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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 # 793

July 11, 2012

Forage Focus: Drought-Damaged Corn Silage Considerations - Stephen Boyles OSU Extension Beef Specialist

Drought-damaged corn silage may be worth 75 to 95 percent the feeding value of normal corn silage. Allow the corn to stay in the field as long as possible, since if rains come they may bring more stalk and leaf growth, and more tonnage at harvest time. Don't get in a hurry to harvest corn even if several leaves are drying up on the stalk. Firing of the lower leaves is not critical to the survival of the plant. Plant survival is not in jeopardy until firing of the 6th or 7th leaf occurs. If you decide to harvest in the near future, the dry matter content of the silage should be in the range of 28 to 36 percent.

Corn chopped too wet ferments very poorly and feed intake is reduced greatly when it is fed. Corn chopped too dry ferments poorly, has low starch digestibility and spoils quickly during feed out. Corn should be chopped when its dry matter is between about 30 and 40% (equal to 60 to 70% moisture). Ideally the dry matter should be between 32% (for bunkers) and 38% (for upright silos). Do NOT chop corn for silage when its dry matter is less than 28%. Before a farmer starts to chop, they should go to the field and cut a few (3 or 4) stalks at the same height as the farmer plans on setting the chopper. Cut the stalks into small pieces (about 1 inch) using a cleaver or heavy knife, mix the sample and then analyze the sample for dry matter using a Koster tester or microwave (see OSU Agronomy Fact Sheet AGF-004-90). If the corn has the correct dry matter, they can chop. If it is too wet, delay chopping.

A "quick and dirty" method of estimating time to harvest is to squeeze a stalk in your hand for 30 seconds. If moisture drips from the stalk after squeezing, it is too wet for optimum ensiling. The crop needs to remain in the field a little longer or should be layed down in the field for 12 to 24 hours. If the stalk remains compacted after squeezing, the moisture level is acceptable for direct cutting. If the stalk bounds back after squeezing, the crop may be drier than it should be and water will need to be added while putting the corn in a silo or pile. The moisture level may drop rapidly as the plant begins to die.

If the corn becomes too dry, add four gallons of water per ton of silage for each 1 percent desired increase in the amount of moisture content. It is best to add this water at the time the silage is being put in the pile silo. Water added after all the forage has been harvested tends to seep down the sides of the pile or the inside walls of the silo.

Drought-stricken corn put up as silage will generally have more protein and less energy than normal corn silage. Corn stressed all summer, with short stalks and no ears has about 70 percent the energy value of normal corn silage. Corn not so severely stressed (about ten bushels per acre) will have approximately 80 percent the energy of normal corn silage.

There have been some questions about bagging silage this year by producers who do not normally make silage. Bagged silage will have a useful life of about two years before quality declines. Bags can remain open if about one foot per day of silage is used. With an 8 foot diameter bag, one foot equates to about 1 ton of corn silage. Tears and rips in the plastic need to be repaired when they occur.

The crude protein content of drought silage will likely be higher (11 percent) than that found in normal corn silage (8 percent) on a dry basis. In normal corn silage much of the protein is found in the grain. In drought-damaged corn more of the protein is found in the plant. This protein is more soluble in the rumen than protein found in corn grain. Therefore, the feeding of supplements containing large quantities of urea (NPN) may not work as well for animal performance than when a plant protein is fed. Urea based supplements may still need to be considered if natural protein sources remain high priced. Do not add urea to drought-damaged corn silage at silo filling time.

Feeding the silage after it has fermented can be a concern. Because it contains no grain, drought silage has a lower energy content than normal silage. Supplemental feed such as grain may be needed to provide cattle with the energy they need to perform as well as they would on normal corn silage. Weed seeds or screenings can also be added at time of ensiling. The ensiling process will kill many weed seeds, but not all, and will reduce moisture levels in wet silage. Ensiling and feeding losses of drought-stressed corn are generally higher than for normal corn silage but bunk life should be of less concern during cooler weather.

Studies feeding drought stressed corn silage are somewhat limited. In one study cattle fed drought-damaged corn silage gained 19% slower and required 27% more dry matter per pound of gain than those fed normal corn silage. This drought corn silage was harvest after 60 days without rain and it contained about 10 bushels of grain per acre.

When corn is stunted, as in a drought, the nitrate content of the plants becomes a major concern. The highest concentration of nitrate is found in the first 12 inches of stalk above ground. This portion may contain 10 times more nitrate than the upper plant parts. Cutting the plant at a higher level will reduce nitrate problems, but of course will reduce tonnage.

Nitrate problems can be reduced by harvesting the crop as silage. Fermentation can cause forage to lose 40 to 50 percent of its nitrate content. Also, waiting four to five days to harvest after a rain will reduce the amount of nitrates in the plant. And adding 20 pounds of limestone per ton of chopped corn has helped to reduce nitrates. There are however varying opinions on whether limestone should be added. For one thing, limestone prolongs the ensiling process. If you think you have a nitrate problem, have the forage tested for nitrate three weeks after the ensiling process, or prior to feeding.

Animals only adapt gradually to nitrates, so start them slowly on feeds high in nitrates (at least 10 days). Never feed hungry animals a diet consisting solely of forage high in nitrates. High nitrate forages can be diluted at feeding time with grain or chopped forages. Also, do not feed high-nitrate forages separately from the other ration components. Feeding small amounts of high-nitrate forage frequently - rather than large amounts less often lowers its toxic effect. One way to do this is to self feed a complete ration. Finally, feeding iodized salt and elevated vitamin A levels (30,000 I.UI1000 pounds body weight/day) will reduce some of the problems associated with feeding high-nitrate feedstuffs.

Be aware that toxic silo gases - nitrogen dioxide or nitrogen tetraoxide are produced at ensiling time when silage is harvested and put into an upright silo. These gases should be less a problem to producers who use silo bags, as long as no one enters the bags. There are a few simple rules to follow when working with silos and silage. Run the blower 15 to 20 minutes before going into a partially filled silo, and keep the blower running while anyone is in the silo. Stay out of the silo for about three weeks after the silo has been filled. It takes about three weeks for any forage to become silage anyway. If you experience the slightest throat irritation or coughing, get into fresh air quickly and contact a doctor.

Baling a corn crop is another way to salvage it, the method is not without problems. For one thing, it is extremely important that the crop be cut and allowed to completely dry before baling it, but the corn stalk may take a long time to dry and this can increase the chance of encountering a nitrate problem. Also, harvesting corn for baling may be hard on regular haying equipment.

Pricing Drought-Stressed Corn for Corn Silage - Dr. Bill Weiss, Professor and Extension Specialist & Dianne Shoemaker, Extension Field Specialist, Dairy Production Economics

With a "normal" corn crop, pricing a standing crop for silage can be "interesting". Pricing a drought-stressed corn crop is even more interesting. What is the actual nutrient content of the crop? How well will the crop ferment? Will nitrate levels put the potential silage crop at risk? There are many unknowns, with the biggest challenge being how to determine the dollar value to assign to that risk.

The value of drought-stressed corn silage can be estimated using expected nutrient composition and the cost of the nutrients. The average composition of drought-stressed corn silage in Table 1 is reasonable, but the composition of silage for a specific situation (e.g., hybrid, growing conditions, etc.) could be substantially different. The nutrient values were calculated based on numerous feed prices in central Ohio.

Table 1. Average composition of drought-stressed corn silage and current (Jan-July 2012) value of nutrients in Ohio.

Nutrient Concentration Units/T of DM Nutrient cost Economic value
NEL 0.60 Mcal/lb 1200 Mcal $0.15/Mcal $180
Metabolizable protein 6.6% 132 lbs $0.35/lb $46
Non-effective NDF 12.5% 250 lbs -$0.05/lb -$13
Effective NDF 37.5% 750 lbs $0.0/lb $0
Total value $213/T of DM

1 DM = dry matter, Mcal = megacalories, eNDF and neNDF = effective and non-effective neutral detergent fiber, NEL = net energy for lactation.

The $213/ton of DM (+/-$20) or $75/ton (+/-$7) assuming 35% dry matter is the value for the corn silage when fed to the cow and includes harvest and storage costs and shrink. It assumes the fermented feed is excellent quality and will allow for high dry matter intakes and good production when fed in a balanced diet. When corn is standing in the field you do not know whether the resulting silage will turn out good or bad. Making silage from drought- stressed corn has some additional risks that must be considered when pricing. It could be high in nitrates, which in the worst situation will make the silage totally unacceptable as a feed (for additional information on nitrates see: http://ohioline.osu.edu/as-fact/0003.html). The silage may have much higher fiber and lower energy than anticipated. We are using the composition of 'average' immature corn silage for these calculations. Drought stress can greatly affect the composition of the corn plant and therefor it's value.

If you are purchasing standing corn, the purchase price must be adjusted to account for these costs and risks. When you purchase standing corn, in contrast to buying fermented corn silage, the user of the silage (e.g., the dairy farmer) assumes those risks and the price of standing corn should be discounted to account for the risk. We cannot give you a value for risk; each buyer must determine that value for themselves based on the conditions of the crop they are purchasing and negotiate the final price with the seller.

In addition, for more than 6 years, good corn silage (made from normally developed corn plants) has almost always been a 'bargain' feed in that its market price is 15 to 25% less than the value of its nutrients. Based on this historic relationship, corn silage with a nutrient value of $213/T of dry matter (see Table 1.) would sell for about $170/ton of dry matter ($60/ton at 35% dry matter) - remember that this value is for good quality corn silage in front of the cow. This normal relationship between corn silage selling price and corn silage value should also be considered in the negotiations.

Example: Price of Standing Corn (assumed 35% dry matter)

Nutrient value of corn silage when fed to cow: $75/ton of 35% DM silage
Harvest costs - $ 6 to 11/ton depending on yield(1)
Storage costs - $ 9/ton
Shrink (13%) - $ 10/ton
Risk? - $??? (this could be substantial)
= Price of standing corn $48/ton at 35% dry matter (+/-$5) minus the value of risk.

If you apply the typical selling price vs. nutrient value discount of ~20%, this becomes $38/ton at 35% DM.

(1)Lower cost for "normal" corn silage yields, higher cost for lower, drought-stressed corn silage yields.

For many people both the price of corn silage as fed to the cow ($60-75/ton) and the price of standing corn ($38 to 48/ton +/-$5) seems high (and they are). However, you have to consider replacement costs, i.e., what will it cost if you have to purchase other feeds to replace the nutrients provided by corn silage. These are the maximum prices a farmer should pay for purchasing corn silage or standing corn.

Calculating the Floor Price: The lowest price (on a per acre basis) a seller (the grower) should be willing to sell standing corn as corn silage is equal to the estimated dollar return per acre if the crop was sold as grain. The seller should first estimate the potential grain yield and multiply that by the estimated market price he thinks he will receive when it is sold. The seller should then estimate potential silage yield (see slides 4-7 in 'Pricing Corn Silage in 2007" at http://dairy.osu.edu/resource/OSU%20Dairy%20Pubs.html. The estimated dollar return per acre for the crop sold as grain divided by the estimated silage yield per acre would be the floor price per ton of corn silage for these negotiations. At a price below this floor, the grower would be better off harvesting and selling the crop as grain. For "normal" corn, the cost of harvesting the crop as grain approximately offsets the value of nutrients that are removed with the corn plant that would be left in the field if the crop were not harvested as silage.

Additional articles on pricing corn silage are available at http://dairy.osu.edu.

Should Beef Producers Consider Early Weaning During Drought? - Amy Radunz, UW Beef Extension Specialist

Producers this summer in southern Wisconsin and other drought plagued areas may want to consider early weaning as a strategy for dealing with drought conditions. Beef calves can be successfully weaned starting at 60 days of age and there are several advantages to this strategy in a drought situation.

Advantages to early weaning:
* Dry cows consume significantly less feed than lactating cows and can reduce feed intake from 20-50%, thus extending the grazing period.
* Dry cows will enter the winter in better body condition.
* Result in greater 205 day age weight because weaning weights of calves can be lowered due to reduced milk production and reduced feed available during drought.
* Early weaned calves are very efficient and can convert feed to gain at 3 to 5 lbs of feed to 1 lb of gain.
* Early weaning from 30-60 days of age prior to breeding can improve pregnancy rates, but can be more challenging to manage calves at this age.

Producers should also be aware that early weaning will increase management and cash costs to a beef operation.

Challenges to early weaning:
* Need to have an extra pasture or drylot to wean cattle with good fence, easy access to water, and feed bunks and requires more intensive management.
* Need to have grain, co-products, or high quality forage to maintain calf gain thus increasing feed costs
* Consult a veterinarian for recommended vaccination protocols, but producers should consider vaccination for clostridial and respiratory diseases. Calves could experience coccidia and worms, thus may want to consider a feed additive to address coccidia and consider deworming the calves.

The success of early weaning is to pay close attention to feeding management and providing the proper diet.

Feeding recommendations for calves:
* Start 300-400 lb calves on 4 lbs/head of concentrate/supplement mix. And consider starting with whole shelled corn or distillers grains as the concentrate. And supplement mix should contain vitamins and minerals.
* Commercial protein supplements with 16-18% protein should be fed for the first 14 days and then when intake of 2% body weight is reached can feed a protein supplement with 14-16% protein
* Give calves hay at 1.0-1.5 lbs/hd/day, then top dress concentrate mix. Can use soy hulls or alfalfa pellets if hay is unavailable.
* Do not increase concentrate by more than 1.0 lb/hd/day and do not feed more than 2 lbs/hd/d of hay.
* From 100-205 days of age, calves will consume approximately 2.0-2.5% of body weight on dry matter basis. Once calves are 205 days of age, they can be placed on a traditional high-grain finishing diet.
* If you don't want to feed grain, consider feeding a processed high quality forage, so calves can consume enough to maintain gain during this period.
* Nutritional strategies for receiving and feeding early-weaned calves - Ohio State University Extension
* Early weaning beef calves - NDSU Extension

In order to successfully early wean, you may want to evaluate your weaning methods to reduce stress. Some low stress weaning methods include fenceline weaning on pasture or using anti-suckling devices. In addition, recommend producers find a time when heat stress will be minimized for the first few days when calves are weaned.

Low-stress weaning strategies resources:
* Fenceline Weaning
* Using Anti-Suckling Devices to Wean Beef Calves
* Weaning on Pasture for Low-stress Beef Production

Haying and/or Grazing of CRP?

Although at this time typically considered low quality feed, one ongoing opportunity for additional forage is the practice of managed haying and grazing of CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) which was placed into contract prior to July 28, 2010. Managed haying is authorized for a single time period of up to 90 days. Managed grazing is authorized for a single period up to 120 days or for two 60-day periods.

Before haying or grazing CRP participants must request permission from their local FSA office indicating the acreage to be hayed or grazed. A 25 percent CRP payment reduction will be assessed except when managed haying and grazing is conducted in locations declared an "emergency"area. Also before CRP acreage is declared eligible for haying or grazing, a modified conservation plan developed by NRCS or a technical service provider must be obtained.

Find more details in this USDA FSA fact sheet, or contact your local Farm Service Agency office.

Weather and Other Factors Change Cattle Market Outlook (7/2/12) - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist

Prices for cattle of all classes and for beef are higher than this time last year. However, cattle market conditions have changed significantly in the past few weeks and most prices have declined recently. The biggest factor is weather which is impacting markets directly and indirectly, both in the immediate short run as well as farther down the road. Beyond weather impacts, beef demand remains a critical question for cattle and beef markets.

Weather is having a myriad of impacts on cattle and beef prices. Drought conditions have expanded dramatically, with 72 percent of the continental U.S. in some stage of abnormally dry conditions and over 51 percent of the country in moderate or worse drought. In Oklahoma and Texas, the better-than-last-year conditions so far are eroding rapidly. Oklahoma has received 46 percent of normal precipitation in the last 60 days and most all the state has had three to nine days of 100+ degree temperatures with some regions having had 17-21 days of triple digit temperatures.

Regional reports indicate that some drought forced cattle movement is beginning with some early marketing of calves and cull cow sales taking place. These are likely contributing to weaker feeder cattle prices recently and could have much more significant impacts in the coming weeks. In contrast to the 2011 drought which all in all had less market price impacts than would be expected, the drought area this year is bigger and is more likely to result in stronger market impacts and sooner than last year.

Adding to the direct feeder market impacts are the rapid deterioration of corn production prospects which dramatically alter corn price expectations for the coming crop year. December corn futures have increased roughly $1.50/bushel in the last two to three weeks. Feedlots, which now have no prospects for feed cost relief and on the heels of large placements last month, are likely tempering feeder demand for the time being. Expanding drought and limited feedlot demand could pressure feeder prices more in the coming weeks.

At the other end of the market, beef demand questions remain. Boxed beef values, especially for Choice, have held up rather well the past month moving through the seasonally large beef production period of the year. Higher Choice beef values are due in part to reduced supplies of Choice meat but there continue to be indications of slow demand growth, especially for middle meats, where values are significantly higher than year earlier levels. Nevertheless, demand continues to limit overall beef and cattle values. Recent improvement in packer margins notwithstanding, beef industry margins continue to be very tight.

With market price impacts potentially larger and developing sooner this year. Producers in drought affected areas need to prepare a plan immediately to assess remaining flexibility and determine a timeline of actions that will be required if drought conditions continue or expand. For a few those actions have already started and for many more they could begin in the very near future. It is critical to develop calf production and marketing plans as well as cow culling priorities now so that decisions can be made while some flexibility remains and before market values erode significantly.

Ohio Young Cattlemen's Conference Deadline Extended

The registration deadline has been extended to July 15 for the Ohio Cattlemen's Association's Young Cattlemen's Conference (YCC) scheduled for August 9-11 in Columbus. The purpose of the Ohio YCC Tour is to offer emerging Ohio beef industry leaders and young producers the opportunity to build their leadership skills as they network with beef industry leaders, government officials, businesses and the media. This year's event is sponsored by Farm Credit Services of America, the Ohio Soybean Council and Pioneer Seed, in addition to OCA.

The two-day tour will involve 25-30 young cattle producers from across the state and will begin Thursday evening, August 9 and adjourn on Saturday, August 11 by 2:00 p.m. Registration is $100 per participant and can be paid by either the county cattlemen's association or the individual. Couples are also encouraged to attend and the cost is $200 per couple. Program sponsors will cover all additional costs, including hotel and meals. YCC participants should be over 20 years of age, a current member of the Ohio Cattlemen's Association and active in their community and the cattle industry.

One of the highlights of this year's YCC program will be the Ohio Beef Council's Beef Night at the Ballpark with the Columbus Clippers on Friday, August 10. YCC participants will assist in hosting a special pre-game party for consumers who win tickets to the game as a result of their donations to the Striking Out Hunger with Lean Beef promotion taking place with the Columbus Clippers this baseball season.

For more information, contact Stephanie Sindel, OCA Director of Member Services 614-873-6736 or ssindel@ohiobeef.org.

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.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status. Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Admin. and Director, OSU Extension. TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-1868

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