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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 # 788
June 6, 2012
Establish High Reproduction Standards for Heifers - John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator
As we move into the month of June, most cow-calf producers are involved in some aspect of the breeding season. Some are winding down their breeding season while others are just getting started. Last year in the Ohio BEEF Cattle letter we discussed the significant merits of keeping a breeding season as short as possible ("The Shorter the Better!", Issue #735). The shorter calving season can apply to any herd but should absolutely be utilized in the specific production group known as replacement heifers.
Regardless if you are involved in seedstock or commercial cow-calf production, the lifeblood of any cow-calf operation is the replacement heifer. The replacement heifer represents the most commonly used method to add numbers and new genetics to a typical herd. It can be exciting as well as rewarding to add new genetics from proven cows in your herd or from outside purchases in the form of replacement heifers. If the replacement heifer is managed properly, she can be a tremendous asset to any herd. However, we need to maintain strict reproductive standards on these females for them to be positive additions to the herd.
Since we are in the midst of breeding season for most operations, little can be done to change how they have been developed to this point. The producer is dealing with the hand they've been dealt. How we manage them now from a reproductive standpoint can have a big impact on the overall reproductive performance of the herd today and for years to come.
A producer should expect excellent reproductive performance (90% + conception rates) from a properly developed heifer. If she is adequate in size (60-65% of mature weight at puberty), been involved in a sound health program, and has been exposed to a fertile bull or bred artificially with high quality semen, there is little reason that she should not become pregnant in a 60 - 90 day breeding season. Pregnancy status should be determined within 60 days after the conclusion of the breeding season through rectal examination, ultrasound, or available blood tests. The cost of a pregnancy examination or test is a very small investment that can save an operation many dollars compared to the costs of maintaining an open female.
It is difficult to make significant progress with reproductive performance through genetics as reproduction is a lowly heritable trait. However, selection pressure can be a very valuable tool in making progress with reproductive efficiency. By removing sub-fertile heifers that do not conceive during the first breeding season and continuing this practice over time, a producer will eventually develop a herd with improved fertility. If they are difficult to breed as yearlings, they will not become easier to get bred as mature cows!
Keeping the breeding season short has obvious advantages for management decisions relating to herd health, nutrition, reproduction, marketing, etc. Consider this significant impact of shortening the breeding season with heifers. Most folks would consider calving season with first-calf heifers a fairly stressful activity. They generally require more time and attention when compared to mature cows. Do you really want to extend the time period of calving out heifers next winter and spring? I don't believe you do.
Given the current prices seen in today's cattle markets, culling heifers with poor reproductive performance should not be a difficult decision. Open yearling heifers can be sold as heavy feeder cattle or fed a finishing ration for a short period and sold as market heifers. Open heifers are selling at a premium price compared to historic levels so take advantage of this marketing opportunity.
An experienced cow-calf producer once told me "You can love your wife, you can love your kids, just don't love your cows!" I believe that is pretty sound advice. Don't be afraid to cull those reproductively inefficient heifers early in life. It will pay dividends in the years to come.
Forage Focus: "Summer" Pasture Management has Begun! - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Wayne County and Crossroads EERA
Pasture is an important component for many livestock enterprises. Most of our common pasture forage species are classified as cool season species. This includes bluegrass, orchardgrass, tall fescue, brome, timothy, white clover and alsike clover. These forages grow best when there is adequate moisture, air temperatures in the 50 to 70 degree range and soil temperatures in the 50 to 65 degree range. I bring this up because our current weather pattern and the extended forecast are definitely not bringing about conditions for optimum production. In hot, dry conditions good pasture management is needed to keep cool season pastures productive.
When the weather is hot and dry it is critical that pastures not be overgrazed. In grazing schools we talk about the "take half, leave half" principle. In most cases, a good starting grazing height is 8 to10 inches of growth. Remove animals from a pasture paddock when average pasture forage height is about 4 inches. The remaining leaf area provides the "solar collector" surface that allows the photosynthetic process to keep going and to keep the plant growing.
Studies have demonstrated that the percentage of top growth removed is correlated with root mass and growth below the surface. When 50% of the top growth is removed the root mass and growth is only negatively impacted by a few percentage points. However if 60% of the top growth is removed, the root mass is reduced by about 50%, significantly impacting the regrowth of the plant as well as nutrient and water absorption. If 80% of the top growth is removed, the root system is shut down and essentially has to start growth all over.
In hot, dry weather leaving more plant cover is better. In addition to keeping the photosynthetic process going and the root system fully functioning, that leaf cover acts like a mulch to keep the soil temperature cooler and reduce moisture loss from the soil. This is important with cool season forage species when a few degrees difference in soil temperature could determine if the plant will go into dormancy or continue to grow.
Some pasture managers like to keep seed heads clipped off the grass plants to keep the plant in the vegetative state and produce higher quality forage. I have often seen pastures clipped off at 2 to 3 inches in height. During many of our typical springs with cool temperatures and good moisture the plant can handle this stress. However, in hot, dry times it is more important to keep the plant residue so pasture managers may want to tolerate some seed heads or clip high at around 5 inches.
Hot, dry weather leads to slower pasture growth. As grass growth slows down, the temptation is to speed up the pasture paddock rotation. Actually just the opposite is needed. When pasture growth slows down, pasture rotation must slow down to insure that each paddock has enough time to recover to a beginning grazing height of 8 to 10 inches. The only way that this can be accomplished without staying too long in a paddock and overgrazing that paddock is to have multiple pasture divisions or paddocks. To protect pastures and manage through hot, dry periods, the livestock owner needs at least 8 to 10 paddock divisions.
In order to keep cool season pastures productive the livestock manager must look ahead at pasture growth and keep an eye on extended weather forecasts. It isn't every year that we have to talk about mid-summer pasture management in May, but this year is proving to be anything but an average year.
EDITOR's NOTE: If you are interested in hearing more about how and why forages grow as they do, and the grazing management required to optimize their productivity, watch presentation #3 -"Understanding Forage Growth" - from the recent Ohio Grazing School presentations you'll find housed under this link.
Online Mortality Composting Certification - Amanda Meddles, OSU Extension Program Coordinator, Environmental Management, Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Composting livestock mortalities can be an efficient and inexpensive method of disposing of on-farm mortalities. Rendering facilities are becoming harder to come by and so are landfills that accept mortalities. Transportation costs are increasing as well. Composting offers a year round alternative that may be more cost effective than other disposal methods. Once the compost cycle is complete, the finished product can be land applied to the farm's fields as a nutrient resource.
To start composting livestock mortalities, one must complete a certification course taught by OSU Extension. This course teaches producers how to properly compost mortalities. It covers topics like where to place the compost site, how large of an area is needed, how to manage a pile to compost completely and efficiently, and the economics of composting mortalities compared to other disposal methods.
In the past, the only option for certification was to attend an in-person course that usually lasted around 2 hours. This worked well for the initial surge of participants when it was created over 15 years ago. But, now that many have become certified (over 4,400), the trainings are becoming more infrequent throughout the state. These courses are still available but are offered on an as needed basis, so producers may need to wait a few months before one is offered in the state.
Online Course: Due to the sporadic demand for this course, we have created an online course that Ohio farmers are able take when they have time and at a pace that is right for them. The same material is covered and a short quiz is used to test their understanding of the composting process.
To enroll in the online course, participants go to http://campus.extension.org and click on the "Agriculture & Animals" category. The course title, "Mortality Composting," with Amanda Meddles listed as the teacher is found towards the bottom of the page. The course fee is $17 and can be paid online at the time of enrollment.
Once enrolled, students can begin watching the lessons. There are 8 lessons that match the 8 chapters in the Mortality Composting manual. The total time needed to view all 8 lessons is 3 hours. The lessons can be view in one sitting or spread out over several days. Each lesson is a PowerPoint presentation with the presenter's voice recorded over it.
Once participants have viewed all of the lessons and feel comfortable with the material, they will be required to achieve an 80% score on the 25-question, multiple choice quiz. Participants have three opportunities to pass the quiz. A 24-hour window between attempts allows for ample time to review the materials. Questions are randomly chosen from a bank of 70 questions so some variation in each quiz attempt will occur. Upon passing the quiz, a certificate will be created with the student's name on it. This should be printed and kept for proof of successful completion.
The online mortality composting certification course is a convenient way for Ohio farmers to learn how to properly compost mortalities in an efficient, economical and sustainable way.
Spread The Word - FReSH Is Out! - Dee Jepsen, OSU Extension State Safety Leader
A new online resource is available to help answer farm safety and health questions. eXtension, a national research and educational based website supported by 74 land grant universities, has launched a website specifically for Farm Safety and Health (http://www.extension.org/farm_safety_and_health).
The new Community of Practice, Farm and Ranch eXtension for Safety and Health (acronym is FReSH), is a refreshing resource needed for today's farming population. Besides providing answers to frequently asked farm safety questions, this site also contains relevant articles on a variety of safety and health topics, and a calendar of farm safety events. "Our goal is to become a one stop clearinghouse for all agricultural safety and health information," said Aaron Yoder, a Community of Practice leader for this site.
Take time now to visit the site and see the variety of topics available and read several of the posted articles for this season. Go ahead and bookmark the site for quick reference to future questions that may come up throughout the year.
The leaders who have provided support for the Farm Safety and Health content include Linda Fetzer, Dennis Murphy, and Aaron Yoder of Pennsylvania State University; Richard Brozowski, University of Maine; Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri; Dee Jepsen, The Ohio State University; Carol Jones, Oklahoma State University; Michael Pate, Utah State University; Charles Schwab, Iowa State University; and John Myers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
eXtension is a national internet-based educational network that is integral to and complements the community-based Cooperative Extension System with 24/7/365 availability. Agriculture is a dangerous industry; this online resource is now available to serve the hard working men, women, and families with up-to-date safety and health materials to protect the most valuable assets: the farm workers.
Sorting Out Beef Production Data - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Cattle producers and market analysts alike are trying to sort out seemingly conflicted data on beef production to understand what to expect in the coming weeks. Year to date cattle slaughter is down 4.8 percent but feedlot marketings this year are down only slightly. Carcass weights are well above year ago levels despite near record feed costs that should minimize the incentives to hold cattle. Moreover, high proportions of current feedlot marketings are feeders placed at light weights which should also imply lighter finishing weights.
There are several factors affecting these apparent inconsistencies. The first thing to keep in mind is that we usually compare things to last year and things have been anything but normal for many months. For the coming months especially, the year ago values that we will be comparing to were greatly impacted by the drought so that the comparisons will be harder to interpret. Moreover, there are a variety of short term, medium term and long term factors that are influencing slaughter rand carcass weight data in a variety of ways.
Federally inspected cattle slaughter for the year to date is down 4.8 percent, however, feedlot marketings are down less than one percent for the year. The first thing is to account for the various slaughter classes. Cow slaughter has averaged about 17.6 percent of total slaughter since the mid-1980s. For the last four years, cow slaughter has made up 19 percent of total slaughter and in 2011, cow slaughter represented 20 percent of cattle slaughter. Cow slaughter will decrease this year, both in absolute terms and as a percent of total slaughter. For the year to date, cow slaughter is down 3.5 percent, despite the fact that dairy cow slaughter is up over 2 percent. Beef cow slaughter is falling and will fall dramatically in coming months compared to last year's drought elevated levels. Beef cow slaughter is down 8.6 percent for the year to date but down a more dramatic 17.4 percent in the last six weeks.
Another puzzle is the relationship between feedlot marketings and yearling slaughter data. Through April, combined steer and heifer slaughter is down 4.4 percent but feed but feedlot marketings for the same period were down less than one percent. The data increasingly imply structural change in the cattle feeding industry. For a number of years, fed marketings from feedlots over 1000 head capacity have averaged about 85 percent of yearling slaughter, meaning that roughly 15 percent of fed steer and heifer slaughter was originating from small feedlots. Over the past 9 months, this proportion has increased to over 87 percent, implying that more of the small feedlots are exiting and a higher proportion of yearling slaughter is coming from larger feedlots.
So far in 2012, beef production is down 2.9 percent as reduced slaughter has been partially offset by larger carcass weights. As with slaughter data, understanding carcass weights means looking beyond the average cattle carcass weights into the contribution of various classes of cattle in the slaughter mix. Cattle carcass weights have averaged 19 pounds heavier than last year and are currently 22 pounds above this same time last year. There are several reasons for the heavier carcass weights. First carcass weights are being compared to one year ago when cows made up the largest proportion of total slaughter in 25 years. Moreover, cow slaughter in 2011 included higher proportions of beef cows which have the lightest carcass weights. Reduced cow slaughter in 2012, along with fewer beef cow as a proportion of cow slaughter will help hold up average cattle carcass weights. Yearling carcass weights are also higher than last year, perhaps due in part to favorable weather conditions through the winter but also due to increasingly widespread use of beta agonist products in finishing. Beta agonists are fed at the end of the feedlot finishing phase and add additional weight that is no doubt pushing carcass weights higher.
Moving into the second half of the year, cow slaughter is expected to continue declining and yearling slaughter will begin to drop more sharply in the third quarter. Carcass weights are likely to stay above year ago levels but not enough to prevent beef production from falling. Overall, beef production is expected to end the year down over 3 percent from 2011 levels.
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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