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OSU Extension BEEF Team
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 # 745
July 27 - August 3, 2011
Forage Focus: Hay Quality, Worst I've Ever Seen?!?
Any time someone suggests something is "worst ever" I'm skeptical. I've been around long enough to know that records are meant to be broken, no matter how bad one thinks things are someone else has it worse, and after centuries of extremes that are the basis what we call "average" it is seldom as individuals any of us ever actually experience the "worst ever."
That being said, maybe when I suggest the results of the forage quality tests are the worst I've seen it becomes a little misleading. Perhaps the better way to say it is simply, "if you've never had a laboratory analysis of your stored forages done before, you better think about doing it this year!"
I think the most striking piece of the learning curve this year has been that it's once again been proven impossible to assess forage quality based on specie, cut date, fertilization history, appearance, or whether or not and how many times it got rained on. Here's the best example I can offer of why a laboratory analysis is the only way to assess quality.
This is the scenario for one local forage analysis I've seen:
* 4 year old stand of mixed clover, alfalfa, orchard grass.
* Fertility: excellent, right where it needs to be.
* Mowed: June 1, 2011
* Precipitation from date of mowing to baling: None
Everything was done right as it could be considering the weather issues we experienced this spring. Results of the laboratory test showed that it had 8.75% crude protein . . . perhaps a little lower than I'd expect for a June 1 cutting of this kind forage mix, but frankly one of the higher protein contents I've seen from first cutting this year. So it must be good hay. Right??
No. The NDF (neutral detergent fiber) on this forage was 70.31. For those who prefer to look at ADF or Relative Feed Values (RLF), those numbers came back at 50.11 and 66, respectively. As mentioned a couple weeks ago here, NDF is an indication of digestibility. As NDF values increase, plant materials become less digestible, thus causing cows to consume less dry matter and total nutrients. In this case of an NDF value over 70, we would not expect a cow to be able to eat enough of this forage as long stem, unprocessed hay to fully support her body as even a dry cow in mid gestation. During lactation or even the later stages of gestation, the typical mature cow would be on an even more rapidly declining nutritional plane.
The moral of the story is simply this. While it is likely these forages are not our "worst ever" you won't know that unless you get it tested at a laboratory. Under this link you'll find a list of labs that could do that testing.
In the mean time there are several upcoming field days and programs where forage management and cow nutrition will be a primary focus on the agenda. Included in that list would be the OFGC Beef Grazing Tour, Beef and Forage Night at Jackson ARS, the OCA Roundup, as well as some local pasture walks. Find a more complete list and details in the OSU Beef Team web calendar.
Stockpile Decisions - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County and Buckeye Hills EERA
It's time for my annual reminder that early to mid-August is a good time to set aside some pasture paddocks to stockpile growth for winter grazing. On many farms the actual implementation of stockpiling can be traced back to management decisions in June and July as pasture paddock rotations were adjusted to set up this practice.
Tall fescue is the forage of choice to stockpile for winter grazing. Compared to other cool season grass species tall fescue produces more fall growth and does the best job of maintaining forage quality throughout the winter period. Tall fescue also accumulates high levels of non-structural carbohydrates and has improved palatability when grown under cool as compared to warm or hot weather conditions. In addition, we have a high percentage of endophyte infected fescue in our area. The toxic alkaloids associated with infected fescue reduce forage palatability and depress animal performance over the summer months. However, research done in Missouri has shown that those alkaloids decrease significantly by about mid-January in stockpiled fescue. This provides another reason why fescue should be stockpiled and used for winter grazing rather than trying to force cattle to graze it during August and September.
After the initial decision is made to stockpile, the next decision is whether or not nitrogen fertilizer should be applied. The application of nitrogen will increase the dry matter (DM) yield of stockpiled fescue as well as the quality of the stockpiled forage. If a paddock has a uniform 30% legume percentage it may not be necessary to add supplemental nitrogen. If legumes are not uniform throughout the field or are less than 30% of the stand then supplemental nitrogen can be beneficial.
Field trials done in southeastern Ohio compared the effect of nitrogen fertilization versus no nitrogen fertilization on stockpiled fescue yield. In that work, 46 lbs of nitrogen/acre applied on August 20 produced an additional 1400 lbs of DM per acre compared to a stockpiled plot with no nitrogen application. In that same study, when nitrogen application was delayed a month to September 20 there was still a yield response, but it was decreased with the fertilized plot accumulating an additional 980 lbs of DM/acre compared to the unfertilized plot. A 3-year study in Kentucky showed a yield increase, on average, of an additional 1100 lbs of DM/acre when stockpiled fescue was fertilized with 46 lbs/acre of nitrogen in mid-August compared to stockpiled fescue without any additional nitrogen fertilizer.
With regard to forage quality, crude protein (CP) content is increased when nitrogen is applied to stockpiled forage. In southeastern Ohio field trials the effect of date of nitrogen fertilization was examined. Stockpiled plots received 46 lbs of nitrogen/acre on either August 20 or September 24. The plots receiving nitrogen in August averaged over 14% CP on November 3 and over 10% CP on February 11. The plots receiving nitrogen in September averaged over 17% CP on November 3 and close to 12% CP on February 11.
On some farms, especially those where the stocking rate is closely matched to the pasture acreage, stockpiling paddocks for winter grazing may be linked to a decision to feed hay during the stockpiling period. This may end up being a wise decision for a couple of reasons. First, it may be the best use of low quality hay. Second, it leverages the use of low quality hay for the production and use of higher quality stockpiled forage. This stockpiled forage is more likely to match up with the nutrient requirements of pregnant cows during the winter than low quality first cutting hay.
The decision to stockpile is not without risk. We have experienced dry falls the last several years. Stockpiling is dependent upon some rainfall for grass growth. Up to this point in late July, we have continued to get timely rains and soil moisture levels are good in many pastures. Grazing and clipping management decisions can enhance the rainfall we have received and conserve soil moisture. Those paddocks that have been managed to insure that there is always at least a 4 inch residue are more likely to allow all rainfall to penetrate into the soil profile and to provide an environment where less soil moisture is lost from evaporation. Clip or graze high on those paddocks that will be stockpiled. There is nothing wrong with clipping off any seedheads and leaving a 5 to 6 inch residue to begin stockpiling. Think of it as a risk management decision.
OFGC Beef Grazing Tour
The Ohio Forage and Grassland Council (OFGC) in cooperation with Athens County Extension is sponsoring a Beef Grazing Tour on Wednesday, August 17 in Athens County. The tour will feature three host farms; Dave and Nancy Bircher located at 3253 Sargent Road in Lodi Township, Joe and Donna Marks located at 17222 Lawson Road in Lodi Township and Scott and Joanne Pfeiffer located at 4347 Marion Johnson Road in Alexander Township.
Each farm will highlight different management practices. The tour begins at the Bircher farm at 9:30 am. This stop will feature paddock development, water systems, lane access and pasture rotation management. The next stop is the Marks farm where the discussion will center on fall calving, stockpiling forage and pasture reseeding options. At the Marks farm a noon meal of grilled hamburgers and hotdogs will be served. Following the noon meal we will drive to the final stop of the tour, the Pfeiffer farm. Highlights will include a discussion and demonstration of cattle linear measurement and a stock dog cattle handling demonstration.
Interested individuals will drive and park at each farm. For those who want to do some carpooling, plan to meet at the Athens Extension office at 9:00 am. The cost of the tour is $10 for OFGC members and $15 for non OFGC members. Checks can be made payable to OFGC. Reservations are requested to help with meal planning and tour organization. If there is a large response, a bus might be rented for the day. Please phone or email your reservation to the OFGC executive secretary, Sara Duvall by Wednesday August 10. Sara's phone number is: 740-775-0860 and her email address is: email@example.com . Reservations can also be phoned in to the Athens County Extension office at 740.593.8555. More information about the tour including driving directions is available on the Athens County Extension web site at: http://athens.osu.edu/topics/agriculture-and-natural-resources/grazing .
Drought Accelerates Cattle Liquidation in Southern Plains - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
The expanding extreme drought in the Southern Plains is causing a significant acceleration of cattle liquidation in the region. In Oklahoma, the combined total for federally reported auctions the past two weeks has shown a 56 percent increase in feeder cattle sales and a 205 percent increase in cow and bull sales compared to the same period one year ago. The auction totals include significant numbers of double-stocked summer stockers from the Osage country that are typically marketed this time of year.
However, there are large numbers of cows and lightweight feeder cattle that are not typically marketed this time of year. Most likely we are seeing a second wave of cow liquidation made up of cows with spring born calves that are just now big enough to early wean and sell. We are receiving many anecdotal stories from auctions, both large and small of excessive numbers of feeder cattle and cows being marketed. Livestock haulers are booked and it is difficult to arrange shipping at this time.
Prices for slaughter cows, bred cows and cow-calf pairs have dropped sharply in the past two weeks. This is likely a temporary situation due, in part, to the bottlenecks of selling and shipping so many animals in a short period of time. Producers are selling because they have no other alternatives but those with the ability to postpone sales for a couple of weeks may find the logistics as well as the price better. It is hard to say how long the current bulge in cow liquidation will last but most likely it will be a matter of no more than another 2-4 weeks.
Unfortunately, many of the cows are going to slaughter, contributing to additional cow herd liquidation. Beef cow slaughter in Federal slaughter Region 6, which overlays the drought area, is 16 percent higher for the year to date compared to last year. In the most recent two weeks of data, beef cow slaughter in Region 6 is up 35 percent compared to the same period last year. Total U.S. beef cow slaughter for the year to date is down 2.7 percent but the gap is closing due to large slaughter totals in the drought area. For most weeks of the year, the national total beef cow slaughter has been down compared to last year. However, in the last four weeks of slaughter data, the week to week totals for beef cow slaughter have exceeded year ago levels.
The drought is not only having devastating impacts for producers in the drought region, but is also impacting the beef cattle industry nationwide and will have impacts for several years. By pushing beef cow slaughter close to last year's record levels, the drought insures additional herd liquidation that deepens the hole from which the industry must start to rebuild. The July Cattle report confirmed that the July 1 beef cow herd was down 1 percent from last year but this survey value likely does not reflect the accelerated liquidation that has occurred so far in the month of July.
Early Weaning for the Beef Herd - Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension
This article could probably be titled "What to Do If All Else Fails". Certainly no one ever plans to find himself in a drought or short of forage, and with a group of cows too thin to breed. It does happen, however, and early weaning of calves at six to eight weeks of age is an effective way to get high rebreeding rates, even in very thin cows. Although early weaning is certainly not advocated for all producers all of the time, it can provide an attractive alternative in certain situations such as drought, when large amounts of purchased forage would be necessary to maintain a cow herd through to normal weaning time or when cows are already too thin to rebreed. Studies at Oklahoma State University show that early-weaned calves can be efficiently raised to a normal weaning weight with minimal labor and facilities. The procedure used at OSU is outlined here.
Why Early Weaning Works: Lactation roughly doubles the daily energy and protein requirement for a typical beef cow. Removing the calf at six to eight weeks into lactation obviously reduces the quantity and quality of forage needed to maintain the cow herd. Reasons for improved rebreeding after early weaning involve more than nutrition, however. Research has shown that the removal of the nursing calf and therefore the removal of stimuli of the nerves in the udder causes hormonal changes in the cows that allow estrus cycles to begin. Estrus activity can then be induced in cows too thin to cycle while still suckling a calf.
Age for Early Weaning: In order to maintain a 365 day calving interval, calves should be early weaned at less than 80 days of age. About 40 days of age may be a practical minimum for early weaning in beef herds. Calves at least 40 days old do not require milk replacers in the ration and are old enough to eat dry feed. Since smaller and younger calves may have difficulty competing for feed and water, the age range in any given group of early-weaned calves should be kept as narrow as possible.
Managing the Early Weaned Calf: The procedures described in this section were developed from three studies conducted at the Range Cow Research Center at Oklahoma State University. Two studies were conducted with spring-born calves early weaned in April and May while the third study involved fall-born calves early weaned in December.
The most critical time is the first two weeks after early weaning. Calves must overcome the stress of weaning and learn to eat feed very quickly. However, with good management to reduce stress and to provide palatable feed, early weaning is not as risky as might first be feared.
At the time of early weaning, all calves should be vaccinated for blackleg and malignant edema. Consult your veterinarian for other suggested vaccinations. It is probably a good idea to vaccinate two weeks prior to early weaning anyway because immunity will be established by weaning time and calves will not be subjected to the added stress associated with vaccines, injections and handling at weaning time. All calves not intended for breeding replacements or destined to "all-natural" programs could be implanted.
Calves should be first placed in a small pen with some type of shelter available. Small pens are preferred over larger lots because large lots or traps encourage fence walking and make it more difficult for calves to find feed and water. The feed bunk and water source need to be easily accessible and recognizable.
Previously, the OSU early weaning program utilized three weaning rations starting with a high concentrate ration for the first few days when feed intake is very low. More research has shown that performance is better when a single ration is used throughout. This also makes management of the program much easier. Example rations for early-weaned calves can be found in the Oklahoma State University Fact Sheet ANSI-3031, "Nutrition and Management Considerations for Preconditioning Home Raised Beef Calves." The URL is: http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-1957/ANSI-3031web.pdf. Look specifically at Table 3 in this fact sheet.
Expect Improvements in Cow Performance: Early weaning increased conception rates of very thin first-calf heifers from 50 percent to 97 percent and shortened the days to first estrus by 17 days. The mature cows were judged to be in moderate condition. All the early weaned cows rebred; while only 81 percent of the cows that raised calves rebred. Many of the cows cycled within three days of early weaning, indicating that extra bull power may be needed for a few days following early weaning.
As expected, heifers and cows whose calves were weaned early were heavier at normal weighing time than were those cows and heifers that raised calves. Since these cows are in better condition, they should require less supplemental feed during the following winter. This factor will need to be considered in the budgeting of an early weaning program.
"Fence row to fence row" Redux - Dr. Roy Burris, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky
In 1972, after a massive grain sale to the Soviet Union which exhausted grain stores and drove prices up, Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz exhorted grain farmers to "plant fence row to fence row". Now as Yogi Berra would say "it's deja vu all over again".
Cattle numbers are now being pushed downward by several factors - aging producers, high input costs, urban sprawl and competition with grain crops for marginal land as grain farmers go "fence row to fence row". High cash rent from grain farmers, as a consequence of high corn price, is taking a lot of marginal land out of beef production again. If it was actually "fence row to fence row" that might not be too bad but fences are usually the first thing to go. Those acres won't likely go back into grassland any time soon.
I can understand why folks are taking a couple hundred dollars per acre or more for cash rent with no risk. We don't always do that well with our cow-calf operations but a lot of this land belongs in grassland agriculture. I would hate to see our topsoil be washed down the Mississippi River. "Sodbuster" regulations protect highly erodible land but it may eventually be left to our environmental consciousness to protect a lot of marginal land.
Okay, enough of that. What effect will these high grain prices and high cash rent have on the cattle business? Holding the beef cow inventory down should help keep cattle prices up. That's the good news but what about those high input costs?
If grain prices continue upward, we could see a time when cattle can't compete for grain on the world market. It will be, so to speak, "off the table". Beef cows would likely be relegated to consuming forage, grain by-products and alternative feeds - like out-date produce from the human market - things that humans don't consume.
What does that mean? Cows must become more efficient on forage and by-products. We may not have corn to cover up our deficiencies. That is doable. We should "keep the rumen in the ruminant" anyway. Cow-calf producers must focus on efficiency - not maximum cow size or calf weight.
But what about the feedlots? They have to have corn don't they? The prevailing wisdom says yes - for performance, marbling, fat color, etc. I think that mentality may actually hold us back.
We are entering into Aldous Huxley's "brave new world" and a truly global economy but we can survive - maybe even thrive. How would we improve traits such as marbling without corn? I know that you are thinking "identify those animals which possess those favorable genes and select for them." Maybe. Although, I think that we will soon be able to identify materials (feedstuffs) which will "turn on" (upregulate) or "turn-off" (down regulate) existing genes which control traits of which we are concerned. What if you could even "turn-off" the cancer gene in humans? You see, selection isn't an option in that case. It is mind boggling but possible.
The only thing that keeps us from accomplishing these possibilities - is lack of support for agricultural research. We have to keep positioning ourselves for the future. As any good "wing shooter" (hunter) will tell you - you don't aim where the bird is, you aim where it's going to be.
A lot of factors impact grain prices, though. What happens if subsidies for ethanol production disappear? Grain prices could fall substantially and delay a change from heavy grain feeding, but pressure from a growing world will eventually be a "game-changer". At any rate, beef producers should be concerned about economic efficiency in our cow herds and position our operations for the future - aim where we are going to be, not where we are now.
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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Fairfield County Agriculture and Natural Resources