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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 540

June 6, 2007

It's Deja Vu . . . all over again!- Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension

In the words of old Yankee Hall of Famer number 8, Yogi Berra, it sure seems like deja vu all over again. Much of Ohio and many parts of the Midwest saw it in 1999, and 2002, and again in 2005 . . . significantly below normal precipitation in spring and early summer which set the stage for below normal production of hay and pasture.

After experiencing a very wet fall and winter, this year's 3 inch below normal precipitation in May was preceded by an extraordinary freeze in early April. All that adds up to what many are describing as only 30-60% of normal spring forage production.

The most recent USDA Ohio Crop Weather Highlights shows nearly three fourths of our top soils are short or very short on moisture. At the same time, at least 50% of our hay and pastures were rated as only "fair" or worse. Despite a tenth inch to as much as an inch of rain throughout Ohio during last weekend, it's unlikely we'll see compensatory forage growth that replaces what's already been lost. While the NOAA Drought Information Center is calling only the southern half of Ohio "Abnormally Dry" the recent above normal temperatures combined with the lack of timely precipitation has certainly taken it's toll on the cool season grasses and even the alfalfa. Adding insult to injury are feedgrain prices that have attracted some of our hay acres into corn production. But then Yogi probably said it best when he suggested "it ain't over til it's over" . . . and in this case, that means there's still time to MANAGE!!

All that being said, it's apparent that it's time to be considering the alternatives for managing around these poor producing pasture and hay fields. Certainly it's never too early in the summer to take a look at your forage and feed resources, and give some thought to alternatives that will hold you until cooler temperatures and timely rains return to Ohio. Consider some of these alternatives which will help best utilize limited resources:

Beginning below we are committing this week's letter to Forage Focus as we explore some of the alternatives mentioned above in more detail. If dry weather persists, look for more management suggestions in coming weeks. Also in the mean time, visit the OSU Extension "Drought '02" website at http://corn.osu.edu/drought02 for more detail on managing in times of expensive and limited feed supply.

Grazing Management in Dry Times - Jeff McCutcheon, Extension Educator, Knox County

Graziers with whom I have the privilege to work are concerned. Many are reporting 0.4" total rain for the month of May and the average temperature 10 degrees hotter than normal. This translates into grass growth slowing and even stopping, right in the peak production period for our cool season pastures. What is a grazier to do? Relax. Remember, we have been here before - dry periods are expected, but not enjoyed. Be sure to check out the drought information published in 2002 mentioned above if you don't believe me. Of course, if you just started managing grazing in the last two wet years, consider this a crucial part of your education. Many experienced graziers refer to it as the school of hard knocks.

Rotations need to slow down. Grass is growing slower, it takes longer to start regrowth after being grazed and it takes longer to reach optimum grazing mass (height) for the next grazing. The number of days grazing a paddock can be increased, as long as you do not over graze. The rest period needs to increase. For most graziers this means pulling more acreage into the rotation. Many use fields where they made first cutting hay. Another consideration is unused fields in your area. Every year I get calls from landowners looking for producers to mow their fields and take all the hay. They just want it mowed. Check around, many of these could easily be grazed.

Every grazier works to protect their perennial forage resource. Do not overgraze! Overgrazing is something we try to avoid in normal years, but critical in dry ones. Overgrazing during a drought can cause slower recovery when we do get rain, reduced productivity even longer after recovery and can cause stand loss.

During dry periods we need to be extremely protective of our residual. Residual is the term used for the amount of green forage left after grazing. Residual is an important aspect of managing grazing. In a dry year it becomes even more critical. The amount of residual has an effect on many things.

The amount of residual affects root growth. Many of you have seen the study from 1955 on leaf area removal and root growth. This data showed that at 50% leaf removal only 2% of the roots stopped growing. At 60% leaf removal 50% of the roots stopped growing. All of the roots stopped growing at 80% leaf removal. A healthy root system helps the plants survive the dry times. If more than 50% of the leaf area is removed then root growth stops. Root growth is used to capture more water and nutrients. At the very least this slows re-growth.

The amount of residual affects re-growth. Green leaves are needed to capture sunlight for photosynthesis. This creates the non-structural carbohydrates needed to fuel re-growth. Without enough leaf area the forages must fuel re-growth from their stored reserves. Growth fueled by the root reserves is slower than growth fueled from active photosynthesis.

The amount of residual affects water absorption by the soil. Grazing below 1200-1500 lbs./DM per acre or 2-3" will allow most of the rain that does come to run off and not be absorbed by the soil. A classic forage study from the 1930's shows the runoff results from a 10% slope where three inches of rain was applied through a sprinkler system over 90 minutes. Pasture grazed to 95% cover experienced a little over 10% runoff. Overgrazed pasture, 50% ground cover, lost 75% of the rain that was applied.

More leaf area means less water runoff. The more vegetative material you have will shade the soil and slow the movement of rain allowing the water to be absorbed by the soil.

When we consider grazing management during dry times remember that without rain pastures grow slower, and close grazing will compound the problem. Slow growth means the rest between grazing needs to be longer. Do not take more residual to allow for this rest. It may get to the point where you need to consider other options, like annual forages, supplemental feeding, and even penning the animals up and feeding them. If growth stops, the worst option would be to open up all of the gates letting animals overgraze the whole farm. Dry-lotting them may be the best option.

Is it Time to Consider Early Weaning? - Dr. Thomas B. Turner, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

For most beef producers with spring calving cow herds, summer is a time to focus on other things. It seems like the one season of the year when we can reduce the hours per week spent with the beef enterprise. Things appear to be okay and they probably are "okay" but are there potential profits being lost? Consider the following:

In summary, early weaning can increase calf weight significantly and decrease cow input. Therefore one could carry more cows on the same land and wean heavier calves with a smaller amount of feed to the calves.

Summer Annuals for Grazing - Jeff McCutcheon, Extension Educator, Knox County

It is the first of June and grass growth has slowed or stopped. You are grazing through your fields and considering your options. One option to consider is planting summer annuals for grazing in mid to late July.

If there is any land not planted in corn, we could still plant something that could be grazed in 45-60 days. Of course corn is a grass and could be grazed but that is a whole different subject. What options are there?

According to the Ohio Agronomy Guide, http://ohioline.osu.edu/b472/0008.html, we have the options of Sudangrass, Sorghum-Sudangrass and Millet.

Sudangrass is a fine-stemmed, leafy summer annual grass that can grow between three to eight-feet tall. It will regrow after grazing until a killing frost. Sudangrass usually contains lower levels of prussic acid and is usually lower yielding than the other sorghum family grasses. Do not feed to horses.

Sorghum-Sudangrass is a hybrid cross, although there are multiple varieties available. They resemble Sudangrass, but are generally taller, have larger stems and leaves, and are higher yielding. Sorghum-Sudangrass hybrids regrow after each grazing with proper environmental conditions. These can contain prussic acid. Brown mid rib varieties have shown higher animal preference and performance. Do not feed to horses.

Pearl Millet does not produce prussic acid. It tends to have smaller stems and more leaf than the Sorghum grasses. Pearl Millet regrows after each harvest, but not as rapidly as Sudangrass or Sorghum-Sudangrass hybrids. Fertilize all three according to soil test results similar to corn with a target of 100-150 bu. They can be no-tilled or broadcast into a prepared seed bed. Plant each at a rate between 25-30 lbs. to the acre. All of these summer annual grasses can be grazed or even cut for silage. These summer annuals should be grazed after they are 18-inches tall. Grazing earlier has concerns with prussic acid and will weaken the plants. Trampling and wastage will increase when grazing is delayed past the boot stage. Plants reach the grazeable height of 18 to 30 inches about six to eight weeks after planting. Rotational grazing or strip grazing management should be practiced. A high stocking density should be used to graze the grass down in less than 10 days. Clipping leftover stems down to 8 inches will improve forage quality for the next grazing period.

Another summer annual not mentioned in the Agronomy Guide is Teff. Teff is a summer annual grass from Ethiopia. It can grow well in low moisture conditions. It is a fine stem grass that can be grazed in about 50 days and re-grazed about 45 days after the first grazing. Plant it at a rate of 4-5 lbs. to the acre. Use 50 lbs. nitrogen as a starter. Check out the factsheet from Cornell University for more information: http://nmsp.css.cornell.edu/publications/factsheets/factsheet24.pdf

Eastern Cattle Price Trends - Brian Roe, Associate Professor, Dept. AED Economics, The Ohio State University

This month I am releasing an updated set of basis figures for Eastern Corn Belt cattle producers. Basis is the difference between the price that is meaningful to the producer, such as a local cash price, and the price that is used to determine the payout of a risk management tool, such as the futures price. Because risk management tools have expanded to include things such as USDA's Livestock Revenue Protection insurance policies, I include the difference between local cash prices and those prices used by USDA to determine if the payout for these revenue insurance policies.

For fed cattle the relevant price used by USDA is the 5-area cash price, which is a price for a typical load of 65% choice and 35% select cattle sold in 5 key western markets. I compare this price to eastern Pennsylvania fed cattle auction results for both Choice 2-3 steers and Select and Low Choice steers. For feeder cattle the relative price is the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's feeder cattle index price, which is a composite of prices for feeder steers weighing 700 to 850 pounds sold at sales and auctions throughout the country, though the majority of these are also from Missouri and further west. The local price I use is the Kentucky weekly auction and sales averages for 700 to 800 pound feeder steers.

By calculating these basis figures, which are available for half-month periods averaged over the 20002 - 2006 time period at http://aede.osu.edu/people/roe.30/livehome.htm, one can also look for trends in basis over time. Given the basis figures for USDA index numbers are against western-leaning prices, this analysis provides a view of regional price trends over time.

For example, in 2002 and 2003, a load of 65% Choice and 35% Select steers sold for $0.40 more, on average, in eastern Pennsylvania than it did out west. By 2005 and 2006, the average price out west was now about $1.50/cwt. more than that reported in eastern Pennsylvania. In other words, a 1200-pound steer sold in eastern Pennsylvania went from nearly a $5/head advantage to an $18/head disadvantage - more than a $20 swing in revenue per head. Note that these prices reflect auction prices in eastern Pennsylvania, which are not necessarily identical to the prices paid by key Pennsylvania packers, though these packers will sometimes bid at these auctions to fill needs.

While this seems like bad news to Eastern Corn Belt finishers who ship cattle east for sales and slaughter, one must look at the whole picture, which includes an analysis of price trends for feeder cattle. In 2002 and 2003, 700 to 800-pound feeder steers sourced from Kentucky auctions average about $4.50/cwt. less than the western-heavy CME feeder cattle index price. In 2005 and 2006 the average discount for feeders steers from Kentucky swelled to about $8.00/cwt. So, for a feedlot purchasing 750-pound feeder steers, this results in about a $3.50/cwt. relative improvement in the cost of sourcing feeder steers compared to the western average, which equals about $26/head. If the relative quality of reported Kentucky feeder steers has not changed over this time period, it suggests that Eastern Corn Belt feeders have been able to procure feeders relatively cheaper than their western counterparts over the past 6 years. In fact, the $18/head relative loss to the West lost on finished cattle may be more than offset by the $26/head relative reduction in costs of procuring feeder cattle.

This fact that there is a difference in relative prices between Kentucky feeder steer auction prices and western average prices is not too surprising given that the 5-state region (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky) holds more than 5% of the country's beef cows but only 4% of the cattle on feed - higher prices will be paid for feeder cattle nearer to the main feedlot action out west. The increase in this eastern discount over the past 6 year can partially be explained by the fact that these 5 states have added more beef cows (about 70,000) while the cattle on feed numbers in these states have remain static, though I'm not convinced this modest increase in beef cow numbers justifies the full decline in the eastern discount observed.

The other possible explanation for this larger eastern discount over the past 6 years is that the reported Kentucky prices may reflect a greater segmentation of the feeder cattle markets. In other words, higher quality feeder cattle may be not be sold through the marketing channels that show up in the typical Kentucky auction reports. Indeed, if the prices for local sales of feeder cattle are sliding compared to western markets, it means that cow calf producers must continue to document feeder cattle quality and delivery pens of cattle with desirable traits to the market place to offset the regional price decline. Iowa State researchers have documented that large premiums can be obtained through management steps such as pooling cattle into larger lot sizes and shipping cattle to sales with larger sales volumes (http://www.econ.iastate.edu/research/webpapers/paper_12683_06031.pdf). For example, delivering a pen of 75 cattle rather than 20 resulted in an average price increase of about $7/cwt at Iowa sales during the winter of 2005-06, while selling as sales with total sales of 3,000 head rather than 1,000 head would result in an average price increase of $5/cwt.

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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