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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 # 805
October 3, 2012
Rebuilding the Cowherd: Survival of the Fittest and Alternatives for Forages!- Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County
The U.S. beef cow numbers are at their lowest level in more than 50 years. Beef prices are at historical highs, and yet demand remains strong having continued to increase over the past three years. It sounds like the recipe for sustained profitability in the beef cattle industry for years to come.
That is, until we consider the recent drought and related factors' impact on input costs, and specifically the cost of feed. Yet a couple months ago in this publication - in the midst of the hottest, driest Ohio summer in more than 50 years - I suggested it was time to add cows and build the herd. I still do, especially if one is willing to look at some of the management tools that have not necessarily been considered 'traditional' in the past.
By now, you've already heard or read about all the various alternatives that might be available to either 'increase the feed, or reduce the need' for the limited forage and expensive concentrates we have available this year in Ohio. In fact, aren't the management strategies we've discussed this summer - both in Ohio and across the entire country - simply the same strategies astute cattlemen employ throughout both the good times, and also during those times that challenge even the best managers?
Think about all the management practices that have been discussed this summer in this publication, or in any of the various other publications you might have read. As you analyze it, you realize they are all simply the things that we talk about doing each and every year.
I won't list them all, but let me highlight a few:
Grazing management: leave some residual, and don't let them graze it too close: That's a management practice OSU Extension discusses at every Pasture Management class we host. It needs to happen regardless the weather!
Consider how alternative feeds might replace the traditional forages we'd prefer to feed: That's not a new concept. If an alternative feed such as distiller grains, gluten, wheat midds or even shelled corn is less expensive 'per pound of nutrient' than traditional forages and feed, should it really make a difference whether we're in a drought or not when it comes to working it into the ration?
Grow alternative annual or bi-annual forages on any acres that are available from July on into fall: This is an easy one. We talk about it every year regardless the weather. If you need/want more feed available late in the fall, oats could have been planted into those fields that were available such as wheat stubble or early harvested corn silage fields. If you prefer extra forage next spring, then plant cereal rye or annual ryegrass into those fields yet this fall.
I won't bore you here with all the examples we could discuss, but if you go to the "Drought 2012" page or our YouTube channel that you'll find linked at the OSU Extension Beef Team website (http://beef.osu.edu), nearly every alternative imaginable is listed. But, before I close, let me mention one more.
Pen them up and feed them before they - and, you can choose the answer to this one - before they eat the residual forage too close to the roots, while you stockpile fescue, or in some years to avoid trampling wet pastures: How many times have you heard it suggested you might want to pull them into the "drylot" so you could preserve the productivity of pasture, get them off fescue for breeding, or simply most efficiently feed this or that feed stuff? If you've subscribed to the Ohio BEEF Cattle letter since we began the publication in 1996 you've heard it each and every year. During the drought like years of 1998, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, and thus far in 2012, you heard it multiple times. If Ohio cattlemen are thrust into a situation where we must think about pulling cows from pasture and/or drylotting them each and every year, then perhaps it's time to think about preparing a facility where it might become a standard practice at some point during each year.
Over the years there have been a number of reasons that it was suggested a cow might be more efficiently fed and managed at strategic times of the year if moved to a drylot with a feeding pad. The most apparent one this summer was to preserve the life and productivity of a well managed pasture during the drought conditions we experienced again this year. However you likely recall we also discussed it during the record wet weather experienced in 2011.
How many times have we discussed the waste of increasingly valuable hay that remains in the bottom of inefficient bale feeders during the winter? A drylot would afford us the opportunity to process, blend, and efficiently bunk feed low or even high quality forages, supplement cow rations with lower cost alternative energy sources, and reduce the overall hay and pasture acreage required to keep a cow.
Even in a "good summer" we could likely find merit in bringing a cow to drylot at strategic times. If you're 'blessed' with a pasture base of primarily fescue, breeding season might be a prime example of that.
Perhaps the greatest reason to drylot a cow at strategic times is the additional value and productivity of Ohio's farm land that's realized when we grow something like corn versus hay or pasture. As land becomes increasingly valuable for the production of corn and soybeans across Ohio we must ask ourselves, "Can we continue to grow less than 3 tons of hay per acre on land that could just as easily produce 8 tons per acre of dry matter in the form of corn silage?" As you ponder that question, for more on drylotting cows, take a look at the Beef Team Library publication Drylot Beef Cow/Calf Production.
With all this being said, perhaps it's time to consider the overall economics of such a management practice, and the opportunities that drylotting at strategic times offers. After all, I contend that there really isn't such a thing as "drought management" but rather, it's simply "another day in the life." If it's a good way to manage cows in 'extreme' weather, then it's probably a good way to manage cows during 'normal' Ohio weather! In fact, maybe its good enough we could even add more cows profitably.
If you want to learn more about the options available to reduce the costs and increase the efficiencies of feeding the cow herd, plan to be in Mt. Vernon on November 13 at 7 p.m. Hosted by the Knox County Cattlemen's Association, Francis Fluharty will stretch your traditional comfort zone with his presentation, "Survival of the Fittest- Alternatives for Forages". If you're interested in being an integral part of an exciting and profitable future in Ohio's beef cattle industry, make your free reservation soon . . . seating is limited. Contact Troy Cooper, OSU Extension Educator in Knox County (740.397.0401 or firstname.lastname@example.org) for details and to reserve your seat.
Raising Someone Else's Calves - John F. Grimes, OSU Extension Beef Coordinator
The last couple of years have been some of the most eventful in memory for this nation's cow-calf industry. While feeder calf prices have been historically high during this time, input costs have escalated as well. Aggressive cattlemen have always tried to balance to the antagonistic mix of maximizing gross income from their calf crop while controlling input costs. The bottom line is that it has always been and continues to be a challenge to make a profit in the cow-calf business.
Cow-calf producers are constantly searching for new ways to add value to their calf crop. Efforts are made to use the best genetics available, provide balanced diets, implement sound health programs, and provide management history in order to attract potential buyers. Buyers can be found in different locations. Traditional livestock marketing outlets continue to set the standard for market price discovery. Satellite and internet sales open up more potential markets for the producer. Source- and background-verified cattle are seeing increased demand with potential customers.
However, I am going to suggest a less-traditional option for cow-calf producers looking to maximize the value of their calves. My recommendation is not to raise your own calves but to raise someone else's calves. This can be accomplished by using your cows as "foster" or "surrogate" mothers to raise calves for other producers. In this situation, a herd of commercial cows serves as a "Cooperator Herd" for another herd wanting to produce additional calves from a desirable female through embryo transfer.
Embryo transfer is the process of removing eggs from a superovulated donor and placing them into recipient cows. Beef seedstock producers have utilized embryo transfer for many years as a means to produce more calves from females with real or perceived higher monetary value. The first calf resulting from embryo transfer was born in 1951 and the first commercial embryo transfers in cattle were done in the early 1970's.
The recipient cow is the key component to any successful embryo transfer program. A good candidate for a recipient cow is one that possesses the following important traits: the ability to deliver calf easily; adequate milk production; good mothering ability; and excellent fertility. This sounds that the job qualifications for a good commercial cow, doesn't it? The perceived notion of the "ideal" recipient cow has evolved over the years but it generally comes down to these previously mentioned traits.
The utilization of the recipient cow by seedstock producers has evolved over time. Seedstock producers have typically used lower valued cows in their herd or purchased commercial cows to serve as recipients for eggs produced in the embryo transfer programs. As the beef seedstock industry has become more competitive over time, many producers have been unable to produce enough calves out of valuable cows within the constraints of their current land, labor, facility, and cow herd resources. Several years ago, a few innovative producers sought out commercial herds as a means to produce more calves from their genetically superior or valuable females.
For the commercial herd to become a successful "Cooperator Herd", the operator must be willing to utilize the same recommended production practices used by profitable operations combined with the same basic heat synchronization protocols used by the artificial insemination industry. The process requires a higher degree of planning and recordkeeping than most producers are accustomed to but can easily be accomplished.
I will attempt to outline the basic process of transferring embryos into recipients. An implant date is established for transfer of the eggs. Cows targeted for use as recipients should at least 45-60 days post-partum and cycling. Cows are typically synchronized to get as many cows in heat as possible in a narrow time frame (+/- 24 hrs. from the scheduled implant time). A key point to remember is that embryos are removed from donor females at approximately seven days after breeding. Therefore, they are placed into recipients approximately seven days after she was in heat. A trained embryologist then transfers fresh or frozen embryos in recipients that have the proper uterine characteristics to match the seven-day-old embryo. Refer to the OSU Extension fact sheet "Utilization of Embryo Transfer in Beef Cattle" for more information on this subject. It can be found at the following link: http://ohioline.osu.edu/anr-fact/pdf/ANR_17_08.pdf
Conception rates for matings from embryo transfer will be similar to or slightly less than typical rates achieved through natural matings or artificial insemination. Typically, 55-70% of the fresh embryos and 50-65% of the frozen embryos implanted will result in pregnancies. Many factors will influence the pregnancy rates achieved at any given operation.
The following scenario would be a fairly typical "Cooperator Herd" scenario. The commercial producer covers the cost of synchronizing their cows in preparation for embryo transfer. They also provide the facilities and labor on the day of embryo transfer. The seedstock producer provides the embryos and pays for embryos to be implanted in the commercial cows. The commercial producer manages the cows that become pregnant with embryo calves along with the other cows in the herd. Calves are developed from birth to weaning and the seedstock producer purchases the calves produced from embryo transfer from the commercial producer. This is a bit of an oversimplification of a detailed process. I would strongly encourage both parties to develop a written agreement that outlines the different responsibilities and expectations for the entire process.
So why would a commercial cow-calf producer consider becoming a "Cooperator Herd"? Simply put, it is the easiest way I know of for the commercial producer to achieve the maximum price for their calves at weaning. Seedstock and club calf producers have shown a willingness to pay a premium for calves produced from their genetics and raised by another operation. There are many different arrangements that are utilized across the country. "Cooperator Herds" will receive a premium for their calves that will be in the form of an agreed upon price above the market price at weaning in either cents per pound or a flat per head price. Commonly reported premiums have ranged from $100 - $250 per weaned calf.
The "Cooperator Herd" concept, when carried out properly, can be a "win-win" process for both the seedstock producer and the commercial cow-calf producer. Yes, there are risks involved for both parties but they can be minimized. The primary advantage for the commercial producer is the ability to receive a large premium for a weaned calf with a nominal increase in input costs. The seedstock producer can producer can produce more calves from their valuable females without investing in long-term resources such as additional land or cows. At the core, the principles of this process are not vastly different from grain farmers renting crop ground. One producer is using the resources of a landlord to increase production. This sounds like American agriculture at its finest!
If you have any questions about the process of becoming a "Cooperator Herd", you can reach me by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 740-289-2071, extension 242.
Forage Focus: There's Still Time to Identify and Eliminate Weeds in Hay and Pasture Fields - Mark Landefeld, Extension Educator, Monroe County
Highly productive pastures and hay fields do not happen just by accident. Weed and pest control, nutrient management and properly timed harvests all have their role. Weeds can reduce forage quality, quantity and stand life of desirable plants. Weeds often reduce the palatability of forages and certain weed species are potentially poisonous to grazing livestock making plant identification even more important.
The Ohio State University Extension Weed Control Guide (Bulletin 789) suggests the best way to control weeds in established stands of alfalfa is to maintain a dense healthy forage stand through proper fertilization, cutting management, and insect control. More than 95% of the weeds can be controlled through good management practices.
However, weeds can cause problems. Some alfalfa stands have been reported to lose up to 30% of the stand from infestations of common chickweed. If chickweed emerges through the fall and into spring it develops a thick lush mat that competes strongly with the alfalfa until first cutting hay is made. Purple deadnettle and henbit can cause the same problem. If these weeds persist and then die, summer annual weeds like foxtails, lambsquarter, pigweed or others often take over. Perennial weeds such as dandelion or Canada thistle can also creep into portions of the growing area to reduce yields and/or quality even further.
In many cases, herbicides can be used to eliminate the weed pressure in alfalfa stands if you choose to do so. But, before using herbicides, one should evaluate the existing stand to be sure it is worth the cost of the herbicide and the expense to apply the treatment. Reseeding may be more cost effective.
When weeds invade mixed legume/grass stands it poses a little different problem than pure stands because herbicide management strategies are limited that remove broadleaf weeds without killing your legumes. Grazing management and harvest management can provide help here also if you do not allow weeds to mature enough to produce seed heads, but this is extremely hard to accomplish. Good soil fertility and maintaining soil pH of 6.5-7 helps forage plants vigorously compete against weeds. Spending money to provide good fertility may be the best and most cost effective means to reduce weed pressure in mixed grass/legume stands.
Grass pastures are another place weeds can cause producers problems. There are some invasive's, such as spotted knapweed (Ohio's newest pasture invader. See video below), other herbaceous weeds like thistles, ironweed, foxtail or cocklebur and woody stemmed plants such as multiflora rose and autumn olive that try to take over pastures leaving produces few alternatives but to use herbicides. Some herbicides however, work more effectively than others on given weeds. By identifying target weeds the proper herbicide(s) may be chosen.
Fall can be a good time to eliminate hard to control perennial weeds. Proper recognition and prompt action to control these invaders is important. Eliminating weeds while they are small and few in number will save you a lot of headaches later. So, be aware, monitor your fields regularly, identify weeds in your hay and pasture fields and deal with them in a timely manner.
The first video below will help you with weed identification, and the second one describes the rapidly growing concerns for spotted knapweed in Ohio.
Insurance for Crops Following a Cover Crop - RMA News Release, September 25, 2012
The drought has left feed for livestock in short supply. Many producers are considering planting cover crops this fall that may also be grazed or cut for hay. Brian D. Frieden, Director of the Springfield Regional Office for USDA's Risk Management Agency, offers this insurance update for those considering planting cover crops this fall.
If you are a producer in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Ohio and you want to insure a crop planted in the spring of 2013, such as corn, sweet corn, popcorn, hybrid seed corn, processing pumpkins, soybeans, processing beans and grain sorghum, following a cover crop, you must:
* Stop haying or grazing the cover crop by May 10, 2013; and
* Terminate all cover crop growth at least seven days before the final planting date for the spring crop you are planting.
In areas where a double-cropping practice is insurable (generally referred to as a Following A Crop (FAC) practice under the terms of the Federal crop insurance program), you may be able to insure soybeans, processing beans and grain sorghum without meeting the requirements above. However, additional rules and higher premium rates apply.
We urge you to contact your insurance agent if you have questions about insuring spring crops following cover crops. They can give you more specific information.
In The Cattle Markets: Northern Plains Feeder Calf Situation (October 1, 2012) - Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State University Extension Service
I am spending this week in Western North Dakota providing price situation and outlook information to cow-calf producers. Although it is very dry, unlike some other drought years very few calves have been sold yet. Many cows and calves are now grazing crop aftermath from what turned out to be a good small grain crop given the limited amount of moisture that was received. Summer grazed feeder cattle were marketed in September as usual. Normally, the fall calf marketing season here begins in mid-October and that will be the case again.
Last spring most producers had higher price expectations than current levels, but also realize that it could be worse. Even after the Lean Fine Textured Beef media fiasco, a case of BSE, and the worst drought in the Corn Belt since 1988 and higher than expected corn prices; calf prices are still record high for this time of the year. Compare that to feeder pig and feeder lamb prices that are not only below last year, but also below the past 5-year average for this time of the year.
Producers also remember last year when calf prices increased contra seasonally from the second week in October through the end of the year. They are wondering if that could happen again. Recall that last year December corn futures fell about $2 per bushel from early September into October, and in December were at the lowest levels since the spring of 2011. And December live cattle futures rallied $8 per hundredweight from the end of September until the end of December.
This year, December corn futures did decline about $1 in September which was supportive to calf prices. But the USDA-NASS Grain Stocks report released on September 28 reported corn stocks in the U.S. on September 1, 2012, at 988 million bushels. That number was down 12% from last year and lower than the trade estimate of about 1.126 billion bushels. December corn futures rallied 40 cents on Friday after the report.
And December live cattle futures prices declined about $6 in September of this year as the cash market did not respond to futures market expectations.
Even though a contra seasonal increase in calf prices of the magnitude of last year is not likely, the calf market should receive support from several factors. Feeder cattle supplies outside feedlots on July 1 were down about 3.2% from last year. And calves have been marketed early from areas hard hit by drought conditions. Last week's rain in parts of the Southern Plains has improved, at least temporarily, the prospects for winter wheat grazing. Also, a higher than normal amount of drought damaged corn was chopped for silage in the Western Corn Belt, but the exact amount is still unknown. Some silage will be fed to dairy cows and to help maintain beef cow herds. But some will still be available to feed calves.
Even though calf prices are lower now than earlier expected, the potential for higher calf prices next year exists. A smaller calf crop in 2013 is likely and will be supportive to prices. However, Mother Nature will need to cooperate with much needed precipitation across the U.S. Spring seasonal highs in calf prices are dependent on spring grazing conditions. And a good corn crop will be necessary to keep corn prices from increasing.
EDITOR's NOTE: The next Ohio BEEF Cattle letter will not be published until October 17, 2012.
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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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