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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 743

July 13, 2011

Forage Focus: Summer Pasture Management Sets Stage for Extended Grazing - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County and Buckeye Hills EERA

Summer pasture management generally requires a different mindset compared to the spring season. As both air and soil temperature increase our cool season grasses will grow slower and recover from a grazing pass slower. Just how much slower that growth and recovery is depends upon rainfall and grazing management. Up to this point at the end of June our rainfall has been good and we have even had some stretches of cooler temperatures so our pasture growth has remained good. If we get our typical July and August weather this could change quickly. I think that summer management should focus on meeting two goals: do not over graze pasture paddocks and provide some paddocks to stockpile forage for winter grazing.

The first management goal is to insure that pastures are not over-grazed. During the spring flush, pastures are growing so rapidly that the management strategy generally is to just top the grass off and keep moving quickly through the paddocks. During the summer, managers need to keep an eye on residual grass height. In other words, they need to know when to get livestock out of a pasture paddock. The goal should be to leave about 4 inches of pasture height when livestock are moved to the next paddock. On the other end, begin grazing a paddock when there is around 8 to 10 inches of forage height. Provide a rest period to allow pasture paddocks to regrow to the 8 to 10 inch height before they are grazed again. Pasture paddocks that maintain a 4 inch residual will regrow more quickly than paddocks grazed lower. Those paddocks have cooler soil temperatures and lose less soil moisture by evaporation as compared to paddocks grazed lower. They will be ready for another grazing pass sooner.

The second management goal is to begin to look ahead during the summer period and follow a grazing management plan that allows some pasture paddocks to get stockpiled beginning in August, or by mid-August at the latest. Stockpiling through the fall will also allow pasture plants to store adequate carbohydrate reserves for the winter period. Identify those pasture paddocks that have the best soil drainage. They will work better than poorly drained paddocks for grazing winter stockpiled forage. Remember that tall fescue is our best grass species for stockpiling if the plan is to use this forage for winter feeding, so identify pasture paddocks with a high percentage of fescue. These paddocks will also need to be clipped to remove the seed heads and reset the plant into vegetative growth.

To accomplish the goal of stockpiling, it may be necessary to include a plan to feed some hay in the late summer to early fall period to free up some paddocks for stockpiling. This may be a wise use of some low quality first cut hay that will leverage the growth of some higher quality forage for winter feeding. That low quality hay will probably be adequate to meet the needs of any livestock that have weaned their young and are now dry without any further supplementation. Feeding that same hay in the winter as gestation requirements increase and winter temperatures place additional nutrient burdens on the animal will require expensive supplementation. In most cases stockpiled forage will be adequate to meet those winter needs without supplementation. The point here is that planning and management in the summer is necessary to make this happen.

Ohio Legislature Revises Law for Livestock Running Loose - Peggy Kirk Hall, Director, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Livestock owners and keepers in Ohio will soon have less risk of automatic liability when their animals escape enclosures and run loose on public roadways or the property of others. The Ohio legislature has revised the "animals running at large" law to clarify two different standards for criminal and civil liability under the law. Criminal liability will occur only when proven that a livestock operator behaved "recklessly" in allowing the animals to run loose. Under Ohio law, a person behaves recklessly when he or she perversely disregards a known risk of his or her conduct, with heedless indifference to the consequences of that conduct. For example, a livestock owner who sees but intentionally ignores a downed fence where cattle graze near a roadway could be deemed "reckless."

The new law establishes a different standard of liability for a civil situation. A person may recover damages against a livestock owner if harm resulted because the livestock owner's "negligence" caused the animals to escape. Under Ohio law, negligence is a substantial lapse of "due care" that results in a failure to perceive or avoid a risk. For example, a livestock owner who has not checked the line fences in a grazing area for several years could be deemed "negligent."

Additionally, the revised law states that an animal being at large creates an initial presumption of negligence by the owner. The animal owner must then rebut the presumption by proving that he or she exercised due care.

The revised law should address a growing problem in Ohio, where livestock owners have been held automatically liable when their animals are found running at large-regardless of the reason for the animals' escape or any actions taken or not taken by the owner. This problem has occurred most frequently with criminal prosecutions. Owners of escaped animals have been assessed automatic criminal penalties, without having an opportunity to explain their management practices or present facts about the animals' escape. The new law remedies this problem by clarifying that criminal liability is not "automatic" simply because livestock are loose; there must be proof that the owner was reckless.

In addition to addressing the standards for liability, the revised animals at large law also:

* Adds llamas, alpacas and bison to the list of animals addressed in the liability provisions, which already included horses, mules, cattle, sheep, goats, swine and geese.

* Also adds llamas, alpacas and bison to the law's provisions for taking, confinement and care of animals running at large.

* Removes a separate liability provision for male breeding animals; male breeding animals will now fall under the same liability section of the law as other animals.

* Revises a similar civil liability provision for livestock in Ohio's line fence law to clarify that negligence is the requisite standard of liability under that law.

The governor signed H.B. 22 on June 21, 2011; the law takes effect on September 20, 2011. View H.B. 22 here.

Why is Early Castration of Bull Calves Important? - Dr. Michelle Arnold, Large Ruminant Extension Veterinarian, University of Kentucky

In the United States, more than 17 million bulls are castrated yearly that range in age from 1 day to 1 year old. It is well known that this procedure is painful and causes a period of slowed growth rate and poorer feed efficiency, especially if the procedure is delayed until the calves get older and heavier. If castration is performed at the feedlot or backgrounding operation, these calves have a marked reduction in weight gain and are twice as likely to get sick as steers (one study found 28% sickness in steers vs 60% sickness in bulls castrated on arrival). The benefits of castration for feedlot owners and those who retain ownership through the feeding phase far outweigh the negative effects and include:

1. Reduced aggressiveness and sexual activity by lowering testosterone levels

2. Decreased number of "dark cutters" due to high muscle pH

3. Higher quality grade-more consistent, marbled, and tender beef

4. Steer carcasses command higher prices at market

Although these advantages are clearly proven, many cow-calf producers do not castrate because they are afraid steers will not wean off as heavy as bull calves despite the fact that research has proven this to be untrue. Even though steers command a higher price at the market, the difference in price has not been enough to overcome the reluctance of many to adopt this as a routine practice. However, the rapidly changing situation of the welfare implications of cattle castration may ultimately move the industry to demand early castration or adopt some method of pain control if castration is delayed.

Several methods of castration are commonly used. The three most common castration procedures for cow-calf producers are surgical removal of the testes, banding of the scrotum with rubber bands, or crushing of the testicular chords with a burdizzo clamp. The method chosen often depends on multiple factors including the potential risk of injury to the operator, the size of the calf, the handling facilities, and experience with a certain technique. Possible health complications include hemorrhage (bleeding), excessive swelling, infection, and poor wound healing. Poor technique, especially common with the burdizzo clamp, may result in castration failure. Failure may also occur during banding if only one testicle is in the scrotal sac when a band is placed. The calf will become a "stag" with the characteristics and actions of a bull due to the retained testicle. There is virtually no difference in performance of the calf if knife cut, banded, or clamped at a young age. In a study at Oklahoma State reported in 2001, it was found there was absolutely NO advantage in the growth rate of bulls before weaning compared with bulls that were castrated (by any method) at 2-3 months of age and given an implant. In a similar study conducted in 1989, bulls castrated at birth performed similarly to those castrated at 4 months of age, indicating that leaving a bull intact for a "period of time" did not increase gains either. It is important to note that these studies did utilize an implant (such as Ralgro®) in the steers to replace the hormone influence lost by removing the testicles.

The animal welfare implications of late castration are beginning to be a force in the beef industry. As guidelines are being established for pain prevention and control, castration is recognized as one of the most stressful and painful experiences for livestock by measuring blood cortisol concentrations and the levels of specific brain neurotransmitters which are associated with pain in food-producing animals. Visible pain responses to castration include struggling, kicking, tail swishing, and restlessness during the procedure followed by swelling, stiffness, and increased recumbency (lying down) whether surgical or nonsurgical techniques are used. Blood cortisol levels, used as an indication of pain, spike almost immediately from surgical castration and clamping while banding causes a slower yet longer period of cortisol elevation. Banded calves have actually shown signs of pain in response to scrotal palpation a month or more longer than calves that were clamped. Perhaps the most important fact gleaned from the many studies conducted on castration is: the earlier the better. Calves castrated from 1-7 days old showed very few behaviors associated with pain and their plasma cortisol levels were essentially the same as the calves left intact. The risk of hemorrhage and infection is much lower, the risk of injury to the person performing the castration is lower, and the procedure is relatively quick and easy. The issue of pain control during and after castration is one of growing importance in the United States. Application of local anesthesia prior to castration is mandated in some countries because it significantly reduces the cortisol response to castration. This effect only lasts as long as the anesthetic but, when combined with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ketoprofen or flunixin meglumine (Banamine®), the cortisol response can be virtually eliminated in young calves, regardless of the castration method used. These calves also show increased feeding activity and fewer pain associated behaviors. The major obstacle in the US to pain relief for castration is no approved drug exists that is actually labeled for this use. Any NSAID used for pain would be considered extra-label use and must be administered only under the direction of a veterinarian with a valid veterinary/client/patient relationship. However, as research continues to validate methods of measuring pain, then drugs will begin to be approved for pain relief because their effect will be measureable.

Castration is considered to be a necessary management practice for cattle. Work with your local veterinarian to establish the optimal herd health program for your farm and institute an early castration program to minimize the pain, stress and complications that go along with this procedure. As we move toward more validated tests to determine pain and stress response, the fewer excuses we have not to do what is within our abilities to minimize it. A proactive approach diminishes the likelihood that the government will dictate what we have to do at the farm level. The corporate world and consumers are watching for our response. What will you decide?

A Busy Summer On Tap - Nevil C. Speer, PHD, MBA, Western Kentucky University

The market has been busy! Fed trade has facilitated a significant rally since establishing a near-term low of during the week following Memorial Day. July's opening with trade occurring at $114-5 marks a $10 surge in just five weeks. Much of that upside has been supported by wholesale beef prices; the Choice cutout is pushing the $180 mark once again (see graph below).

Given the market's run of late and some of the overarching fundamentals, the next few weeks could prove critical in terms of setting the tone for the remainder of the summer. That said, there exist some headwinds for the market to maintain these levels, let alone trade higher yet. First, the June unemployment report was especially detrimental to any hope for a substantial uptick in consumer spending. Second, from a seasonal perspective, domestic demand typically softens following the Fourth of July holiday.

As such, if cutout prices begin to weaken from here there'll be renewed pressure on fed cattle negotiations. That potentially could make sellers reluctant to deal on a weekly basis and further compound potential for building the front-end supply - especially in light of cheap corn (relatively speaking) and the sizeable premium in the futures market.

Once again, though, the major market theme of the past month revolves around the corn complex. Corn prices got pounded from several perspectives. The "perfect storm" metaphor comes to mind as the reversal stemmed from convergence of several important influences - many of them external.

General unraveling in commodities markets began several months ago with broad uncertainty about future economic growth and interest rate trends. All of that came to head in the middle of June with concern about Greece's debt crisis. That subsequently catalyzed a broader risk-off investment mentality in both commodities and equities while also bolstering the U.S. dollar (negative for commodity prices). That development was followed up with the International Energy Agency's announcement of pending release of 60 million barrels of oil from emergency reserves. Traders reacted with worries about the oil market over the short-run which subsequently drew the corn market down. Meanwhile, outside investment has been especially shaky leading up to the scheduled end of QE2 (June 30); as a result, there's been increasing trepidation about commodity investments. And finally, the culmination of market-moving news came on June 30 as USDA surprised traders and analysts on both fronts: stocks and acreage. And lastly, ethanol policy will likely be shifting in the coming months. Seemingly, all things bearish have been thrown at the market.

So where does that leave us? One, from an old-crop perspective there's ostensibly additional inventory: USDA reported June 1 stocks to be some 350 million bushels higher than the average trade guess. Traders interpreted the report as indication that much of the market's work has already occurred: demand has indeed been rationed in recent months; that subsequently takes pressure off the need to amplify rationing any further in coming months. Two, from a new crop perspective it seems that the nation's farmers have been busy planting corn: USDA reported that 92.3 million corn acres have been sowed in 2011. That estimate is approximately 1.6 million acres ahead of analyst expectations (not to mention June's WASDE estimates).

The market turned sharply lower as June closed out business; however there remains large skepticism about the USDA estimates. First, USDA's inventory mark implies huge usage decline during the previous three months. That's especially difficult to reconcile given substantiated data surrounding both ethanol and meat production. (The best explanation probably comes from Dan Basse, AgResource, who notes the additional stocks are likely a statistical artifact; the number stems from commercial entities holding unusually large corn inventories resultant from logistical challenges because of flooding.) Second, USDA immediately reported that it would be resurveying Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota; the equivalent of approximately 15.7 million intended acres, or nearly 17% of the nation's total. Regardless,

Meanwhile, the bulls have been fighting ever since arguing the correction has been overdone. First, much of the corn crop in the eastern cornbelt was either 1) planted late, and/or 2) planted in unfavorable conditions (mudded in), and/or 3) planted with short-season varieties. Second, there currently exist fourteen states that are battling drought or dry conditions to some degree (AL, AR, AZ, CO, FL, GA, KS, LA, MS, NC, NM, OK, SC, TX); the combined corn acreage is equivalent to 12.9 million acres (14% of the 92.3 million acre estimate). Lastly, there's the issue of late planting and pressure on harvest as fall progresses. Therefore, weather will be critical going forward for new crop development. And lower prices have also encouraged buying from international trade partners - most notably, large sales to China.

Perhaps the most significant issue at stake here, though, is not the absolute price of corn but the broader principles of managing risk and protecting equity. I noted last month that, "We're in uncharted territory here and finding our way continues to be the theme of the day. Decision-making is all about sorting through mixed signals."

The influence of never-ceasing news, increasing speed of commerce, intricacies of global trade and inherent connectedness among various markets makes for some dicey conditions. Moreover, those factors all interact in way never before seen. And as noted several years ago, "That makes [markets] increasingly dynamic and volatile . . .[and they] move too fast to provide any reprieve from the now-constant requirement to be well informed and hyper-vigilant about risk management and decision-making . . ."

Never a dull moment in the markets! Stay tuned . . .

Price Summary


Week Ending:

7/8/11 7/1/11 6/24/11 6/17/11 6/10/11
Slaughter Steers ($/cwt) 114.96 110.32 112.10 109.33 106.21
Choice Cutout ($/cwt) 179.36 178.54 177.16 172.57 174.08
Select Cutout ($/cwt) 173.97 172.98 172.41 166.76 168.04
Hide and Offall ($/cwt) 13.68 13.69 13.77 13.73 13.58
USDA Slaughter Weights (lb) 1263 1261 1258 1256 1254
USDA Steer Carcass Weights (lb) 833 832 829 827 820
CME Feeder Cattle Index ($/cwt) 137.48 135.16 133.09 126.88 124.34
Cow Cutout ($/cwt) 150.69 150.77 151.57 153.01 155.22
Corn (basis Omaha: $/Bu) 6.72 6.20 6.62 6.90 7.67
Cattle Harvest (000 head) 582 667 684 688 678
Beef Production (million lb) 446.2 510.5 521.9 523.0 513.9

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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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