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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter
Issue # 699
August 18, 2010
Getting Cows Bred in July and August - Dr. Les Anderson, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky
One of the most challenging aspects of spring calving is trying to determine when to calve to maximize reproductive rate. Reproductive efficiency in a cow herd is most accurately measured by the term "percent calf crop weaned" which is calculated by dividing the number of calves weaned by the number of cows that were in the cow herd when the breeding season began the previous year. The two factors that affect the ability of a cow to wean a calf is pregnancy rate and calf death loss.
Most spring-calving herds begin calving sometime in February or March and end sometime in May or June. Calving in February and March can be challenging because both of these months are typically wet and/or cold. Wet/cold environments result in higher calf death loss; calf death losses average 5-7% for most spring calving herds. One method to reduce calf death loss is to calve when the weather is more accommodating. For example, death loss is much lower (1-2%) for cows that calve in the fall (September and October). One might think that calving in April and May could be a better option; the weather is certainly warmer and calf death loss will likely be lower. To calve in April and May, the breeding season would be start June 23rd and would last through the month of August. Unfortunately, breeding cattle during this time results in lower pregnancy rates and would put most beef cattle producers out of business.
Data from the University of Kentucky Research Center at Princeton demonstrate the impact of breeding season on reproductive rate. In this trial, cows were exposed to a 45-day natural service breeding season. The breeding seasons were early (4/21-6/5), typical (5/21-7/6), or late (6/19-8/4). Pregnancy rates declined dramatically in cows that were bred later in the summer. Pregnancy rates were 89% for cows bred early, 78% for cows bred during the typical time, and only 59% for cows bred to calve later (April/May). Therefore, in Kentucky, cows that are bred to calve later in the spring will likely have lower calf death loss but considerably fewer of the cows will actually get pregnant. Why is pregnancy rate so low for cows in July and August?
The main factor that reduces pregnancy rates in our state, and others in the fescue belt, is heat stress. Heat stress occurs when the body temperature is elevated for more than two degrees above normal for more than 48 consecutive hours. Heat stress reduces pregnancy rates by increasing embryonic mortality. Developing embryos/pregnancies can be lost at two different periods of pregnancy; before Day 7 (loss of the developing embryo) and from Day 25-45 (early fetal loss). Cows that experience embryonic loss in the first week of pregnancy are repeat-breeders; they come back into heat 20-21 days after service. Cows that experience fetal loss from Day 25-45 are normally those cows that conceived early in the breeding season (end of May) but were exposed to extreme heat stress 25-45 days later. Data from trials at the University of Kentucky illustrate that fetal death loss ranges from 5-25% depending upon the level of heat stress. Cows that experience fetal death loss are typically open at the end of the breeding season.
The heat stress problems in our state are the result of consumption of endophyte-infected fescue. Endophyte is a fungus that grows in fescue and it produces chemical compounds that reduce the ability of a cow to dissipate heat. These chemicals redirect blood flow in an animal's body such that the blood supply pools in the interior regions of the body. Normally in the summer an animal's blood supply flows more to the exterior of the body so that it can be cooled. The redirection of the blood flow reduces the ability of an animal to cool itself during the night and results in tremendous heat stress on the body and lower pregnancy rates.
How can we reduce the impact of heat stress? The first logical approach would be to limit the access of your cows to endophyte-infected fescue during the heat stress months (mid-June thru August). Grazing options include warm season grasses, endophyte-free fescue, predominately legume pastures, and/or sorgum sudan grass. Cows could graze endophyte-infected pastures until late-May to mid-June while the summer grazing pastures grow. Cows could then be turned out on the "summer pastures" until the end of the breeding season. If non-endophyte pastures are not feasible, then diluting the fescue with legumes and/or other feedstuffs will help reduce the impact of the heat stress. One supplemental feed that appears to reduce the effects of heat stress is fat. Research at the University of Kentucky has demonstrated that feeding cows high fat diets while grazing highly infected endophyte fescue during the breeding season can help reduce heat stress and improve pregnancy rates. In these trials, cows were fed either a commercial fat supplement free choice or whole soybeans (3 lbs/hd/day) during the breeding season (6/5-8/15). Fat supplementation increased hair shedding, reduced cow body temperature, and improve pregnancy rates from 56% to 78%.
The decision of when to concentrate your calving in the spring is tough. Life is easier if your cows could calve later but fewer of them will calve. With little doubt, calving earlier will increase pregnancy rates but will also likely increase calf death loss. Economically, 5-7% death loss is more financially sound than only 60-70% pregnancy rates. Use of alternative summer grazing systems to reduce the effects of endophyte-infected fescue is a logical but sometimes difficult solution. Feeding cows fat supplements will help but perhaps the best solution is to completely change your breeding and calving season. Cows that calve in the fall have lower calf death loss, higher pregnancy rates, and shorter calving seasons than cows that calve in the spring.
Forage Focus: Grazing the "Ultimate" Annual . . . CORN! - Stan Smith, Fairfield County PA, OSU Extension
Last week in this publication, Cliff Little discussed the virtues of utilizing annual forages during the summer slump and late fall. In response, good friend Keenan Turner, retired Kentucky Pulaski County Extension Agent and Master Grazing Program Coordinator, shared with me some of the work he's done with Kentucky graziers utilizing standing corn to fill in during this time of year when perennial forages are typically yielding little or going dormant.
Keenan tells me that most of the grazers in his area were feeding hay by the first of August this year, but, a couple grazers who seeded "bin-run corn" back in mid-April where grazing it at that time, instead. Over the years, Turner worked with his local cattlemen as they grazed several of the brassica's along with rye, ryegrass, wheat, barley, triticale, in both the Spring and Fall. At the same time, they tried lots of the summer annuals including all the sorghums, sudans, sudangrasses, etc. They discovered that instead, bin-run corn was the cheapest and best yielding per acre, and also found that the cattle really kept their condition during the summer months on the grazing corn. While many of the cow herds in the area were Fall calvers, the Spring calving cows they did have milked well on the corn and maintained their condition with calves at side.
Early on, seed corn was planted in 36 inch rows for grazing. Turner tells me they later learned to go to the grain bin and use "bin-run corn" seeded at 2.5 to 3 bushels corn per acre either drilled in with a small grain drill or broadcast and disked.
Checking the germination on bin-run corn prior to seeding is a must. Corn which had high moisture going into the bin and had heat applied to dry it was at risk of having poor germination. Since they plan to graze it at 70-90 days after seeding, Keenan recommends only using around 70 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre.
When grazing, Turner recommends feeding Rumensin in the mineral to aid in the prevention of acidosis. This is regardless if grazing green corn or dried down standing eared corn.
Ohio's New Pasture Invader - Clif Little, Extension Educator, AgNR, OSU Extension, Guernsey & Noble Counties
Spotted knapweed, a noxious weed was first detected in our area two years ago. The weed seed was most likely purchased in a pasture seed mix. Since that time this noxious weed has expanded more rapidly than could be imagined. Heavy infestations of this weed can now be found concentrated in the Quaker City area. The plant seed is easily distributed with the movements of equipment and hay. Observations along the roadways confirm pockets of these weeds extending into Noble, Guernsey, Belmont and Monroe counties.
Spotted knapweed is the most aggressive perennial weed to impact hay and pasture fields in Ohio. This plant can produce as much as 1000 seeds per plant. The western United States has struggled with the weed for many years and it has only recently become a problem for us. The plant is attractive and resembles the bloom of red clover. Currently, the plant is 1-3 feet tall. The problem with this weed is that it can completely take over hay fields and pasture land as indicated by the picture (a hay field near Quaker City). Livestock avoid eating the plant while it crowds out desirable grasses and legumes.
Plant seeds are inadvertently spread through the actions of hay hauling and mowing. It is also likely vehicles venturing into infested areas have contributed to plant distribution. My recommendations are to control the plant as soon as you see it. In small areas around the house you can pull it up and burn it. It may also be spot sprayed utilizing a glyphosate product such as Roundup or one of the many other products containing this active ingredient. For pasture and grass hay fields there are several broadleaf herbicides options depending on knapweed state of maturity and use of the forage. At the current state of knapweed development and according to University studies Milestone™ at 5-7 oz/Acre or ForeFront™ at 2-2.6 pt/Acre can provide effective control. Refer to product labels for herbicide use restrictions regarding grazing, hay harvest and replanting. The application of broadleaf herbicides will injure legumes such as clover and alfalfa.
The best knapweed control program is early detection and eradication. Avoid spreading this weed seed on farm machinery. Don't purchase hay containing knapweeds and utilize only certified seed when planting. Manage hayfields and pastures to promote dense grass growth and this will help to reduce knapweed invasion. For more information contact your local OSU Extension office.
Oklahoma Summer Grazing Issues and Winter Grazing Prospects - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
A string of 100 degree days in August have proven once again how quickly Oklahoma summer can reduce an unusually wet July to typically dry late summer conditions. The good news is that ample moisture in the first half of the year have resulted in abundant forage production for grazing and hay. For most producers, the management challenges for the remainder of summer are not a lack of forage quantity but the rapidly deteriorating forage quality. The same is true in other regions as generally abundant forage quantity is losing quality rapidly with widespread heat across much of the southern half of the country. The other good news is that while forage is drying out rapidly, there are no widespread drought conditions anywhere in the country according to any of the broad based drought measures. At this late date, emerging drought conditions are likely to be short lived going into the fall. Of course there is no guarantee of fall moisture!
All of this raises questions of how it might impact the timing of both cattle marketings and demand in the fall. For cow-calf producers the situation is still probably better than average in terms of forage availability and I don't see current conditions leading to the need to wean and sell calves (or cull cows) earlier than usual. Summer stockers likewise have forage available but will see typical late summer decreases in performance unless strategic protein supplement is offered.
A crucial question arises about the intentions of wheat stocker producers this fall. Mother Nature will determine how early wheat can be planted based on moisture and soil temperature. Assuming that the possibility exists, how interested are wheat producers are in pursing early grazing? The wheat market is currently very volatile and could lead to more interest in wheat grain. There are some tradeoffs in early planted wheat in which grazing value that must be evaluated against grain yield reduction and increased risk of weed problems that result in steeper foreign matter and dockage discounts.
On the cattle side, strong stocker demand, especially early in the fall, could make stocker calves pricey relative to the budget realities. In the big picture, the 2010 calf crop is down another 1.2 percent from last year. Moreover, the estimated feeder supply on July 1 was down 2.6 percent year over year, on the heels of large feedlot placements in May and June. The bottom line is that stocker numbers will be tight in the second half of the year and could get even tighter if corn prices are low enough to keep feedlots aggressively placing cattle this fall. Stocker producers want to avoid chasing stocker cattle at prices they may not be able to live with come sale time. Paying too much for the stocker calves, in effect, makes the wheat pasture actually worth less than originally anticipated.
When Will Cattle Herd Rebuilding Start? - Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service
During the last week in July, joint annual meetings of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association and the Western Agricultural Economics Association and annual meetings of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Livestock Marketing Information Center Technical Advisory Committee were all held in Denver, Colorado. All four authors of the In The Cattle Market columns and many of our counterparts from around the country attended at least parts of these meetings.
A topic of conversation, both formally and informally, at those meetings was what has happened to the traditional cattle cycle and when will beef herd rebuilding begin. The following comments are points from some of those discussions and come from many different sources.
The traditional supply driven, approximate 10-year cattle cycle usually included 6 to 8 years of increasing numbers followed by 3 to 4 years of liquidation. However, in the past decade beef cow numbers only increased in 2005 and 2006. And, on July 23, the Friday before all the meetings, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the semi-annual cattle inventory report. NASS reported beef cows and heifers that have calved 31.7 million head on July 1, down 500,000 head from last year. The number of beef heifers over 500 lbs kept for replacement was down 2.2 percent at 4.4 million head. So, with both fewer beef cows and replacements, beef herd expansion will likely not take place this year.
Of course, the past decade was marred with a variety of unexpected events, some catastrophic, that forced cattle producers to crisis manage from one event to the next. Some of these events include starting the decade with the 9-11-2001 terrorist attack and subsequent decline in beef demand and prices. Then the discovery of BSE in Canada and the U.S. in 2003 followed with major disruptions in international beef trade. Major droughts in several important cattle regions also materialized. Corn-based ethanol for fuel increased from the mid-decade on which caused increased demand for corn and increasing and volatile feed grain prices. 2008 saw an extreme escalation of all commodity and input prices followed by a severe decline by the end of the year. The U.S. and world economic crisis and the unfortunate misnaming of the H1N1 virus negatively impacted all livestock and meat demand in 2009.
Other points brought up included the increasing average age of cow-calf producers, the relatively large number of small farms/ranches with cattle, historically high cull cow and bull prices, loss of pasture and range to crops and other uses, more cautious lending practices, and severe winter weather in the Northern Plains the last two years and throughout the country last year. There are other reasons as well, but with all the uncertainty and volatility in prices it is no wonder why producers have been reluctant to increase beef herds.
Will the next decade be different? No one knows that answer but there are some encouraging signs in 2010. Although there are a few dry pockets, many cattle producing regions in the U.S. are experiencing the best pasture and range conditions in the past decade. The export demand for beef is improving with U.S. beef sales up about 25 percent from last year. The domestic economy is still struggling but improvement should take place in the next few years. Cow, bull and feeder cattle prices have improved and the cow-calf sector should see better profitability. And lower beef production is likely for the next couple of years which should be supportive to cattle prices. Producers are showing renewed interest in replacement heifers and bred cows and heifers as those prices have been stronger in 2010.
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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