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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 # 785
May 16, 2012
Forage Focus: M&M Determines Hay Quality - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Wayne County and Crossroads EERA
There were quite a few acres of forages cut for hay in the past week. Hay quality is determined by M&M, and I don't mean the candy. In this case M&M stand for maturity and moisture content. Maturity is the single biggest factor that determines hay quality. In both cool and warm season forages, across grass and legume species, quality declines rapidly as the plant matures. Quality measures include crude protein, energy content, and fiber content. As the forage plant moves from vegetative to reproductive growth, crude protein and energy content decrease while fiber content increases. If high quality hay is the goal, then forages should be cut in the late vegetative growth stage.
Most beef cattle operations do not need dairy quality hay. Good quality hay for most beef cattle operations can be made by cutting grass forage at the boot to early heading stage or growth. The University of Kentucky fact sheet entitled "Quality Hay Production" lists the value of fescue cut at the late boot to early head stage as 14% crude protein and 68% digestibility (TDN). When that forage is allowed to continue to mature and is cut at the seed formation stage, quality declines to 7.5% crude protein and a 56% digestibility (TDN). Unfortunately, hay production at the seed formation stage of growth is common for much of our first cutting hay. Regardless of the forage quality at the time it is cut, that quality will be lower by the time it is baled due to wilting and harvesting dry matter loss.
This brings us to the other "M" factor, which moisture. Forage plants continue to respire after they are cut until their moisture level falls below 40 percent. This respiration results in dry matter loss that typically averages 5 to 6 percent. Another quality loss associated with moisture is handling. Baling and raking are responsible for additional quality losses. The more that cut forage is raked or tedded after it has dried to below 40% moisture, the higher the dry matter losses become. Baling and raking can account for 10 to 25% dry matter loss, with an average loss of around 15%.
While baling at higher moisture contents can reduce the dry matter loss associated with mechanical handling of the forage, once the forage is in a baled form, moisture content is important to prevent losses associated with excessive heating. The general rule of thumb is that hay in small rectangular bales should be baled at less than 22% moisture and large round bales should be made at less than 18% moisture. If hay is baled above these moisture contents then additional dry matter is lost to excessive heating and mold production.
Evaluate Alfalfa Stands - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Wayne County and Crossroads EERA
Should I keep this alfalfa stand or rotate it to a different crop? This question comes up at this time of the year because often the farmer plans to harvest a first cutting and then, if the stand is questionable, there is still time to plant corn for silage. There are two basic methods that can be used to evaluate stand productivity. Evaluate the stand density in terms of plants per square foot or evaluate by counting the number of stems per square foot.
Older stands naturally have fewer plants per square foot, but older plants, if they are healthy, produce more stems as compared to a younger plant. Determine the number of plants per square foot immediately after a harvest or any time before a harvest. To evaluate a stand based on stems per square foot, the recommendation is to wait until there is at least 6 inches of growth. Regardless of the method used, sample at least 4-6 random areas within the field to arrive at a decision. Both of these methods assume that the objective is a pure or nearly pure stand of alfalfa.
Alfalfa stands that are over 3 years old should have a minimum of 6 plants per square foot to remain in production. In addition, it is a good idea to actually dig up the plants in some of the sampled areas and split the roots lengthwise to evaluate the health of the plants. In healthy stands, fewer than 30% of plants will show significant discoloration and rot in the crown and taproot. Healthy plants will have vigorous crown shoots distributed evenly around the crown. If over 50% of the plants show signs of root and crown rot, the stand should be rotated to another crop.
The guidelines for alfalfa stand evaluation based on counting the stems per square foot are: 1) greater than 54 stems: no yield reduction 2) 40 to 54 stems: keep the stand but expect some yield reduction and 3) less than 40 stems: consider replacing the stand because yield reduction is significant.
As noted earlier in this article, alfalfa is typically rotated into corn. Occasionally the question comes up regarding whether it is possible to plant alfalfa back into these old alfalfa stands to either thicken up the old stand or to start over with a new seeding. This is not a recommended agronomic practice due to autotoxicity potential. Autotoxicity of alfalfa is defined as an allelopathic effect that inhibits the germination of new alfalfa seedings and/or inhibits the root growth of new seedlings. The general recommendation is to rotate out of alfalfa for one growing season.
The 2012 growing season is providing an opportunity to evaluate marginal alfalfa stands now following a harvest. If the stand doesn't meet good production criteria, planting it to an annual crop like corn is still an option.
Alfalfa: Preharvest Glyphosate Application - Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County
Upon completing the alfalfa stand evaluation Rory discusses above, if you decide its time to replace an old stand after a first cutting harvest, don't forget that the label of many glyphosate products allows for a pre hay harvest application to kill the existing stand. The Ohio/Indiana Weed Control Guide recommends the following:
* Some glyphosate products can be used in declining alfalfa stands where crop destruction is desirable or acceptable. Table 24 in the Weed Control Guide contains a list of currently available glyphosate products.
* Mode of action: group 9 (see page 12-13 of the Weed Control Guide)
* A preharvest application will control annual and perennial weeds, and greatly improve control of alfalfa and perennial grasses compared to application after harvest.
* Apply in a spray volume of 3 to 10 gpa just prior to alfalfa harvest in spring or fall.
* Allow a minimum of 36 hours between application and harvest. Optimum harvest time is 3 to 7 days after application to maintain hay quality and maximize perennial control.
* The treated alfalfa can be fed to any livestock including lactating animals.
* If the field is planted to corn following alfalfa harvest, including atrazine in the preplant/preemergence herbicide program will aid in control of perennial grasses. Postemergence application of dicamba or dicamba + 2,4-D may be required for complete control of alfalfa in the corn.
Have You Seen This Weed Called Cressleaf Groundsel? - Stan Smith, PA Fairfield County OSU Extension
Some are asking how to kill it. Others want to know how to propagate it. Most are wondering what it is.
In recent years, groundsel - cressleaf which is a bi-annual and ragwort which is a very similar perennial - have become an increasing problem in minimum and no-till row crop fields and also aging hay fields with less than acceptable stands. This year due to the very early spring weather where many bi-annual and perennial plants got started two weeks or more ahead of normal, we've seen more throughout Ohio than perhaps ever before. Of significance to livestock producers is the fact that cressleaf groundsel is currently included in Ohio's Noxious Weed List due to its poisonous characteristics.
OSU Extension beef and sheep veterinarian Dr. Bill Shulaw tells us that under typical grazing conditions in Ohio, it is unlikely that animals will consume significant quantities of groundsel because of the availability of higher quality, more palatable forages. However, Shulaw says poisoning could result under unusual conditions, such as drought, where good quality forage is not available. Hay containing significant amounts of the plant may pose an even greater risk according to Shulaw.
Poisoning usually occurs as a result of consumption of the plants over several days to several months. Because the effect on the liver is cumulative, signs of poisoning can occur weeks to months after consumption of the plant ceases. The signs are directly attributable to liver degeneration and failure. Affected animals usually show depression and loss of appetite initially, and progress to neurological signs with head pressing, aimless walking, incoordination, and rectal straining.
In the OSU publication Cressleaf Groundsel the plant is described as a member of the Aster/Composite family. It goes by many other names, including butterweed, yellowtop, golden ragwort, and yellow ragwort. It has a winter annual life cycle, meaning that it emerges in the fall and flowers in the spring. Cressleaf groundsel reproduces only from seeds. Each plant produces many (probably 100's of thousands) seeds that are readily moved by wind currents. It grows well in many different environments including saturated soils.
Nearly all species of groundsel are considered potentially toxic plants because they contain compounds called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). These are metabolized in the liver to other compounds that are toxic, primarily to the liver cells. The PAs are found in the plant throughout the growing season but appear to be at their highest levels when the plant is in the bud to flower stage. The flowering portions of the plant and the youngest tissues generally contain the highest concentrations. PAs are not destroyed by the hay-making and curing process. Ensiling of forages may reduce the concentration of PAs, but will not entirely eliminate them. Sheep are considered more resistant to the effects of PAs than cattle and horses, and have been used in some areas to control the plant. However, sheep are susceptible to poisoning if they consume sufficient amounts.
For more information on identifying cressleaf groundsel, see OSU Bulletin 866 at this link: http://ohioline.osu.edu/b866/b866_12.html
For more information on management and control of the plant, go to this PDF version of the publication Cressleaf Groundsel: http://beef.osu.edu/library/Cressleaf.pdf
BQA Cattle Handling and Facilities Design Videos Released - John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator
The national beef checkoff's Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program recently released two educational videos addressing the topics of cattle handling and facilities design. These videos are geared towards cattle producers and quality assurance educators and address several important practices that cow-calf producers can utilize to improve production efficiencies and help produce a quality product.
The first of the two videos titled "BQA Cattle Handling Tips for Cow/Calf Producers" was created to demonstrate how to handle different types of cattle (bulls, cows, heifers, calves, and pairs) on cow/calf, stocker and seedstock operations. Experts take producers though different production settings and the changing cycle of a cattle operation to understand how the handler and the cattle react to these differing situations. The video is broken into several smaller segments that allow the viewer to focus on very specific handling situations.
The second of the video series titled "BQA Facilities Design", was created to help farmers, ranchers and cattle feeders of any size operation better understand how to properly design facilities to best suit their needs. Again, this video is broken into several segments to allow specific topics to be viewed.
These videos are an excellent example of how beef checkoff dollars are utilized to address producer and industry educational needs. These videos can be viewed at www.bqa.org . Once you are at the web site, click on the "Videos" tab at the top of the page then look for the "BQA Cow-Calf Handling Tips" and "BQA Facilities Design" titles on the left hand side of the page.
2012 Ohio Beef Enterprise Budgets - Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management
Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics
Newly updated OSU Extension Beef Enterprise Budgets for 2012 have been completed and posted to the Farm Management Website of the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics. Updated Enterprise Budgets can be viewed and downloaded from the following website: http://aede.osu.edu/programs/farmmanagement/budgets
Our enterprise budgets are compiled on downloadable Excel Spreadsheets that contain macros for ease of use. Users can input their own production and price levels to calculate their own numbers. Detailed footnotes are included to help explain methodologies used to obtain the budget numbers.
Authors of these beef budgets include Dr. Steve Boyles, Extension Beef Specialist; John Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator; David Dugan, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Brown, Adams and Highland Counties; Mike Estadt, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Pickaway County; Stan Smith, Extension Program Assistant, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Fairfield County; Jeff Fisher, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Pike County; Barry Ward, OSU Extension, Leader, Production Business Management; and Seth Wilkerson, Undergraduate Student, Agribusiness and Applied Economics, OSU Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics.
Short Run Adjustments to Changing Cattle Market Conditions - Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Economic principles provide guidance on how cattle producers should adjust production in response to wildly fluctuating output and input values. Most production decisions are issues of allocating resources and revolve around the following questions: What to produce? How much to produce? How to produce it? Though the question of what to produce and the general production system that determines how to produce may be largely fixed in the short run, changing market values for outputs and inputs mean that adjustments are necessary to maximize profits.
Taking the decision about what to produce as a given in the short run, the question of how much to produce depends on the value of the output. Most production processes are subject to diminishing returns, which mean that at some point additional inputs will result in less additional output than before. This means, for example, that cow-calf producers need to determine the optimal weaning weight of calves (or better yet, the optimal number of pounds of calf produced per cow exposed to bulls), which may not be the same as the maximum level of production. An obvious example is using creep feed to increase weaning weight. The question is whether the additional pounds are worth more than the cost of the creep feed. The same is true for genetics, nutrition, and health inputs. This principle also implies than when the value of the output increases, the optimal level of production also increases, all else being equal, and vice versa for decreased output value.
A similar principle applies to the use of inputs. Changes in the value (cost) of inputs imply changes in the optimal level of use of the input. For a given output value, input use should increase if input cost decreases and decrease if input cost increases. Following the earlier example, an increase in the cost of creep feed means that less creep feed should be used to maximize profits. In another example, higher fertilizer costs suggest less fertilizer use is optimal for a given forage value. Thus, higher fertilizer prices may mean using less total fertilizer and targeting use to those areas with the highest marginal productivity. The optimal level of input use is the point at which the value of additional output produced equals the cost of the additional input.
The final important economic principle is substitution of inputs when relative values change. As noted above, the production system may be fixed in the short run but there is usually some degree of flexibility to choose among various inputs. A common livestock example is choosing among alternative feed ingredients in a ration. Obviously, when one feed gets more expensive, it makes other feeds more attractive. As with the output and input decisions, it is relative values that matter. If one has a choice of two inputs and both double in price, then the optimal choice between them does not change but the optimal level of use of either one is reduced according to the previous discussion.
Each of the economic principles was stated in the context of "all else being equal" but, of course, all else is not equal. The question of optimal level of production and input use are more complicated when both input and output values are changing at the same time. This is the biggest challenge in today's market environment. Higher output prices suggest increased production but higher input costs suggest lower input use (and thus production) so the net decision is not obvious. Volatile input and output values mean that questions of optimal production are subject to frequent changes. You have to figure out what is optimal and then refigure it frequently as market condition change. One thing is clear; just because it used to work or you have always done something a certain way doesn't mean a thing in today's volatile markets.
Finally, this discussion started with the idea that the question of what to produce and the general production system used for production may be fixed in the short run. However, if changes in relative input or output values are permanent or very long term in nature, these questions should be revisited as those answers may change as well in the long run. In the cattle industry, questions of what, how much and how to produce are subject to short run adjustments and long run changes in cow-calf, stocker and feedlot sectors as we experience short run fluctuations and possibly long term changes in relative input and output values.
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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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Fairfield County Agriculture and Natural Resources