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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 # 725

March 2, 2011

Ruminant Mineral Management - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA

At the second session of the Ohio Beef School, Francis Fluharty gave an in-depth presentation on management approaches to mineral supplementation. Francis is an OSU ruminant nutritionist and researcher located at OARDC in Wooster. Even though his presentation was geared towards beef cattle the principles he covered apply to all ruminant livestock, sheep and goats included. Important points that I took away from the presentation include mineral absorption, effects of mineral deficiencies, and some common mismanagement errors associated with mineral feeding. Let's look at each of these in a little more detail.

There are several important factors that affect mineral absorption. One of the most important is the source of the mineral. Oxide forms of minerals tend to be the cheapest minerals on the market. Francis said that with the exception of magnesium oxide, there is no other mineral that should ever be fed in the oxide form because of the low absorption of oxide minerals. Organic mineral forms, sometimes called chelated minerals have the highest absorption followed by sulfate (SO4) or carbonate (CO3) forms. Another factor that affects mineral absorption is interactions with other minerals. For example, high potassium reduces magnesium absorption, high levels of zinc reduce copper absorption and low copper levels reduce iron absorption. Grinding can help to increase mineral absorption. Finally, age and nutritional status of the animal will influence absorption. Young animals absorb minerals better than adults.

What happens if we do not provide minerals for our animals and/or minerals are deficient in the diet? Well, probably nothing as drastic as death of the animal. Hopefully it doesn't take something so drastic to get the attention of a livestock owner, but what is known is that sub clinical trace mineral deficiencies occur more frequently than what is actually recognized by livestock owners. A mineral deficiency or inadequate intake of minerals can result in such things as: reduced forage intake, lower reproductive efficiency, poor disease immunity, slower daily gains, and poorer feed conversion. Unless you are keeping records and tracking trends, none of these production factors may be obvious, and yet each one affects the profitability of your operation.

Francis went over some common mismanagement approaches to mineral feeding that I thought offered some excellent insight. He asked a series of questions that all began with; "Have you ever . . ." and included:

* "Cut" your mineral with salt?

* Switched to a cheaper mineral because cattle (or read sheep or goats) "rushed" your high-priced mineral?

* Claimed deer don't need minerals (as a rationale for why your livestock don't need minerals)

* Blamed a bull for not breeding your cows?

* Switched to salt blocks because they last longer?

* Wondered why feedlots don't have mineral deficiencies?

Francis spent some time describing the management error in each of these approaches and a thorough summary of all his comments is beyond the scope of this article, so I will highlight a couple of key points that struck me that are centered around the salt and amount of mineral consumed issues.

Anyone who has ever played around with adding salt to a mineral mix knows that the amount of salt has a significant impact on mineral intake. Francis said that salt is the only mineral that cattle (again think also sheep and goats) will try to control their intake of. The reason for adding salt, or switching to a cheaper mineral or switching to salt blocks is because the livestock owner thinks that his animals are over consuming minerals and increasing production costs excessively. Adding salt will decrease consumption. Francis said this is a management error. First and foremost, the goal of providing minerals is to get animals to consume the mineral. Consumption is a good thing. Second, Francis said that mineral consumption can vary not only daily but also seasonally. He advised regularly monitoring and recording mineral consumption plus recording the total number of animals over a year period of time before making statements about over consumption.

There are a couple of reasons for this monitoring and record keeping. If animals are being switched to a higher quality, more available or more readily absorbed mineral following a low quality mineral program, or possibly no mineral program, then the livestock owner must recognize that it can take up to 9 months for an animal to "catch up" from the deficiency created by that type of former mineral program. Secondly, take into account the fact that when a high quality mineral is offered, not only the adult, but also the young animals are consuming. Francis said that he had consulted with many cattlemen who complained about over consumption of mineral because they only figured in the number of adult cows when they did their calculations. Young stock (calves, kids, lambs) must be taken into account based on their percentage of the adult's weight. Multiply that additional weight by the expected mineral intake. You may very well find that there is not an over consumption issue.

Francis concluded his presentation by reminding livestock owners that often mineral deficiencies go undetected, resulting in decreased livestock performance. Mineral requirements change with the stage of production and environmental conditions. Minerals have complex interactions and mineral antagonisms exist, so that an unbalanced mineral program may also result in mineral deficiency. Finally, Francis said to remember that a mineral program is just one part of an overall farm management program. To review the entire two hour presentation first hand, you will find the recording of it under this link - simply click on "Playback" when the new page opens.

AgSight: No Speculators? No Thanks! - Nevil C. Speer, PhD, MBA, Western Kentucky University

"Food prices have sparked a media feeding frenzy of late." That observation from last month's AgSight stemmed from the seemingly unending stream of headlines about the current inflationary environment. Such widespread media attention is relatively new - the business surrounding agriculture and food production doesn't normally attract much attention. What isn't new is the finger pointing.

More specifically, the commodity run of late has revived long-standing accusations about speculators. They're the alleged culprits of higher prices and accused of unduly profiting from their respective commodity positions. Meanwhile, the rest of the world suffers the fallout - especially significant in the food arena.

That sentiment was on clear display at a recent meeting of international farm ministers in Berlin. The consortium collectively declaring that, "excessive price volatility and speculation on international agricultural markets might constitute a threat to food security." And some were individuals were harsher yet; for example French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire: "We don't want to accept this speculation on agricultural commodities, which . . . enriches a lot of people but which impoverishes the rest of the planet." In other words, speculator positions are "excessive" and circumvent underlying fundamentals.

It's one thing to hear foreign ag ministers condemn the role of speculators in the futures markets but it's another matter when a market regulator (Bart Chilton, Commissioner, CFTC) does so: "Some people are arguing that we are seeing 'delinked prices - prices 'delinked' from true demand and supply…I'm not an economist. I can't say what percentage is due to speculation. But it's easy to find evidence that they are having an impact." That's a troubling observation on a number of fronts.

The political rhetoric conveniently avoids market realities. One, futures markets are a zero-sum game: every contract mandates a buyer on one side and a seller on the other (yes, it's that simple). Hence, hand-wringing about speculative buying is a one-sided venture; there must be an equal value of willing sellers on the other side. Two, in light of simultaneous and balanced price agreements, it's impossible to assert whether speculators are actually driving the trend or simply chasing it. Lastly, speculators possess no association with the physical product. Therefore, the only means by which speculative buyers can impact the spot market is to take delivery and remove the physical product from the marketplace. Dr. Craig Pirrong (Professor of Finance and Energy Markets, Univ. Of Houston; streetwiseprofessor.com) summarizes futures markets like this (Regulation, Summer, 2010):

. . . even if speculation caused prices to go up, that does not necessarily imply that prices were too high as a result. It is possible that speculators recognized that prices were too low (given fundamental information) and that their buying moved prices to the right level…[and] although the speculator may buy, he is almost invariably a seller when a commodity futures contract nears delivery. This would suggest that even if his initial purchase drove up prices, his subsequent sale would drive down prices. Absent some (unexplained) asymmetry in price response to the speculator's purchases and sales, it is difficult to understand how his actions could affect the prices consumers pay and producers receive.

In other words, placing blame on one side of the equation (non-commercial longs) is misplaced.

As alluded above, none of this is really new. Historically, though, the assertions have arisen from the other direction. That is, speculators force prices lower (not higher) with producers being the casualties (not end-users). Charles Geist (Wheels of Fortune: The History of Speculation from Scandal to Respectability) cites a popular 1880's publication entitled, Seven Financial Conspiracies That Have Enslaved the American People. Geist explains the publication's theme was, ". . . to show how the average agrarian was at the mercy of the Wall Street crowd that cared only for money, not products." So either way, the speculator is to blame.

Food prices are driven, like any other market, by supply and demand. Markets work: higher prices occur because of relative scarcity fundamentals: tight supplies amidst strong demand and forecasts for the ongoing continuation of that trend propel the market higher. Simultaneously, price volatility is amplified as scarcity (or at least the perception thereof) becomes more extreme. Moreover, we work in a new reality; money flow occurs faster (24-hour, electronic trading) and with more breadth (globally, across all classes of assets) than ever - that makes for more active markets.

Reining in speculators seems politically expedient. But we live in complex times. Throwing darts becomes perilous when policy makers begin to advocate (and worse yet, actually believe) that speculators should be removed ag / food markets. Such a move would dismantle futures markets. Imagine what the world might look like a without market liquidity, price discovery and risk mitigation; not to mention the inability to establish pricing plans, attract new capital investment and stimulate innovation across the food business. The absence of those influences, facilitated by futures markets, would ultimately lead to less food production, availability and security - NOT the other way around. Taking speculators out of the mix would be devastating.

Forage Focus: Roundup Ready Alfalfa Available for Planting in 2011 - Dr. Mark Sulc, Forage Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the deregulation of Roundup Ready alfalfa after a 46 month environmental impact assessment process. The ruling means that U.S. farmers are free to proceed with planting the genetically altered alfalfa with no restrictions.

Opponents to this ruling have been vocal in their disapproval. They have voiced concerns that without any restrictions the biotech alfalfa will easily contaminate organic and conventional alfalfa seed production and increase the occurrence of glyphosate-resistant weeds. Based on their response, further court battles over this product may be in store.

Whether you agree or disagree with this decision, the fact remains that Roundup Ready alfalfa has been approved for planted this spring. For those considering use of this new technology, what factors should be considered? Where might Roundup Ready alfalfa be of benefit?

We know that good managers have been able to control weeds in alfalfa to acceptable levels with current herbicides and best management practices for years. We also know that glyphosate is effective on many types of weeds, so it adds another tool to the toolbox in the battle against weeds in alfalfa.

Glyphosate may be especially helpful during stand establishment because it causes less injury to seedling alfalfa than most other herbicides labeled for establishing that crop. So seedling stands of alfalfa should develop faster with less injury when glyphosate is used instead of other herbicides.

We participated in a 5-year study of Roundup Ready alfalfa conducted across 6 states from 2006 to 2010. At all locations, glyphosate was used to control weeds in the establishment year, and it did an excellent job of weed control with no crop injury. Controlling weeds with either glyphosate or alternative herbicides resulted in greater alfalfa yield and greater forage quality compared with not using herbicides. Controlling weeds increased crude protein content by 3 percentage units and decreased NDF by 3.8 units.

During the seeding year of our study, alfalfa yield was 0.44 ton/acre higher in the glyphosate treatment than in the alternative herbicide treatment, but total herbage yields and forage quality did not differ between the herbicide treatments. After the seeding year at nearly all locations, no herbicides were needed for weed control, even into the fifth year of the stands. The alfalfa stands were vigorous and provided sufficient competition to keep weeds from re-invading for the remainder of the studies.

Keep in mind that these studies were conducted with small plot equipment where wheel traffic was not an issue. Under normal farm production conditions, alfalfa stands tend to be weakened by wheel traffic, and weeds can re-invade sooner than under our experimental plot conditions. So glyphosate or other herbicides are more likely to be needed to manage weed competition as the stand ages under farm production conditions. The Roundup Ready technology will be useful in those situations, especially where troublesome perennial weeds take hold later in the life of the stand. Examples of such perennial weeds include thistles, curly dock, and dandelions. Winter annual weeds can also be controlled well by glyphosate.

Roundup Ready alfalfa is being marketed by several companies. Based on variety testing results from trials established in 2006 before the ban on Roundup Ready alfalfa, the yield potential of Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties compared very well with conventional elite alfalfa varieties.

Roundup Ready seed will be more expensive, so the benefits and need for glyphosate for weed control in your situation should be weighed against the extra seed cost to use this technology.

Roundup Ready alfalfa should be grown judiciously because of the risk of developing glyphosate-tolerant weeds. Resistant weeds are likely to develop more rapidly if we use, and only use, glyphosate on all crops. Just as crop rotation is important, so is rotation of herbicide chemistries. In addition, some customers won't buy genetically engineered crops, so you need to know what your customers will accept.

Roundup Ready alfalfa will be a useful technology for some people but may not be for others. As genetically modified alfalfa use increases, we will learn whether the concerns regarding genetically modified organisms (GMO) contamination of conventional and organic alfalfa are valid and if they can be adequately addressed. I hope they can, because there are other GMO traits that potentially are very interesting for alfalfa producers. A good example is the development of alfalfa varieties with lower lignin, which are already being developed and have been shown to result in greater milk production in lactating dairy cows.

In summary, Roundup Ready alfalfa is here. If you decide to use this new technology, use it wisely as part of an overall well-managed system.

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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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