 2014. The next few weeks will be critical in these states and has implications for the entire beef cattle industry.

U.S. and Canadian Cattle Inventory Comparison - Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service

On March 5, 2014, Statistics Canada released its Livestock Estimates, January 1, 2014, report which detailed cattle, hog and sheep inventories in Canada (www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/140305/dq140305a-eng.pdf). That same day USDA-NASS released the United States and Canadian Cattle and Sheep and the United States and Canadian Hogs reports (www.nass.usda.gov).

The Jan. 1 U.S. cattle inventory numbers were also previously released by NASS on Jan. 31 in the Cattle report. Those numbers have been discussed in previous In The Cattle Market columns. In summary, all cattle and calves in the U.S. on Jan. 1 were down 1.8 percent from 2013. Beef cows were down almost 1 percent, heifers kept for beef cow replacement were up 1.7 percent, calves and feeder cattle outside of feedlots were down 2.7 percent, cattle on feed were down 5 percent, and the 2013 calf crop was down 1 percent.

There were 12.215 million cattle and calves in Canada on Jan. 1, 2014, down 0.7 percent from 2013. That slight decline follows two years of increasing cattle numbers. The total cattle herd in Canada peaked at 14.925 million head in 2005. Beef cows at 3.905 million head were down about 0.8 percent, continuing a downward trend that started in 2006. Canada's beef cow herd is just short of the 3.91 million head that were in Texas on Jan. 1. On a provincial basis, Alberta has the most beef cows at 1.591 million, followed by Saskatchewan at 1.164 million, and Manitoba at 452,000. Beef heifers held for breeding in Canada were up slightly from 542,000 head in 2013 to 542,300 in 2014, and the fourth consecutive year of increases. However, those increases from year-to-year have not been enough to keep the beef cow herd from decreasing.

On a comparative basis, total cattle numbers in the U.S. were down 1.8 percent compared to a 0.7 percent decrease in Canada. Beef cows declined almost 1 percent in the U.S. and 0.8 percent in Canada, beef replacement heifers increased 1.7 percent in the U.S. and just slightly in Canada, cattle on feed in the U.S. declined 5 percent but increased 2.6 percent in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the 2013 U.S. calf crop declined 1 percent compared to a 0.6 percent increase in Canada.

Due to my close proximity to Canada, I have had the opportunity to speak at Canadian cattle producer meetings. They seem to have the same questions and concerns as U.S. cattle producers. Canadian producers expressed some interest in expanding their beef cow herds, but also were apprehensive given the increasing costs of production and the volatility in cattle and feed prices.

Cattle prices are higher in the U.S. than in Canada. On a U.S. dollar basis for the week ending March 21, 500-600 lb. feeder steer prices at auctions in Manitoba averaged $186.17/cwt. Compared to North Dakota auctions across the border at $225.82. Steers weighing 700-800 lbs. in Manitoba averaged $157.20/cwt. compared to $180 in North Dakota. Alberta direct, mostly Select, slaughter steer prices averaged $127.97 compared to the U.S. 5-area direct slaughter steer average price of $150.87.

2014 OCA Seedstock Improvement Bull Sale - John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator

The Ohio Cattlemen's Association is hosting a Seedstock Improvement Bull Sale scheduled on Saturday, April 12 at the Union Stock Yards Company in Hillsboro. The sale starts at Noon. This sale offers an affordable way to buy bulls from multiple breeds in one location and on one day. Buyers have the assurance of buying bulls with known genetics, a completed vaccination protocol and a breeding soundness exam. This year there are 44 bulls consigned to the sale at the Union Stock Yards.

Catalogs are now available for the sale at www.ohiocattle.org. The bulls in the sale range in age from one to three years and are all registered and have Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs.) The bulls are placed in sale order based on a within breed evaluation star system using EPDs for birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, milk, marbling, and rib eye area. Breeds represented are Angus, Simmental, and Simmental-Angus.

For more information on the sale, visit www.ohiocattle.org and look under the Beef Improvement section, call the OCA office at 614-873-6736 or e-mail beef@ohiobeef.org or contact John Grimes at 740-289-2071, Extension #242 or e-mail grimes.1@osu.edu.


Visit the OSU Beef Team calendar of meetings and upcoming events

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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