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OSU Extension BEEF Team

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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 886

May 21, 2014

Forage Focus: Hay Making Strategies - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator Wayne County

On Monday, May 12, I was out in a pasture field and noticed some orchardgrass seed heads beginning to emerge. The appearance of seed heads is associated with increasing fiber content and decreased forage quality. This means that livestock producers who need high quality forage, dairy producers for example, now have the added pressure of juggling crop planting decisions with forage harvesting decisions when the sun finally shines and the soil dries enough to get machinery on it.

Last week in this newsletter, OSU Extension forage specialist Mark Sulc wrote: "A timely first and second cutting is critical for high quality forage. Fiber accumulates faster in the first two growth cycles in May and June than it does later in the summer." In the May issue of "Forage News" from the University of Kentucky, the authors provided an example of how quickly forage quality can decline in a first harvest forage. They used a study that looked at the effect of stage of maturity of fescue hay on quality and animal performance. Measurements were taken at the boot stage on May 3, the early bloom stage on May 14 and the early milk seed formation stage on May 25. Crude protein declined from 14% on May 3 to 10% on May 14 to 7.5% on May 25. Percent digestibility went from 68 to 66 to 56 per cent over the same time period. The impact of forage quality on animal performance was measured in terms of pounds of gain per day. The May 3 hay produced 1.4 pounds of gain/day, the May 14 hay 0.97 pounds/day and the May 25 hay 0.42 pounds/day.

In addition to quality losses associated with forage maturation, there are losses associated with trying to dry forage down to baling moisture. Dry hay production requires that forage is baled at the correct moisture. Those moisture guidelines are: small square bales at 18-20%, large round bales at 15% and large rectangle bales at 13-15%. It is difficult to dry cut forage on wet soil and weather forecasts at this time of year often include the chance of rain that limits drying time. A one inch rain on forage that is approaching dry hay moisture but still too wet to bale can result in dry matter losses of 8 to 17%, a crude protein loss of almost 2 percentage units, a loss of total digestible nutrients (TDN) of 7 percent and an increase in NDF fiber of approximately 6 percentage units.

What are some strategies that can be used to get hay cut, harvested and off the field sooner to minimize losses? Consider cutting a little higher. The increased stubble height can help to keep the cut forage off the wet soil. Keep swath widths as wide as possible to speed drying. For dry hay production systems consider the use of a preservative. Preservatives allow forage to be baled at higher moisture content, saving some hours that can make the difference between a crop getting rained on or harvested and stored without rain. The most effective preservatives are propionic acid based. They work best between moisture levels of 20 to 25%. Other important factors for success include using enough product and getting uniform application on the forage as it is running through the baler.

Another strategy that is useful when drying time is limited is to consider the option of baleage. Baleage involves harvest when the cut forage has wilted but is still high in moisture; in the 45 to 60% moisture range or 40 to 55% dry matter. In order for this to be successful the forage must be baled and wrapped in plastic to create an anaerobic environment where an ensiling process can occur. Anaerobic microorganisms will ferment some of the forage carbohydrates to lactic acid which inhibits the growth of forage spoiling organisms and preserves the quality of the forage. Key factors to baleage production include baling at an optimum moisture of 50%, making tight bales to exclude oxygen pockets, wrapping the bales in plastic within 12 hours of baling (immediately after baling is best) and providing enough plastic thickness to keep out air and provide an anaerobic environment. In general, at least 4 wraps of 1.5 mil plastic is recommended.

Throughout this article moisture content has been mentioned numerous times as an important factor in hay production. Certainly years of experience are useful in gauging forage moisture but if you really need to know forage moisture the microwave oven method is still one of the quickest, least expensive and easiest methods available. It involves grabbing a representative forage sample and chopping or cutting it into short lengths of less than 1 inch. Next weigh out100 to 200 grams (3.5 to 7.0 ounces) and spread it out in a microwave safe plate. Heat the sample for a minute and re-weigh. Shake and re-distribute the sample on the plate and heat for another 45 seconds to one minute. Repeat this heating and re-weighing process until the sample stabilizes and does not decrease in weight between cycles. Be careful as you approach the end point to avoid charring or burning the sample and adjust heating times accordingly. The moisture content is equal to the beginning weight minus the end weight divided by the beginning weight. A fact sheet on this method is available under this link.

EDITOR's NOTE: A couple of years ago at the Buckeye Shepherds Symposium, Dr. Bill Weiss of the OSU Animal Science Department gave a presentation on making and storing forages for ruminants. It covered nearly all the considerations when harvesting and storing forages in order to maintain the highest quality possible. That 45 minute presentation is linked here and I think you will agree that viewing it is time well spent: http://go.osu.edu/storingforages

When to Castrate Calves Could Affect Weight Later On - Stacy Campbell, Extension Agent, Ellis County Kansas

Time always is a precious commodity, not to mention having the necessary labor available to work cattle before taking cow-calf pairs to pasture. In the case of castrating bull calves at an early age, what happens if you don't get that done at an early age, say before pasture turn-out, does it really affect the bottom line?

The 2008 National Animal Health Monitoring System data indicates 77 percent of bull calves in the U.S. are castrated before marketing, and 75 percent of those are castrated before 3 months of age. With regard to age at castration, does the science support this timing or should we delay castration of bulls to gain some additional weight?

Virtually every study indicates a bull calf will outweigh a non-implanted steer calf. But what happens if we castrate that bull at weaning or even months later?

There have been hundreds of studies looking at everything from stress to muscle tenderness. If you want to prove something, you can find at least one study that will support your bias. But what happens when we combine the studies to make best management practice recommendations?

In case studies that compare implanted steers to intact bulls at weaning show no difference in weaning weight. Low-dose implants given at 2 to 4 months of age are one of the most undersued technologies in the beef industry. This suckling implant will add approximately 20 pounds to calf-weaning weight.

Calves castrated (surgically, banded or emasculated) at or after weaning show increased stress, sickness and death loss. This becomes not only a financial issue -- less profit for the cattle owner -- but an animal-welfare issue.

Calves castrated after weaning have increased gain up until the time of castration. But when compared to calves castrated at less than 3 months of age, those castrated late in life weigh 20 pounds less at slaughter and are marketed 12 days later than those castrated early in life. Although a bull weighs more than a steer (non-implanted) at weaning, the stress of castration at this later age sets the calf back, and he never catches up.

There seems to be no difference in using a rubber band or a knife to castrate calves less than three days of age. If you've never banded a baby calf, be sure you "count to two" before securing the band. Your veterinarian might say some unkind words if he has to peel a testicle away from the scar tissue that is around that retained testicle some months later.

In an ideal world, a calf would be castrated after a full belly of colostrum is ingested, but I know how hard they can be to catch at 24 hours of age.

Calves castrated before three months of age show no differences in performance, health and carcass traits to calves castrated soon after birth.

A bull calf has a relatively modest increase in testosterone production up until approximately 7 months of age, so the "testosterone advantage" is minimal up to that point. The negatives of castrating late nearly always outweigh this minor benefit.

Bulls castrated weighing more than 500 pounds tend to have less marbling than bulls cut earlier. Beef tenderness ratings also decrease the heavier bulls are at time of castration. This becomes quite pronounced for bulls weighing more than 900 pounds at time of castration.

Bull calves are and should be discounted at feeder auctions. A 500-pound bull will sell at a $5 to $7/cwt. discount to his 500-pound steer mate. As bulls get heavier, the discount increases even more.

Castration of bull calves soon after birth is ideal in terms of physiology (lower stress). It also results in improved animal welfare, improved health and gain in the feedlot, and enhanced marbling and tenderness compared to castration at or after weaning. Castration at less than 3 months of age is a reasonable alternative to castration soon after birth. Let's all strive for a 100-percent rating in the 2018 NAHMS study.

View the NAHMS Beef Cow-calf study results at aphis.usda.gov/

* Information provided by W. Mark Hilton, DVM, clinical associate professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University.

The Benefits of Estrous Synchronization - Brent Plugge, University of Nebraska Extension

No matter when you calve, controlling the breeding and the subsequent calving season has many benefits.

* A shortened calving season provides producers a better opportunity to offer improved management and observation of the cow herd, which should result in fewer losses at calving.

* Shortened calving periods also facilitates improvements in herd health and management such as uniformity in timing of vaccinations and routine management practices resulting in decreased labor requirements.

* Another benefit is that cow nutrition can be improved by grouping cows according to stage of gestation and feeding each group accordingly.

* An additional benefit is that the calf crop will be more uniform in age and size which can lead to an advantage in the market place.

Research on shortening the calving season: A large body of research shows that calves born in the first 21 days of the calving season will weigh more at weaning than those born during the second 21-day period.

Recent work from the University of Nebraska demonstrated this advantage. The research also showed the impacts of a shortened calving season beyond weaning. Calving records were collected between 2000 and 2008 at the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory near Whitman, Neb. These records were used to determine the effect of estrous synchronization on calving distribution and the impact of time of calving on carcass characteristics. More synchronized cows calved during the first 21 days compared to non-synchronized cows, and calves born to synchronized dams were heavier at weaning.

Calves born in the first 21 days of the calving season had greater carcass weights, marbling scores, and yield grades than later born calves. In addition, the percentage of steers grading premium choice or greater and the total carcass value declined as time of calving increased.

This University of Nebraska study, found in the 2010 Beef Cattle Report, shows that estrous synchronization with natural breeding resulted in cows giving birth earlier, and calves born earlier in the season were heavier at weaning and produced a heavier, more valuable carcass.

Estrous synchronization as a management tool: Estrous synchronization is one management tool to shorten and manage the breeding and calving season. Choosing an estrous synchronization system that can be used with artificial insemination or with natural breeding can be difficult as a number of protocols for synchronizing estrous are available.

Traditional protocols are designed to mimic or control the corpus luteum on the ovary.

New protocols have been designed to control ovulation and/or the follicular waves that occur on the ovary during the 21-day estrous cycle.

Estrus synchronization systems vary in cost, labor requirements, and effectiveness.

One consideration when choosing an estrus synchronization protocol is determining if sufficient labor and facilities are available to successfully implement the protocol. Do you have adequate facilities? Do you have enough labor to observe estrus and sort cows two or more times daily or do you need to use timed-insemination? Is a technician available and for how many days? If labor and technician time is limited chose a system suitable for timed-insemination. If labor and technicians are not a limiting factor, then you might consider an estrus synchronization system that is suitable for insemination after estrus is detected.

Another consideration is cost. Cost for estrus synchronization protocols can vary significantly. The cheaper systems typically require more labor and are less effective. It can also be argued that breeding after estrous detection or with a timed AI yield similar pregnancy rates, thus one difference in cost may be associated with the labor involved. This would of course be dependent upon what rate you charge the labor.

Beef Reproduction Task Force recommendations and tools: To help producers determine an effective estrous synchronization protocol the Beef Reproduction Task Force provides recommendations for estrus synchronization protocols. These recommendations are found at the website Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle. The Beef Reproduction Task Force is a multi-state extension group, whose objective is to provide timely information regarding applied reproductive strategies in beef cattle.

The protocols are updated annually and current recommendations can now be found on the site.

This site also has a free estrous synchronization planner which can be a useful tool to aid in planning your protocols. The Estrous Synchronization Planner is also available for mobile devices.

In all cases, be sure to use the correct synchronization product at the recommended time and follow Beef Quality Assurance practices when administering products.

With the breeding season quickly approaching, it is not too early to start the planning process.

Summer Stocker Cattle Returns - Matthew A. Diersen, Professor, Department of Economics, South Dakota State University

A look back at past price relationships during May sheds some light on the gross margin of running stockers. This spring the gross margin and feed costs have again changed suggesting implications for several different prices. In May a stocker can be purchased in South Dakota and turned out on grass or fed to gain 200 lbs. over a 4.5 month period. The sale value would be as a feeder-weight sold in September or the September feeder cattle futures price observed in May plus the basis for South Dakota. This May to September scenario is one of several followed to assess risk and rewards in the cattle complex.

The gross margin is calculated as the expected feeder price times 7.5 minus the spot stocker price times 5.5 with the basis assumed known with perfect foresight. The gross margin was only $135 per head as recently as 2009 and in 2013 was an unprecedented $292 per head. In 2014 the September feeder futures contract price averaged $183 during April while the stocker price averaged $226. Assuming basis equals the five-year average for September of $5 implies a gross margin for 2014 of $163 per head after rounding.

What explains the size of the gross margin? Historically, the gross margin and an equivalent feed cost were very closely related; feed costs explained over 90% of the variability in the margin. A ration of 13.5 bushels of corn and a ton of hay (as-fed) would be adequate to have the stocker gain 1.5 lbs. per day for 135 days (4.5 months). The cost of corn and hay can be found by using the NASS price during May for those commodities. From 1995 to 2012 there was a positive net margin after the implied feed cost in each year except 2003. The average net margin was $20 per head. Until a year ago, I thought I had found a rare, stable relationship among agricultural markets. In May of 2013 the price of corn was $6.87 per bushel and the price of hay was $241 per ton. That gave a feed cost of $334 per head, above the gross margin in 2013. In April of 2014, corn was $4.14 per bushel and hay was $127 per ton. That gave a feed cost of $183 per head, again running well above the gross margin. While the levels have moved together, the positive net margin has not returned.

The gross margin would also be the expected revenue from running stockers on grass. However, in recent years the midpoint of the spring grazing quotes for yearlings in South Dakota has been $17-$18 per head per month (from AMS), suggesting a very low feed outlay compared to other feed and relatively high net returns. In 2014, the midpoint was $25.50 per head per month, reducing such returns to the lowest level since 2006 and coming in at less than a fourth of the net returns available a year earlier.

There seem to be several aspects at work affecting the net margin. First, South Dakota calves may have had a higher value in other places during the past two years. If other locations have cheaper feed, then the relationship is reflecting high demand for stockers. Second, the quoted price of hay may not reflect the price or cost of the hay quality needed for growing a stocker. Alternatively, the quoted price may not reflect the transactions costs of hay. Third, the pasture quotes may not be reflecting the cost to run stockers or yearlings. The quotes may not reflect the cost of grazing provisions or transactions costs for stockers. I have heard variations of all three reasons during the past few years, and none preclude the rare, stable relationship from returning in the future.


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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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