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OSU Extension BEEF Team
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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter
Issue # 722
February 9, 2011
Early Weaning as a Winter Management Tool - John F. Grimes, Ohio State University Extension Beef Coordinator & Dr. Francis L. Fluharty, Research Associate Professor, Ohio State University Dept. of Animal Sciences
The vast majority of Ohio's calves from commercial cow-calf production are born during the first four months of the calendar year. While exact numbers are not available, the authors estimate through various surveys and post-meeting evaluations that roughly 20% of Ohio's beef calf crop are born in the last four months of the year. There are many reasons that a producer chooses a calving season but we would speculate that tradition and convenience would be at the top of most lists.
There is no "magical" date that is best to wean calves. Traditional dates to wean for most producers fall around the seven months of age (+/-) mark. Adding incentive for this traditional weaning date is the fact that beef breed associations and performance programs standardize weaning weights to 205 days of age. However, calves can be weaned at a much younger age. Dairy producers wean calves at a very young age!
If you utilize a fall calving system, at this point hopefully most of the cows are bred and are nursing a healthy calf. If this is the case, congratulations are in order as you've cleared some important hurdles. However, those of us who have experience with a fall calving herd probably will admit that we are currently entering the most challenging time frame of this system.
In most cases, fall calving cow-calf pairs will be showing some degree of physical stress as we reach the mid-point of winter. This is particularly true for the winter of 2010-2011 as we have seen larger amounts of snow and generally colder than normal temperatures for the past two months in Ohio. Cows that have been nursing a calf for 3-4 months and receiving average quality hay may be starting to sacrifice body condition in order to meet the needs of her calf and help carry her pregnancy towards mid-gestation. Calves are nursing cows that have passed the point of peak lactation from their dams and may be slowing in their rate of gain. Reductions in body condition can show up quickly in first-calf heifers and older cows that are lactating.
What can the cow-calf producer do to avoid some of these shortfalls in animal performance? Many will choose to increase the amount and/or quality of hay being fed. This practice will have difficulty increasing Body Condition Scores (BCS) while the cow is lactating. Supplemental grain will certainly provide more energy than hay but is an expensive proposition given current grain prices. Creep feeding is an option but under the best environmental conditions it is not a very efficient practice in terms of the feed conversion by the calf.
Early weaning of the fall-born calf crop may be the best management practice option to help maintain BCS with the cows and achieve efficient gains with the calf. Several land-grant institutions including The Ohio State University have researched the practice of early weaning and have found it to be an effective management tool under certain conditions. Early weaning research studies have weaned calves at a wide variety of ages with many utilizing weaning ages of +/- 100 days of age. Again, there is no single "best" age to early wean.
Early weaning can provide some definite efficiency in terms of the use of harvested feedstuffs. Information contained in the 7th edition of the "Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle" from the National Research Council (NRC) indicates this fact. A 1,300 pound that is lactating will have a daily Dry Matter Intake (DMI) of approximately 10 pounds more hay than a non-lactating 1,300 pound cow. Using hay valued at $60 - $80 per ton, this is a feed cost saving on the cow of 30 to 40 cents per day. It should also be noted that it is much easier to positively change BCS in a mid-gestation cow that is not lactating.
Much of the hesitation associated with utilizing early weaning as a common management practice is based on the perceived cost of feeding the calf. Research has shown that the early weaned calf is much more efficient in terms of feed conversion when compared to creep feeding the same age calf nursing the cow. A producer that weans a calf at 100 days of age could expect a feed conversion of 4 pounds of feed per pound of gain or better over the next 100 days after weaning. Using a complete feed price of $400 per ton (an approximate figure given today's volatile prices), it would cost 80 cents or less per pound of gain in feed costs. The same age calf consuming creep feed while nursing the cow would expect a feed conversion of 8 pounds of feed per pound of gain or worse during the same period. These figures indicate that early weaning can be a profitable practice even in these times of historically high feed prices given current feeder calf prices.
How do we feed the early weaned calf? Research at OARDC has shown that feed intake on stressed calves is severely reduced during the first week. Therefore, receiving diets for calves should be approximately 16-20% crude protein, on a dry matter basis, for the first seven days. The protein concentration used should be increased to the upper levels of this range with highly stressed calves that have very low feed intakes. After the second week, feed intake increases and the crude protein can be dropped to 16% of diet dry matter. After the calves reach their normal weaning age, the crude protein level can be reduced to 13-14%, since the cattle should be on full feed by then.
After cattle have reached approximately 1.5% of body weight in feed intake (dry matter basis), every other day the amount of feed offered should be increased. Increases should be no more than 10% of intake. High-concentrate diets require that calves are brought on feed more slowly than high-forage diets. Bringing calves onto feed more slowly will help prevent acidosis and reduce nutritional stress.
Soybean meal is normally the protein source of choice due to cost and availability, but using a source of rumen bypass protein such as blood meal, corn gluten meal or fish meal in combination with soybean meal is acceptable.
Feeding hay during the receiving period reduces the energy density of the diet. Intake is the main problem during this feeding phase. Therefore, a 70 to 85% concentrate diet should be fed to ensure the calves have adequate energy intakes (Remember that corn silage is approximately 50% concentrate and 50% roughage on a dry matter basis).
Early weaning is a practice that does require extra management and added facilities from the producer. However, in cases of stress from winter weather or production stress associated with first-calf heifers, early weaning can prove to be a profitable management tool for the producer.
Beef as a Healthy Choice - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA
In early January I attended a meeting for Extension Educators on the topic of grass finishing beef. One of the presentations, given by Susan Duckett from Clemson University, focused on the nutrition and palatability of pasture finished meat. In this article I want to focus on just a piece of that presentation. One measure of the relative healthiness of a meat product is the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids. Currently health professionals recommend diets that have a ratio of 4:1 or less. This recommendation is apparently based on a heart study (The Lyon heart study) in which patients that had experienced a myocardial infarction (heart attack) had dietary intervention that put them on a diet with a omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio of 4:1. The results were a 76% decrease in mortality after 2 years on this diet.
Susan Duckett showed a slide in her presentation that compared the omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of various meat types. I found a couple aspects of the slide to be interesting. The first was the result comparing grain-fed to grass-fed beef. The grain fed beef had a ratio of 5:1 while the grass-fed beef had a ratio of 2:1. Certainly there have been articles, web sites and health professionals that have talked about the benefits of eating grass finished vs. grain finished beef and apparently with some reason. The second thing that interested me was the ratios of the other meats on the slide. Those other meat comparisons included: a pork chop, skinless chicken breast, skinless, natural chicken breast (I'm not sure what the natural in this description applies to), chicken thigh, skinless chicken thigh, farmed salmon and wild salmon.
As might be expected the salmon had very low omega 6 to omega 3 ratios. The farmed salmon was under 2:1 and the wild salmon below 1:1. What surprised me was the ratio of the other meats. The pork chop came in at just under 28:1, the skinless chicken breast at 16:1, the natural skinless chicken breast at 11:1, the chicken thigh at 24:1, and the skinless chicken thigh at 11:1. When you look at this list and the ratios, the big difference in the ratios is really between ruminant and non-ruminant animals.
My personal take-away message from this is that sometimes the beef business generates unnecessary divisions within itself, arguing the merits and/or benefits of grass finished vs. grain finished beef. While it appears there are some health benefits to grass finished, the relative difference between the two is small compared to beef vs. other livestock meats. The beef industry should be careful not to make too big a deal out of the difference between grass vs. grain finished beef. The message should be that beef is a healthier choice than non-ruminant livestock meats.
Starlings! - Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County, OSU Extension
With the prolonged spell of snow cover across Ohio, starlings and similar pests are once again a problem on livestock farms. Nuisance birds are particularly troublesome on farms which have exposed feed in feeders and bunks that these pests can easily get to.
Not only can these birds carry and transmit disease but they consume expensive feed. In fact, starlings can consume up to 50% of their body weight in grain/feed per day. Projected out over a year, that's more than half a bushel of corn per bird per year. At the prices that corn will likely hit today after the release of this morning's USDA Ending Stocks report, that's more than $3.50 worth of grain per starling annually! Have you ever seen a starling in the winter when at least 1000 of his buddies weren't hanging out with him?
The best approach to controlling nuisance birds usually involves employing a combination of techniques including exclusion, scare tactics, shooting, repellants and toxicants. For detail on how to employ each of these control measures as well as a list of labeled control materials, visit the USDA-APHIS publication entitled European Starlings or their on-line Wildlife Damage Management page.
Beef Demand is the Key to Higher Cattle and Beef Prices - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Feeder and fed cattle and boxed beef prices are all near record levels in early 2011 and expected to go higher. Just how much higher is a much more difficult question. Beef production is forecast to decrease 2 to 2.5 percent in 2011. Considering beef as an aggregate, the demand estimates from several research studies would suggest an increase in retail prices ranging from about 2.9 percent to 6.25 percent. A few studies have resulted in very inelastic demand estimates that would indicate roughly a 10 percent increase in prices as a result of a 2.5 percent decrease in beef production. It seems clear that the supply fundamentals will support potentially significantly higher wholesale and retail prices.
However, there are many factors that will affect the situation in 2011. First, the demand studies are averages over several years and may not reflect the state of beef demand in its current post-recession weakened state. Secondly, beef is not really an aggregate product but is many markets for individual cuts that interact with each other. Middle meat demand continues to be the weakest due to the recession but has the potential to improve and pull prices significantly higher. International trade will be an important component of total demand not in terms of quantity but also the relative mix of various product types and qualities in the market.
Additionally, annual estimates of production and demand may mask timing and variability during the year. It appears that beef supplies will be relatively larger in the first half of the year and may drop sharply by the fourth quarter. The broader meat complex will also be important and the situation with respect to pork and poultry will obviously impact retail prices for beef.
Indications are that beef demand in the last quarter of 2010 did improve and that is supporting higher boxed beef prices in early 2011. The impact on retail prices has not been too apparent yet but sustained higher wholesale prices will put more upward pressure on retail prices as the year progresses. It seems clear the supply pressure will grow even stronger and it will be demand, at particular points in time and for many beef products, that will determine just how high retail beef prices might go and how fast they will change.
Roberts Agricultural Commodity Report - Mike Roberts, Agricultural and Resource Economics, NC State University
LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) finished lower on Monday with the exception of the December '11 contract. The FEB'11LC contract closed down $0.525/cwt at $107.725/cwt and $1.225/cwt lower than last report. The APR'11LC contract closed at $111.750/cwt, down $1.275/cwt and $2.330/cwt lower than last Monday. AUG'11LC futures closed at $113.775/cwt; off $0.525/cwt and $1.075/cwt under this time last week. February's premium to cash, higher feed prices, and profit taking continued to pressure prices. Cash cattle traded $2 higher last Friday. USDA put the 5-area average at $105.89/cwt; $1.54/cwt higher than this time last week. Short covering and spreading was noted. Early Monday USDA put the choice beef cutout at $170.06/cwt; down $1.09/cwt and $3.25/cwt lower than a week ago. Floor sources said pit action was very slow because China was on holiday due to New Year's celebrations in that country. The Canadian cattle herd reduction is showing some slowing so supplies could be coming south in the future. However, it will take a few years before the herd reduction trend turns around and a noticeable increase in the herd size can be expected. Free trade is in the future. The Canadian Cattlemen's Association (CCA) noted that Canada and the U.S. have initiated efforts to streamline cross-border business, including the creation of a U.S./Canadian Regulatory Cooperation Council. This is viewed as very good news by Canadian cattle producers. Australian beef exports are rising and expected to increase as much as 3.3% in 2011. Boneless meat exports will expand to 953,000 metric tons, with most of the growth likely to come from outside the three largest markets, according to an annual forecast issued Monday by marketer Meat & Livestock Australia Ltd. Russia, Indonesia, and the Middle East are expected to maintain trading trends of increased proportions of total exports going to markets other than Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. According to HedgersEdge.com, the average packer margin was lowered $8.85/hd to a positive $36.90/head based on the average buy of $105.59/cwt vs. the average breakeven of $108.40/cwt.
FEEDER CATTLE at the CME closed down on Monday. The MAR'11FC contracts finished down $o.425/cwt at $124.575/cwt and $3.425/cwt lower than last report. APR'11FC futures finished at $126.500/cwt; off $o.225/cwt and $2.575/cwt lower than this time last week. The AUG'11FC contract settled at $128.400/cwt, up $0.050/cwt and $1.575/cwt under last report. Feeders were lower on weakness in the summer and fall months of live cattle futures indicating feedlots will not be paid for higher-priced young cattle to grow to slaughter weight. The Oklahoma City market was closed on Monday due to snow covered roads that kept deliveries out of town. The CME 7-day average price for 65-849 lb feeders for 2/7 was put at $125.02/cwt; down $0.36/cwt and $0.53/cwt lower than last report. The CME feeder cattle index was placed at 125.38 cents/lb; up 0.22 cents/lb from Friday but 0.27 cents/lb lower than a week ago.
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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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