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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 # 950

August 26, 2015

From really WET to very DRY, What's Left in Your Pastures? - Mark Landefeld, OSU Extension Educator, Monroe County

How quickly things can change here in Ohio! Not much longer than a month ago, while I was moving cattle from one paddock to another, I was amazed at how wet it was for the middle of July. It seemed more like early March weather because it was really muddy when I put the cows through a gate into a new paddock. I don't ever remember my livestock pugging paddocks in July before, but there was some this year.

Now as we near the end of August I see a lot of water tanks on trucks hauling water for livestock to drink and many pasture fields are brown from forage plants going dormant due to lack of moisture. Rotationally grazed paddocks appear less affected than continuously grazed areas, but forage regrowth has really slowed down leaving some producers short on pasture for their livestock to graze.

Poisonous weeds that are in pastures and not appealing to livestock before may now become the forage that is left and sometimes eaten. There are also weeds, normally non-toxic to livestock, which build up nitrates when stressed and can cause death. A perennial grass such as johnsongrass and weeds like pigweed, mustard, nightshade and lamb's quarters can accumulate dangerous levels of nitrogen along with stinging nettle, elderberry, burdock and Canadian thistle to name a few. If you haven't observed your pastures much lately, now would be a good time to take a walk and see what is growing in your fields.

During drought type conditions cases of poisoned livestock are usually documented and more suspected. Included here are some plants to be aware of if they are in your livestock's forage.

Poison hemlock - All parts of this plant are poisonous, though roots are more toxic than leaves or stems. Leaves are especially poisonous in the spring, whereas the root becomes more toxic over time.

Groundsels, Ragwort - All parts of common groundsel contain toxins; however, toxin concentrations are greatest in the flowers, and in the leaves just before flowers reach maturity.

Milkweed & Hemp dogbane - All parts of the plant, whether green or dry, are poisonous to horses. The toxic properties are steroid glycosides and toxic resinous substances. Livestock generally avoid these plants unless other forage is unavailable. Hemp dogbane can be a threat to livestock in all seasons.

Ohio buckeye - Toxicity of buckeye nuts is attributed to glycosides (e.g., aesculin, fraxin), saponin (aescin), and possibly alkaloids. Sprouts and leaves produced in early spring and seeds can be especially poisonous. Note, experimental feedings have shown that poisoning does not always follow consumption of buckeyes.

Jimsonweed - All parts of the plant, and seeds in particular, contain tropane alkaloids (atropine, scopolamine, hyoscyamine). Because of the strong odor and taste, animals seldom consume enough of the green plant to be affected, but poisonings result from eating the dry plant in hay or silage, or from seeds mixed with grain.

Black Nightshade & Horsenettle - The glycoalkaloid, solanine, is produced in leaves, shoots, and unripe berries, and causes gastrointestinal irritation and central nervous system problems.

Ground Cherry - Leaves and unripe fruit are poisonous.

Johnsongrass - Hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) is produced in the leaves and stems of Johnsongrass when it is subjected to drought, trampling, frost, herbicide treatment, and even cutting.

Common Burdock - Is considered toxic due to potential diuretic effects, and there are reports of allergic reactions when the hooked bristles of burs lodge under the surface of the skin.

Pokeweed - All parts of common pokeweed are toxic to humans, pets and livestock. Roots are the most poisonous, leaves and stems are intermediate in toxicity (toxicity increases with maturity), and berries are the least toxic. Since common pokeweed is not very palatable, most animals avoid eating it unless little else is available, or if it is in contaminated hay. Horses, sheep and cattle have been poisoned by eating fresh leaves or green fodder.

Cocklebur - The plant is most hazardous at the seedling stage because of its toxicity as well as palatability. Ingestion of young seedlings in the amount of 0.75% of the animal's weight may result in clinical signs of toxicosis in a few hours and death in 24-48 hours. The seeds are poisonous at 0.3% of animal weight, but are seldom eaten because of their spiny capsule. Occasionally the eating of the ripe spiny capsules is said to result in intestinal obstruction.

If you have these plants in your pastured areas and available forage is dwindling, feeding hay is an option that should be considered. This may keep your livestock from ingesting poisonous forage and allow your wholesome forage plants critically needed extra time to regrow.

EDITOR's NOTE: For help in identifying pasture weeds, see the video posted below that was recorded by Mark Landefeld a few years ago.

Make Plans Now to "Stage" the Last Cutting of Hay - Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County

The abundant and constant rainfall across much of Ohio this spring that extended well into summer for many, has severely reduced the amount of high quality hay harvested in the state. While the weather forecast suggests that the next week or so will provide lots of opportunity for dry hay harvest, due to the late harvest of the previous cutting, hay simply may not be ready to make again. That, along with the temptation to make up for short forage supplies with a later cutting of high quality hay, and a calendar that is quickly moving into September, creates some challenging decisions for the hay manager.

With fall upon us, perennial plants will soon begin to actively store energy reserves in their roots in the form of carbohydrates that are used for winter survival and regrowth next spring. Much the same as Rory Lewandowski described in this publication a couple years ago regarding fall pasture management, cutting too late in September or October interrupts the carbohydrate storage process because the plant will use its root reserves after being cut in an effort to initiate more regrowth. Considering the enormous stress that forage stands have experienced this year, a late cutting in the midst of the energy storage phase will add additional stress to forage stands. Once cutting has been delayed much beyond mid-September, it's best to consider delaying harvest into late October or early November after the plants have completed their energy storage phase.

In the case of alfalfa, killing frost happens when air temperatures reach 25 degrees F for several hours. If there's much alfalfa and/or red clover in the hay stand, it's particularly important to time the last harvest at least 30 days before freezing temperatures are expected in order to safely maintain a healthy stand into next spring. Lewandowski detailed the concerns with timing the last cutting of alfalfa after a cool, wet spring last year in this publication.

Careful planning and management of forage stands over the next 6-8 weeks can have a significant impact on next year's total yield and perhaps even survival of the stand.

Mid-year Cattle Inventory Report Shows Continued Herd Expansion - Dr. Kenny Burdine, Livestock Marketing Specialist, University of Kentucky

USDA released their mid-year cattle inventory estimates in late July. The report suggested continued expansion of the beef cow herd at a slightly greater pace than was seen in January. The combination of favorable weather and strong calf prices are continuing to keep cows in production and encourage heifer retention. Beef cow numbers were estimated to be up 2.5% from last July and heifer retention was estimated up by about 6.5%. July 1 inventory estimates for 2014 and 2015 can be found in the report linked here.

As always, I like to point out a few things when thinking about these inventory reports. First, I think it is worth noting the magnitude of the change in beef cow numbers. We are starting to see the herd grow though heifer retention, but are also seeing growth because cow slaughter has been very low for nearly two years now. A 2.5% increase may not seem that large to many people, however it is worth noting that we have not seen a year-over-year increase of that magnitude since the early 1990's. So, the cow herd is growing at a pace beyond what we have seen in recent history.

I also like to put heifer retention in perspective as it relates to the size of the US cow herd. The 6.5% increase in heifer development represents an additional 300,000 heifers, which is about 1% of the US cow herd. Another way to put heifer retention in perspective is to consider it as a percentage of the total US beef herd. This measure typically ranges from 13%-17% in the July report. For 2015, heifer retention as a percent of the beef cow herd is roughly 16%, which is very close to where it was 1992-1994 when we were seeing expansion rates similar to what we are seeing now. That cattle cycle, which ran from 1990-2004, saw five years of herd expansion. Unless something drastic changes between now and the end of the year, 2015 will be the second year of expansion in this cattle cycle. I would expect this expansion to continue for several years unless something drastically changes with the cattle market or weather challenges once again become a factor.

Cattle on Feed - John Michael Riley, Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University

Markets across the globe are in the midst of a sharp decline. Thus far, 2015 has been a trying year for equities and commodities alike and they have been nothing like the "roaring" market of 2014.

A number of factors have played into the sentiment that has pressured numerous markets. The financial woes of Greece dominated much of the headline space in 2015. During the first quarter in the U.S. indicated a subpar start to the year, by 2014 standards anyway. However, there has been some catching up of economic data since, which has led to increased speculation of an interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve and that has added its own set of pressures. Then, in past week, data and reports from China have been concerning as productivity across the country appears to be on the decline and this has spilled over into worries of faltering demand from the massive consuming country. Of course, these are just a few of the major headlines thus far in 2015.

Taking a step back and assessing more than the past few days shows that the recent news has had a larger impact on broad market equites as opposed to individual commodities. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) indices are down 9.0% over the past month, but the nearby August Live and Feeder Cattle futures contracts are mostly on par with late July levels. Granted, this shows that the August gains have largely been wiped out with almost all of those gains being given up in the past few trading days. The five-area fed steer price is up 1.8% over the past month, while Oklahoma City 500-550 pound and 750-800 pound steers are, respectively, down 3.5% and 2.5%. When assessing the year's movement the picture is more grim. The equity indices are down 8.0% and 11.0% since the start of 2015, for the S&P and DJI; while cash fed steers are down 11.3%, 500-550 pound OKC steers are down 12.5% and 750-800 pound steers in OKC are down 8.0%.

Most livestock market analyst expected 2015 to lack the glamour and pizazz that was experienced in 2014. Producers that I have consulted with still find this a hard pill to swallow even with this expectation firmly in place. With macroeconomic events stealing the headlines for much of the year, the cattle industry may look back and let out a sigh of relief.

In light of the market shake-down, this month's cattle on feed report went largely unnoticed. As many others have written, the number of cattle in feedlots with more than 1,000 head capacity increased 2.6% to 10.002 million head. Placements into feedlots declined by 0.8%, while marketings declined by 3.5%. Each of these were near analysts' expectations and all well within the range of expectations, so the report would have been viewed in a neutral light but again trading was trumped by broader market events.


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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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