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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 579

March 19, 2008

Forage Focus: Early Season Pasture Management - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County

As we near the end of winter and move towards spring, many livestock producers are anxiously awaiting pasture green up and growth. However, due to last year's drought and short forage supplies, many of these same pastures were overgrazed and abused last fall. Remember that fall is a critical time for the forage plant to buildup and store carbohydrate root reserves. These carbohydrate reserves are used for initial plant growth in the spring until the plant has enough leaf tissue to sustain its own growth through photosynthesis. Plants that are overgrazed in the fall of the year must over winter with diminished carbohydrate root reserves. This can lead to plant death over the winter in severe cases, but most commonly slow spring green up and reduced growth rates or lower production are seen. In this article I want to look at 3 possible pasture scenarios and discuss some management options for each.

1) Pasture is thin with large bare areas: This might also be called the worst case scenario and for any livestock producer facing this scenario and absolutely needing early grazing because there is no more hay, this is a nightmare. Unfortunately I don't know of any great management options for this scenario.

It is possible that a small grain such as oats or wheat planted early, before mid-March if at all possible, could provide some grazing by mid to late April. There is very little information available about using small grains seeded in the early spring to provide spring grazing. In my search, I did find a couple of references to early spring planted oats in Kansas and Nebraska being recommended to provide spring grazing. The Nebraska article stated that oats planted by mid-March would provide oats 6 to 8 inches tall in 5 to 6 weeks. Recommended planting rates were 2 to 3 bushels an acre. Nitrogen should be applied at 30 to 60 pounds/acre. This should work for any of the small grains, but oats may respond best to the cool soil temperatures in early spring. The advantage of winter wheat seeded in the spring over oats is that the winter wheat will stay in vegetative growth, while the oats will go into reproductive growth and form a seed head. I would only advise trying this planting of a small grain for spring grazing where the pasture is in such bad shape that re-seeding is necessary and the producer can't wait for a typical cool season grass/legume seeding to get established before grazing. Even if this does provide some grazing in the late April through May period, a perennial grass/legume seeding will have to be done in late summer to re-establish a sod base.

If there are other spring forage options or spring pastures that can be utilized, then this type of pasture paddock should be seeded back into a perennial pasture mix. This should be done before mid-April to have the best chance of success. It takes a forage plant 6 to 8 weeks after germination to become established, so during this time livestock must be removed. Once plants have grown to a 6 to 8 inch height, a light, quick grazing that removes only the top couple of inches can be allowed. Subsequent grazing passes should follow the "take half - leave half" principle and allow enough time between grazing passes to allow the stand to re-grow to grazing height.

2) Overgrazing has weakened pasture plants but the sod base is still in moderately good shape, with few bare spots. Depending upon how "open" this sod is and how few the bare spots are, this could be a good candidate for frost seeding some clover seed into this pasture paddock. In our area, frost seeding generally should be done by mid-March. Consider rates of 8 lbs/acre for red clover and 2 lbs/acre for white clover. See the section on soil fertility later in this article. Another option would be to thicken up the stand by using a no-till drill. This increases the cost of the seeding, but insures better seed and soil contact and increases the chance of seeding success. It also provides a larger window of opportunity, as no-till seeding could be done until that mid-April time frame.

In order to allow the clover the opportunity to survive in a grass stand after it germinates, allow livestock to do several light grazing passes that eat down the grass plants without grazing the young clover plants. This will allow sunlight to get down to the young plants and help them to get established.

If sod thickness is satisfactory, and the goal is earlier spring growth, this is the spot for an early season nitrogen application. Early season nitrogen can lead to quicker growth and increased yields. Dr. Ray Smith, a University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist who spoke at the Ohio Forage and Grasslands Council Conference in Reynoldsburg in early February, addressed this topic. Research done at the University of Kentucky that looked at the spring growth response of tall fescue to top-dressed nitrogen demonstrated that early season forage production could be increased. An application of 40 pounds of nitrogen/acre in mid-March resulted in a 1.07 ton yield response compared to 0 nitrogen when yields were measured in mid-May. This figures out to almost 54 pounds of extra grass produced per pound of nitrogen applied. The yield response dropped off after the 40-lb/acre-application rate, so the biggest bang for the buck is up to this 40-lb/acre rate. Even at today's nitrogen prices, this is a paying proposition. At this return, if grass is worth $0.05/pound ($100/ton hay), the breakeven price (point at which expense = return) of nitrogen is $2.70/pound!

3) Pasture was not overgrazed, sod is thick and root system is healthy. If you have pastures in this condition after last year's drought, you are to be congratulated. Either you had very few livestock on lots of acres, or you did an excellent job of managing. On these paddocks continue to practice good rotational grazing management by holding to the take half, leave half principle and providing adequate rest periods before making another grazing pass.

I need to touch on a final point when discussing pasture management options and that is soil fertility. I'm going to include soil pH in this. Soil fertility is the base of forage production. Yes we have forage species that are better than others at tolerating low pH and low soil nutrient levels. However, there is a difference between tolerating and achieving maximum production. Good soil fertility produces better forage yields and offers better returns for your pasture management efforts. Aim for the following minimum soil fertility goals: soil pH > 6.0, soil phosphorus (P) of 15 ppm (grasses), or 25 ppm (legumes) and soil potassium (K) of 100 ppm or better depending upon your soil cation exchange capacity.

For more information about pasture management, renovation, reseeding or fertility, contact your local Ohio State University Extension office.

Fluid Therapy Keeps Calves Alive - Bethany Lovaas, DVM, University of Minnesota Beef Team

On many occasions, as a veterinarian, I receive the complaint that calves are dying of scours, in spite of the prescribed antibiotic therapy. My response to this scenario is…fluid therapy! In many cases, it is not the bug, be it virus, protozoa, or bacteria, which causes the death of the calf, but rather dehydration and acidemia (low blood pH) from the diarrhea. Calves have been snatched from the jaws of death by aggressive and effective fluid therapy.

A calf becomes dehydrated when losses are greater than intake, simply put, the volume of the scours is greater than the amount of milk the calf is nursing from its dam. When this happens, blood volume decreases and the calf has the potential to suffer from the effects of hypovolemia (low blood volume). One of the first of these effects, is lactic acid production by the muscles of the body, because they are not receiving adequate oxygen because there is not enough blood volume for normal circulation. Secondly, the kidneys require a constant supply of circulation, and if blood volume is low, circulation to the kidney may be hampered, and lead to kidney failure. Because the kidneys are an integral component to regulating acid/base balance in the body, failure of the kidneys also creates an increase in blood acidity (acidemia).

When a calf is scouring, there are not only losses of body fluid, but also significant loss of bicarbonate, which is the buffer in all mammalian systems. The body uses bicarb to keep the pH neutral. If too much bicarb is lost, the body loses its ability to regulate pH. Bicarb is utilized in the digestive tract to neutralize the acidic pH of the stomach contents as it passes into and through the small intestine. Typically the bicarb is resorbed and recycled as it passes into and through the large intestine. In cases of scours, the transit time through a large portion of the small intestine, and the entirety of the large intestine, is so fast that the body doesn't have time to resorb and recycle. Therefore, and very importantly, much of the calf's body supply of bicarb is lost in the feces. This leads to the fatal acidosis/acidemia that kills calves.

When instituting a fluid therapy protocol, the two main components are water and bicarb. How much of each should be administered will be addressed individually.

When determining how much water a calf needs, we must first get an estimate on how dehydrated it is. There are a few signs and tools that we can use effectively in the field. Observation of the calf's behavior and state of health are useful, as well as the 'skin tent'. A skin tent is performed by pulling the calf's hide on its neck, like you would for a subcutaneous injection. When the skin is let go, it should normally snap back down. However, in the case of a dehydrated animal, the skin will stay in the tent position for some time.

A comatose calf is in a state of severe dehydration and hypovolemic shock. This calf would be estimated at about 12% dehydrated. A calf that is depressed, has sunken in eyes, and a skin tent is estimated at 10% dehydrated. A calf that is somewhat depressed, still difficult to catch, and has a mild skin tent is estimated at 6% dehydrated.

Now that we have an estimation on hydration status, now we can determine how much water to administer to the calf. In the case of a 50 kg (100 lb) calf that is moderately (10%) dehydrated, we will need to replace 5 liters of fluid. This is the calf's fluid deficit. When designing a fluid therapy protocol, we must also consider maintenance fluids and on-going losses. Maintenance is usually approximately 50-100 ml/kg/day, which amounts to another 2.5-5 liters/day! On-going losses are harder to estimate, because it is difficult to determine the volume and frequency of the diarrhea. When the deficit, maintenance, and on-going losses are added together, a calf may require 8-11 liters of fluid in a 24 hour period. That's nearly 3 gallons! The important factor to keep in mind is that you cannot over-hydrate a calf, and when you think you've given too much, you might have given barely enough.

Aggressive fluid therapy means many treatments. If each treatment (typically tubing with an esophageal feeder) involves 2 liters, four to six treatments per day will suffice. The average calf's stomach can hold one gallon with ease, so treatments can be as little as an hour apart if necessary. A schedule can and should be developed over the course of a day or two, to get the calf back to a normal hydration status.

The other key factor to fluid therapy is correction of the acid/base imbalance. There are other electrolytes that are thrown off balance in a scours situation, so inclusion of a complete electrolyte supplement is a good idea.

Be very aware, when selecting electrolyte solutions, that some will not have sufficient bicarb, and can actually contribute more to the acidosis than they correct. Most of the correction can be accomplished by simply adding baking soda to the water that is being administered to the calf. The older the calf is, the more acidotic it is, and will require more baking soda to correct the acid/base imbalance. A recommendation of 2-4 tablespoons of baking soda in 2 liters of warm water works quite well.

In moderate to severe cases of scours, often the calf doesn't feel well enough to eat. Inclusion of an energy source is often beneficial. Corn syrup, sugar, or other highly and rapidly utilized energy sources will work. Milk replacer supplementation is also helpful, however, it is important not to mix the bicarb with the milk replacer, as the bicarb will neutralize the calf's stomach acid, and interfere with the normal digestion of the milk replacer. It is often best to wait 2 hours between treatments, the scouring calf is being treated with both bicarb and milk replacer.

Catalogs now available for Ohio Cattlemen's Association Seedstock Improvement Bull Sales

The Ohio Cattlemen's Association is hosting two Seedstock Improvement Bull Sales scheduled for April. The sales, scheduled for Friday, April 4 at Muskingum Livestock in Zanesville and Saturday, April 12 at Union Stock Yards Company in Hillsboro, offer an affordable way to buy bulls from multiple breeds in one location and on one day. Buyers have the assurance of buying bulls with known genetics, a completed vaccination regiment and a breeding soundness exam. This year there are 42 bulls consigned to the sale at Muskingum and 90 to the sale at Union Stock Yards.

Catalogs are now available for both sales at www.ohiocattle.org. The bulls in both sales range in age from one to five years and are all registered and have expected progeny differences. The bulls are placed in sale order based on a within breed evaluation star system using EPDs for birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight and milk. Many of the proven bulls available will have additional performance based information including offspring data. Breeds represented are Angus, Gelbvieh, Hereford, Maine-Anjou, Maine-Tainer, Limousin, Red Angus and Simmental.

For more information on the sales, visit www.ohiocattle.org and look under the Beef Improvement section or contact Bill Doig at the OCA office at 614-873-6736 or bdoig@ohiobeef.org.

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

Worth a mention: We all woke up to the news about Bear Sterns' troubles Monday morning. We'll have to wait and see what influence the fed moves will have on commodity futures this week. My colleague and friend, Carl German at the University of Delaware wrote a very good thought today. I agree with his thinking.

Credit Crunch May Lead to Commodity Market Meltdown: Over the weekend you may have heard news of the Bear Sterns bankruptcy and that they are being absorbed by J. P. Morgan. A commodity trader has suggested this morning that the credit crunch being felt throughout the economy could very well lead to commodity traders/speculative funds pulling back on the amount of money they have invested in the commodity markets. Carl German

LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) were mostly down on Monday. The APR'08LC contract closed at $89.225/cwt, off $1.275/cwt and $0.525/cwt lower than last Monday. JUNE'08LC futures were down $0.975/cwt at $89.975/cwt and $1.525/cwt lower than a week ago. The same fund liquidation action hit cattle that affected corn, soybeans, and wheat. Also affecting meats were worries that consumers will start looking for cheaper meat protein because of the down-trending economy. This liquidation is mostly because of longs getting out of the markets, as noted by the decrease in open interest in the nearby contract months. Fundamental forces are finally shaking the markets awake because of the scarcity of fund capital. Higher boxed beef prices were supportive as USDA on Monday put the choice beef cutout at $142.45/cwt, up $0.50/cwt. Packers had their fill. According to HedegersEdbe.com, packers were losing an estimated $27.90/head, buying cattle at buying cattle an average $90.25/cwt vs. a breakeven price of $88.03/cwt. Analyst's guesses about what UDSA's Cattle on Feed report will show ranged from 97.1% - 111% of last year. Estimates for February marketings ranged from 97.6% - 103.2%. USDA's 5-area price for cash cattle were $0.25/cwt - $0.50/cwt lower at $89.85/cwt. Another negative factor for the market to consider is the rising price in fuel. It will cost more to ship cattle to processors therefore restricting what local buyers will offer. Cash sellers should sell cattle on any rally. It might be a good idea to price corn inputs toward the middle-to-end of the week.

FEEDER CATTLE at the CME were down on Monday. MAR'08FC futures closed at $99.100/cwt, off $0.200/cwt and $1.100/cwt lower than a week ago. This contract has lost $2.575/cwt in two weeks. MAY'08FC futures were down $1.300/cwt $103.825/cwt, off $3.00/cwt from last Monday and $5.700/cwt lower than two weeks ago. Feeders followed all the rest of the commodities but on short covering taking profits rather long liquidation stemming losses. Cash feeders were steady to $1.00/cwt lower in Oklahoma City. Live cattle and feeders were off despite lower corn prices. This too is due to the credit and liquidity crunch that hit all markets today. The latest CME Feeder Cattle Index for March 13 was placed at $100.24/cwt, up $0.07/cwt. It might be a good idea to price corn inputs later in the week. It is a good time to sell feeders if they are ready.

CORN on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) closed limit down across all contracts on Monday as expected. The MAy'08 contract finished at $5.392/bu, down 20.0˘/bu. The DEC'08 contract closed down 20.0˘/bu at $5.550/bu and 24.6˘/bu lower than a week ago. Speculators that had put all that bullish money in commodities began pulling it out today amid economic turmoil and a worldwide credit squeeze even as long range fundamentals continue to look good for corn prices. Oh well, funds pushed things up and now they will have an effect on the downside. That is the nature of their influence these days. A weaker dollar as gold went over $1,000.00/ounce and falling crude oil prices weighed on prices as well. Buyers were said to be running for cover, according to several floor sources in Chicago. The market will be looking for the clearer price picture based on fundamentals as it proceeds through the week. As credit financed positions leave the market it looks like corn will be going lower. If you have an opportunity to forward price any cash corn it certainly would be a very good idea to do so up to 30%-40% of this year's and the same amount on next year's crop. Even though a little pricey, buying a put option wouldn't be a bad idea either. A $5.00/bu put option cost 45.0˘/bu at closing and may well be worth it.

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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