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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

You may subscribe to the weekly Ohio BEEF Cattle letter by sending an e-mail to smith.263@osu.edu

Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 692

June 23, 2010

Don't Treat Breeding Season Like It's a Professional Sports Season - John F. Grimes, Extension Educator, Highland County, Ohio Valley EERA

If you think about it, there are some basic similarities between a beef operation's herd sires and a professional athlete. Both the sire and the athlete can be impressive physical specimens. Both are asked to perform at a high level during a specified time frame. Both can be very expensive to purchase and maintain! You may be able to think of other similarities but I believe this is where the comparisons can stop.

A major difference between the herd sire and the professional athlete is that their "season" should by no means be similar in length. Professional basketball and hockey begin their seasons in the fall and do not wrap up until the following June. Obviously, owners of these teams have vested financial interests in seeing their seasons last as long as possible. Longer seasons mean more ticket sales, concession sales, parking, media exposure, etc. which tends to improve the bottom line.

The concept of extending the season in order to increase profits definitely doesn't apply to beef cattle. Nearly one year ago in the Ohio BEEF Cattle letter, Dr. Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University's Extension Cattle Reproduction Specialist, asked the question "Why Have a Calving Season?" He provides some very sound economic arguments for having a calving season in the next two paragraphs.

One of the most asked questions in the cattle industry in the Southern United States: If I "pull" the bulls out for part of the year, won't I lose an opportunity to get a few calves? Should I leave the bull out with cows year-round? Here is the answer: A research analysis of 394 ranch observations from the Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico SPA (standardized performance analysis) data set provided insight into the age old argument about "leaving the bull out" or having a defined breeding season. Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M Agricultural Economists (Parker, et al) presented a paper at the 2004 Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists. They found a positive relationship between number of days of the breeding season and the production cost per hundredweight of calf weaned. Also they reported a negative relationship between number of days of the breeding season and pounds of calf weaned per cow per year.

The data suggested that for each day the breeding season was lengthened, the annual cost of producing a hundred pounds of weaned calf increased by 4.7 cents and pounds of calf weaned per cow per year decreased by 0.158 pounds. The range of breeding seasons in the data set was from extremely short (less than one month) to 365 days or continuous presence of the bull. The trend lines that resulted from the analysis of the data give us an opportunity to evaluate the economic importance of a defined breeding season. The producer that leaves the bull out year-round (365 days) would sell 45.82 fewer pounds of calf per cow per year on the average than producers with a 75 day breeding season. That same producer would have $13.63 greater costs per hundredweight of weaned calf than the producer that used a 75 day breeding season. In this era of cost/price squeezes, a well-defined breeding and calving season provides a better opportunity to survive the volatility of cattle prices and input costs.

Among the common reasons given for continuous or long calving seasons is the lack of facilities or willingness to separate the herd sire from the cows. I will admit that managing bulls outside of the breeding season is no easy task but it is worth the effort. While separate facilities for sires do not need to be extravagant, they must be substantial enough to safely keep the bull away from the rest of the herd. By separating the bull from the rest of the herd, a producer can do a better job of managing feed requirements, maintaining or improving body condition, reduce the chance of injuries to the bull, and allow for continued growth of bulls that have not reached maturity.

Now that we have established that year-round calving is not an economically sound decision, we have to consider the proper length of the breeding season. This answer will vary from operation to operation, but I believe in this discussion that SHORTER IS BETTER!!

Nearly every management decision associated with the cow herd is simplified with a shorter calving season. Herd health, nutritional, and reproductive management are much easier when all cows are in a similar stage of production. Restricting the breeding season to 60 to 90 days will produce a more uniform calf crop which enhances marketing opportunities. It is easier to match up your forage supply with the nutritional demands of your herd when all animals are in a similar production cycle. Vaccination programs are more effective when animals in the breeding herd are in a similar reproductive status.

A more concentrated calving season is important for the smaller or part-time producers who have major time restrictions in their daily lives. I don't know of any producer that enjoys the stress and worry of calving season over an extended period of time. This is especially true if calving season comes during inclement weather and you are away from the farm for long stretches of time during an average day.

A shorter calving season will eventually lead to greater efficiencies in reproduction rates. Cull cows that don't conceive within your given calving season and don't look back. Keep daughters of the cows that get bred early each calving season. If necessary, buy bred females that calve within your desired window to replace the open females. Implementation of these practices will certainly improve your herd's reproductive performance over time.

Forgiveness is an important virtue to have when dealing with your family. While they are sometimes treated as such, members of the breeding herd are not family members. Manage them for what they really are: a business asset that should perform at a high level within a specified period of time. Even for great athletes like Ken Griffey, Jr., there is a time to retire.

Forage Focus: To Bale, or Not to Bale - Victor Shelton, NRCS Grazing Specialist

The past week or so I've sure seen a lot of hay being cut; some even went through some wash cycles. I too had some down and had planned on baling it up in small bales until rainy looking weather made as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room of rocking chairs, so it quickly got rolled up. I think every producer stresses over making hay at least part of the time.

I'm often asked the questions, "to bale or not bale" or "should I put up hay or just buy what I need"? Good questions. I think everyone, no matter how efficient or type of grazing system, should have some hay on hand. It is your insurance plan; your contingency plan. Feeding less hay is a good thing though, at least it should be - meaning that you hopefully grazing more.

Smaller operations, especially ones with less than 15 cows or equivalents would have difficult time justifying owning hay equipment. That depreciating investment would probably be best spent on improving the grazing efficiency of the farm or on fertility. I have to be careful here not to step on toes - but I've seen people buying a lot of hay equipment so they can stop buying hay and perhaps even "sell" some hay. While they really could have gotten away from using very little hay, they have spent their money on iron and now try and mine their soils to help pay for that equipment...can you really sell that hay for enough to replace the nutrients and pay for labor and equipment? Not likely.

If you are in what I will refer to as a "building" stage of soil fertility - in other words, it still needs some, then you would be better off bringing in fertility, i.e., hay, than to remove it. This is somewhat true even if you are not selling it and utilizing it yourself, you are still most likely removing nutrients from where they are needed and moving them to a "feeding" area where they are already high. Moving those "feeding" areas around some will certainly help, still the more you can graze, the better. If fields are in that "building" stage, it is counterproductive to cut hay off it - no question. You are just removing and moving needed nutrients - especially phosphorus. Let's look at the cost for just a moment and compare it to grazing. If you look at nutrient removal between the two scenarios - grazing an orchardgrass/clover mix pasture or haying this same field…assuming the nutrients are actually present; the grazing cost of nutrient removal is about $2.50 per ton dry matter produced. Hay cost from nutrient removal with the same nutrient values is about $40 per ton assuming that no or minimal nitrogen was applied and most nitrogen was supplied by the legume. Still want to cut hay off that field? Smaller operations are almost always better off buying what hay they need. You don't have to fight the weather and you can actually shop around and buy good quality hay - often cheaper than you can raise it.

Except for some drought years, there is usually hay around to be bought. Plan ahead if you are going to be buying and if possible, visit the hayfield from which your hay will come ahead of time so you have a better idea of the quality. If purchasing hay already baled or sight unseen, request a hay analysis to make sure it is the quality needed to meet your livestock's nutritional needs just to make sure it really will beat "snowballs". If you are cutting hay, don't forget to get a soil test at least every 2-3 years and re-apply needed nutrients to grow more quality forage.

Enough on the hay thing . . . had several questions on mowing heights or clipping heights for pasture. Most tall cool-season grasses like tall fescues and orchardgrass would ideally be clipped right at leaf height removing present or emerging seed stems. If these have been grazed in a manner where the stand is very uneven, then slightly lower might in order to help to even out the stand and encourage under grazed areas. Perennial ryegrass, bluegrass and reed canarygrass would benefit from similar conditions, but of course will be shorter than the previously mentioned species to be best. Warm season grasses such as switchgrass or big bluestem should not be clipped closer than 6-8 inches from the ground, preferably higher.

I have to ask the question though, what is the reason for your mowing? If it is to improve or maintain quality - have at it-- just don't mow any shorter than necessary. If it is purely for aesthetics - you might be better off leaving it alone. Taller forages produce more live roots providing some drought insurance; can help to shade out some weeds; can provide for slightly cooler soils and maintain moisture which can promote more growth from cool season forages instead of less desirable plants and then the added benefit of some wildlife habitat. Fast grazing over a paddock while the seed heads are still in the milk stage or at least still green can top these paddocks just about as good and if you tread some forage into the ground in the process, that's ok too, it will be used to grow more. Quality drops as the plant matures, but a few seed heads is not that bad; cutting too short and then turning hot and dry is typically worse.

Keep on grazing

Pinkeye in Cattle: a Reason to Clip Pastures? - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA

Last year I wrote an article that considered the pros and cons of clipping pastures and that suggested it should not be a routine pasture management practice. That article appeared in the OSU Extension BEEF cattle letter and generated a number of responses from readers who made the case for clipping pastures based on reducing the incidence of pinkeye in cattle. Due to the reader response, Stan Smith, editor of the letter asked Dr. Bill Shulaw, OSU Extension Veterinarian to write an article about pinkeye and to address its relation to seedheads in pastures. Because we are now once again at that season, here is a reprint of Dr. Shulaw's article from the OSU Extension BEEF cattle letter, issue 641 from June 17, 2009.

Pinkeye, as it is usually named and defined in textbooks, is caused by a bacterial infection of the surface of the eyeball and the inner surfaces of the lids. Its technical name is infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (infectious=caused by an infecting organism; kerato=referring to the cornea of the eye; conjunctiv = referring to the pink tissues of the eyelids and the other soft red tissues of the eyeball; and "itis" = inflammation). The cause for this disease is usually given as the bacteria, Moraxella bovis. In recent years a couple of additional bacteria have been incriminated as causing pinkeye. Unfortunately, the bacteria that cause this disease are commonly carried by a few animals that show no signs of disease and serve to introduce it to a new herd when those animals are added to it or that keep the bacteria on the farm to expose a new group of susceptible animals to it. Most animals that recover from the disease clear the infection from their eye tissues; sometimes all of them do. The body's immune response is responsible for this and serves to help keep the animal from getting it again. This is why sometimes it appears in a cow herd with both cows and calves affected by it, but it eventually disappears by the end of the summer. If one or more carriers remain, it sometimes appears again the next year but usually only in the animals that weren't affected the previous year such as new calves or heifers housed at another location the previous year.

The presence of seed heads on tall stems does not, by itself, cause pinkeye. The presence of seed heads can be a factor causing some eye irritation as the cows and calves graze. Of course, so are dusts, pollen, strong sunlight, and face flies - all considered predisposing factors. But the causative bacteria have to be present, and at least a few non-immune animals have to be present, before the disease appears. And not all the predisposing factors have to be present to have the disease appear. Pinkeye in a non-grazing dairy herd can be a nightmare to deal with to which I can attest from personal experience; several times.

The disease often disappears from a herd after a couple of grazing seasons without any special preventive efforts like vaccination or pasture clipping. I suspect that this is caused by the eventual exposure and development of a good immune response by almost all the cows with the carrier cows eventually clearing the infection from their eyes. Unfortunately, there are several strains of Moraxella bovis out there, and it is a pretty safe bet that the available vaccines do not provide good protection for all of them. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see the disease reappear in a herd previously infected if new animals carrying a different strain are introduced or if the herd grazes close to another herd that has the disease. Face flies can carry the bacteria on their body for up to three days, and can transmit it between animals and between herds. The disease can also be spread cow-to-cow by close facial contact such as around feeders. The bacteria are in the tears. I have never seen any evidence to support that seed heads or other inanimate objects are involved in the spread of the disease from animal-to-animal, but the bacteria certainly are mechanically transmitted by flies, so I suppose it could occur in just the right circumstances.

Pinkeye demonstrates a well-known principle in infectious diseases. Disease usually occurs only when there is a susceptible host (in this case a non-immune cow), an infectious agent (Moraxella bovis for pinkeye), and environmental conditions that favor infection of the host (irritation of the eye to create tears that attract the flies and that favor the attachment of the bacteria to eye tissues). Infectious agents involved in many diseases are relatively common in most cattle herds, but disease isn't usually observed until the other two criteria are present. I have written about this concept in several past articles in the Ohio BEEF Cattle Letter especially in regard to calf scours. This is why management of animals and their environment to reduce the concentrations of infectious agents and the stresses on the animals is so important in the reduction of disease.

In Rory's thoughtful article, he presents some considerations for making the decision to clip or not to clip. If you are currently experiencing a pinkeye outbreak or if you are purchasing stocker calves from multiple sources for summer grazing, clipping pastures to remove irritating seed heads and stems may be helpful. If it really costs $15 per acre to clip pastures, I suspect that an equal amount of money spent on other pinkeye prevention strategies, such as not mixing groups of animals just before or during face fly season if carrier animals might be present, judicious vaccine use, and effective face fly control, might be more cost effective than pasture clipping for routine prevention of pinkeye.

Another reader's related question of Dr. Shulaw asked if vaccinations could effectively prevent pinkeye. Following is Dr. Shulaw's response:

There are multiple strains of Moraxella bovis in the US cattle population. This "strain" designation is based on the nature of the little hairs that project out of the bacteria called "pili". These structures allow the bacteria to attach to the eye so it can do its dirty work. Without them, it can't attach. The body's immune system responds to these pili as well as other components of the bacteria. If the immune response can correctly and efficiently target the pili, the bacteria can't attach and the disease is prevented. Vaccine manufacturers have improved vaccines significantly in the past 20 years by learning how to grow and harvest the bacteria so that the pili are expressed in the vaccine and stimulate a response. The "fly in the ointment", so to speak, is that there are more strains out there than we have vaccines for. If the body makes an immune response to pili in a vaccine that are different from those on the bacteria to which the animals are exposed, you likely won't get good protection. Since laboratory testing for the different strains isn't widely available, you don't know until you try a vaccine in the face of an exposure whether it is likely to help. To further complicate, the vaccines are given by injection and we are trying to stimulate a local response on the surface of the eye. This is called "mucosal immunity" and it is notoriously difficult to achieve with injectable vaccines. This may change in the future, but for all the diseases that occur on mucosal surfaces (like in the respiratory and GI tract), it is a problem to overcome. The currently available vaccines can be very helpful, but they are not always completely protective. There is a lot of research going on with this disease, especially in Australia and some here, because of the major economic losses it creates. Vaccines should always be administered according to manufacturer's directions and the timing should be such that the vaccine series is completed before typical pinkeye season by about 4-6 weeks to allow time for the maximal effect. This is especially important if you are using products that require, or even suggest, two doses in previously unvaccinated animals. Lastly, there is good evidence that modified live IBR vaccines, when administered during an outbreak of pinkeye, can make the problem worse so that should be avoided.

In the past decade or so diagnostic laboratories have found that at least two other bacteria may cause a disease that looks a lot like pinkeye. One is Branhamella ovis and the other is Mycoplasma bovoculi. Vaccine against Moraxella bovis doesn't do any good for these bacteria, and to my knowledge there are no vaccines for these bacteria. I received an email a couple of weeks ago from a veterinarian dealing with a stubborn herd problem where vaccine didn't seem to be helping. In those kinds of situations, it is always good to culture several typical eyes, before any treatment is given, and to perhaps take a small tissue biopsy to send to the diagnostic laboratory to see what kind of problem you are dealing with.

Weekly Roberts Agricultural Commodity Market Report - Mike Roberts, Commodity Marketing Agent, Virginia Tech

LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) closed up on Monday. JUNE'10LC futures were up $0.825/cwt at $90.125/cwt bu. The AUG'10LC contract closed at $89.325/cwt; up $1.125/cwt. The June contract expires next week and is considered in "lame-duck" trading status. The DOW had a good day in New York on news of the changes in how the Chinese yuan will be priced. This was a bullish influence on beef prices. Several floor sources said that last Friday's USDA cattle report was good for prices as it did not contain any bearish news. The report showed an increase in cattle placements for May but according to interviewed floor sources that was expected and taken into account during last Thursday's trading. Short covering and bullish discounts to last week's cash markets were also rallying influences. Spreading was noted as October futures were bought and June, August, and February were sold. Cash cattle last week sold around $91/cwt vs. $92.50-93/cwt week before last. USDA on Monday put the 5-area average for cash cattle at $91.02/cwt even though it was noted that there were not enough sales in any feeding region to establish an adequate market trend. The choice beef cutout was raised to $153.94/cwt; up $0.47/cwt and $0.77/cwt higher than a week ago. According to HedgersEdge.com, the average packer margin was raised $29.60/hd from last report to a positive $15.95/hd based on the average buy of $91.76/cwt vs. the average breakeven of $93.03/cwt.

FEEDER CATTLE at the CME closed higher on Monday. AUG'10FC futures closed at $111.700/cwt; up $1.525cwt. The OCT'10FC contract finished up $1.60/cwt at $111.550/cwt. Fat cattle influenced feeders higher and falling corn prices added to gains. Cash feeders were up $1/cwt by the end of last week. No prices or volume numbers were obtained from Oklahoma City today. The latest CME feeder cattle index was placed at 108.35; down 0.36 and 1.59 lower than last week at this time.

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