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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 # 754
October 5 & 12, 2011
Forage Focus: Lots of Questions! - Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension
The extraordinary transition of Ohio weather from a very hot, wet (in much of the State) summer into a very cool and still wet fall has generated lots of questions. This issue offers response to most of those questions we've been receiving in recent weeks. Next week, I'll be busy at Ohio's last county Fair for this year - Fairfield County. Thus, the next Ohio BEEF Cattle letter won't be published until October 19.
Fall Cutting of Hay - Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist
The recent damp weather has prevented a timely last cutting of hay across much of Ohio. So is it safe to cut a hay stand now? The answer depends on how much alfalfa and red clover is in the stand, how important it is to you to keep the legumes in that stand, and how badly you need or want the extra hay. For pure grass stands, fall cutting concerns are much less of an issue.
Cutting tall legumes like alfalfa and red clover between now and mid-October will carry some risk to the health of the stand. Legume plants are actively storing energy reserves in the taproots during this fall period that are used for winter survival and regrowth next spring. Cutting now will interrupt that storage process because the plant will use reserves for late fall regrowth, and there won't be enough time to replenish them before a killing frost.
So cutting now will add a stress to the stand and place it in a compromised status going into the winter. This year has been a tough year on alfalfa in particular, with all the wet soil conditions we've had. We have observed a considerable decline in stand density in some of our stands this fall, and adding another stress to the stand will likely be harmful to its productivity next year.
I am often asked whether leaving a large amount of fall growth can harm an alfalfa stand in the winter. The fear is that the alfalfa will "smother itself out". I have let pure stands of alfalfa go into the winter with a lot of growth, and have never experienced a problem or seen the crop "smother out". So if you don't need the forage, it won't harm the alfalfa stand to let it be and not cut it at all this fall.
If you do need the forage or really want to have more hay for sale, then considering delaying harvest to late October or early November. While this increases the risk of bad hay making weather, a LATE fall harvest is usually a safer alternative to the health of the stand than cutting between now and mid-October, By LATE HARVEST, I mean as close as possible to a killing frost of alfalfa, which happens when air temperatures reach 25 F for several hours. Waiting to cut until we are closer to the time of a killing frost will prevent regrowth and loss of energy reserves, and will reduce the risk of less vigorous stands next spring.
I recommend a late harvest option ONLY IF the soil is well-drained, the stand is healthy, a variety is planted that has excellent winterhardiness, and the soil has good fertility status. Late cutting on less than well-drained soils increases the risk of winter heaving in alfalfa.
Fall management of alfalfa is one of the few controllable factors that will potentially influence the health of your alfalfa stand next year. It could play a determining role in how much yield you get next year.
Johnsongrass, Fall Grazing, and Prussic Acid - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County and Buckeye Hills EERA
This has been a good year for johnsongrass growth; it is in pastures and fields all over the county. I know that several farmers have cut and baled fields where this plant came in thick and heavy this season. Johnsongrass is a perennial weed and it is also a warm season grass. It can be a good feed source for beef animals as hay or in a grazing situation. However, this plant is a member of the sorghum family and graziers need to beware of the potential of prussic acid poisoning when it is grazed during the fall.
All plants in the sorghum family have the potential for prussic acid poisoning of livestock. Other familiar forage plants in this family are forage sorghum, sorghum x sudangrass hybrids and sudangrass. The risk of prussic acid poisoning begins with the fact that plants in the sorghum family contain varying concentrations of cyanogenic glucosides. Cyanogenic glucosides are compounds composed of a carbohydrate or sugar molecule chemically bonded to a cyanide molecule. Johnsongrass has high to very high amounts of cyanogenic glucosides, forage sorghum and sorghum x sudangrass hybrids have intermediate to high levels and sudangrass has low to intermediate levels.
Cyanogenic glucoside concentration is just a measure of the potential toxicity of the plant. By itself, the cyanogenic glucoside compound is non-poisonous. Toxicity only results when the cyanogenic glucoside compound is broken apart and the cyanide molecule is separated from the sugar molecule. Prussic acid or hydrocyanic acid (HCN), also known as hydrogen cyanide, is formed when the cyanogenic glucoside compound is broken apart.
An important question is: How do these cyanogenic glucosides get broken apart and form prussic acid? Plants in the sorghum family also contain an enzyme called emulsion. This enzyme can break apart the cyanogenic glucosides and cause the formation of prussic acid. This enzyme and the cyanogenic glucosides are contained in separate plant tissues. Anything that causes plant cells to rupture can bring these two components together and result in prussic acid formation. Plant cells can be ruptured by cutting, wilting, freezing, drought, crushing, trampling, chewing, or chopping.
Unfortunately, ruminant animals tend to be more susceptible to poisoning from cyanogenic glucosides than non-ruminant animals. When non-ruminant animals ingest forage with cyanogenic glucosides the forage goes directly into the stomach. The stomach is a strongly acidic environment that reacts with any free prussic acid to form low toxicity substances. In contrast, when the ruminant animal ingests forage with cyanogenic glucosides, the forage passes into the rumen. The rumen in a forage based diet is a mildly acidic to mildly alkaline environment that does not detoxify prussic acid. In addition, there are rumen micro-organisms and enzymes that contribute to the formation of prussic acid.
Prussic acid is very toxic and is rapidly absorbed into the blood. It combines with hemoglobin in the blood to form cyanoglobin, which does not carry oxygen. Prussic acid poisoning symptoms include an increased rate of respiration, increased pulse rate, gasping, muscular twitching or nervousness, trembling, foaming at the mouth, spasms or convulsions. Death occurs from respiratory paralysis and can happen quickly, within a 15 to 20 minute time span.
Prussic acid accumulation is not equal throughout the plant. It tends to accumulate in leaves as compared to stems and is found in higher concentrations in the upper or younger leaves of the plant as compared to the lower or older leaves. In general, young, immature plants pose the greatest prussic acid poisoning threat to livestock. It should also be noted that the young growth that follows clipping, drought, frost, or grazing can contain higher concentrations of prussic acid. Very short (3-4 inches) leafy growth or recently frosted vegetative growth may contain 100+ milligrams of HCN per 100 grams of dry plant tissue, a concentration of one-tenth of one percent, and considered as highly dangerous for grazing.
How much prussic acid or HCN is lethal? According to a publication from South Dakota State University on the topic of prussic acid poisoning of livestock, a dose of 1 gram of HCN is enough to kill a 1000 lb cow. There are 454 grams in one pound to give you some perspective on this dose. However, ruminant animals can also detoxify HCN over time, so if small amounts are ingested livestock will not be harmed. The South Dakota State University publication says that a 1000 lb cow can detoxify HCN at a rate of about 0.5 gram of HCN per hour. It is only when HCN is ingested and enters the bloodstream faster than it is being detoxified that livestock can be killed by prussic acid poisoning.
Of concern to graziers as we get into the fall of the year is that frost damage to plants in the sorghum family, including johnsongrass, can lead to prussic acid formation. Livestock should not be allowed to graze any plants in the sorghum family immediately following a frost event. However, because prussic acid is actually a gas, it will dissipate from the plant as the plant dries out and with the passage of time. The general recommendations regarding grazing plants in the sorghum family in the fall of the year are:
* Do not graze on nights when frost is likely. High levels of prussic acid are produced within hours after a frost.
* Do not graze after a killing frost until plants are dry, which is usually 5 to 7 days after the frost event.
* After a non-killing frost, do not allow animals to graze the frosted plants that are shorter than 30 inches in height for 10 to 14 days. Plants above that height can be grazed after a 4-5 day period. New growth may appear at the base of the plant after a non-killing frost. This growth will contain high levels of prussic acid. Do not allow livestock to graze this growth. Wait for a killing frost and then give those plants another 2 weeks before livestock are allowed to graze.
Fall Grazing of Grass/Clover Pastures After Frost - Mark Sulc, OSU Extension Forage Specialist
Forages such as alfalfa, clovers, and cool-season perennial grasses do NOT produce toxic compounds after a frost. So unlike the sorghum species that produce prussic acid after a frost, clovers, alfalfa, and perennial cool-season grasses are much safer to graze after a frost. HOWEVER, there is one concern when grazing alfalfa or clovers after a frost - and that is the risk of BLOAT.
For one or two days after a hard frost, the risk of bloat is higher for animals grazing legumes. The bloat risk is highest with grazing pure legume stands, and least when grazing stands having mostly grass and only low amounts of legumes present.
The safest management is to wait a few days after a killing frost before grazing pure legume stands - wait until the forage begins to dry from the frost damage. It is also a good idea to make sure animals have some dry hay before being introduced to lush fall pastures that contain significant amounts of legumes.
Oat Harvest Management Considerations - Stan Smith, PA, Fairfield County OSU Extension
With abundant and frequent rainfall over much of the State in recent weeks, vegetative growth of the oats planted this summer has been nothing short of remarkable. Considering the number of Ohio's unplanted row crop acres which are presently standing in oats, there have been a number of questions and recent conversations regarding the post-November 1 harvest alternatives for this forage crop.
As oat harvest options are considered, grazing easily provides the most effective and affordable alternative. In 2002, locally the Wolfingers strip grazed oats all winter and actually began the calving season on them before the oats ran out in mid March.
Baling oats in the fall has been done around Ohio, but it's a challenge considering that oats only dry about half as fast a grass hay. Cut in November, it would typically mean at least two weeks or more to cure them. Wet wrapping them is an expensive alternative. Using an in-line bale wrapper/tuber may be a little less expensive per ton than individually wrapped bales if the equipment is available locally.
Oats won't die until temperatures have been in the mid 20's for several hours. That means they'll still be green and alive in December most years in Ohio. When they finally freeze, and if it's not a wet winter, growers may be able to let them dry out standing, get a few days of dry frozen weather in January, mow them, rake them and bale them quickly after they've essentially dried and cured standing.
In Canada, growers have sprayed their oats with glyphosate and let them dry down while still standing. After a few weeks and at a time when a dry week of weather might appear, they mow, rake and bale the oats all in a day or two. Locally, that's been done once which allowed the oats to be baled in late December and January.
If grazing standing oats after November 1 is not an opportunity, perhaps chopping and ensiling them is the best alternative for harvest. This offers several advantages over baling or wet wrapping. Obviously the issue of curing the plants for dry harvest becomes a moot point. Chopping and ensiling into either a permanent structure or bags is also likely less expensive than wet wrapping individual bales. Perhaps even better, as detailed by Francis Fluharty several times, chopped forages are 30% more digestible than long stem forages. For a refresher on that subject, review this article from a few years ago: http://beef.osu.edu/beef/beefFeby6.html#linka
Admittedly chopping and ensiling is likely more expensive than rolling dry hay, but when you consider you get essentially no storage losses, the timeliness of harvest which is afforded, and the more digestible feed which results, it's a good alternative. And if you're able to bunk feed the chopped and ensiled oats, there will be no "bale ring" feeding losses to be experienced.
Shelby County Pasture Walk, October 13
Visit with the Bob Hendershot, NRCS Grassland Specialist, at the Shelby County Pasture Walk. This evening event will begin at 6:00 pm on Thursday October 13, 2011. The walk will be held just outside of Houston at 4007 State Route 66B, Houston, Ohio 45333.
Contact OSU Extension Educator Justin Petrosino (937.548.5215) for more details.
Marketing the 2011 Calf Crop for Best Results - Alfredo DiCostanzo, Ph.D. University of Minnesota Beef Team
The decade ending in 2010 will likely be recognized as the last decade during which the beef industry experienced defined cyclical changes in beef cow inventories and prices (the traditional beef cattle cycle).
Between 1998 and 2002, the beef cow herd was reduced by 700,000 head. In contrast, during the previous five years (1993 to 1997), the U.S. beef cow herd experienced a 2-million head swing. Beef cow inventories prior to 1993 had greater swings yet.
Instead, since 2003, the U.S. beef cow herd has continued to shrink; from 33 million to 30.9 million. In spite of this, U.S. beef production was only reduced by 700 million pounds between 2003 and 2010.
Considering the current economic situation, this is not a bad place for the industry to be. Indeed, since 2005, fed cattle prices have been at or above $90/cwt with the exception of 2009. During January through July of 2011, fed cattle prices averaged $114/cwt; almost $18/cwt greater than the average fed cattle price in 2010.
What does this all mean to cow-calf operators when marketing the 2011 calf crop? Unless an extremely catastrophic economic, disease or global security issue arises, feeder cattle prices will remain elevated for feeder calves marketed this fall and likely into next spring.
The intense drought affecting many southern states including Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Louisiana will likely have a lasting impact on the supply of feeder calves. At the present time, the impact of the drought on the region's nearly 10 million beef cows is not clear yet. Texas AgriLife Extension Service economists reported up to $2 billion in livestock losses. This figure may represent a potential loss of up to 1 million beef cows.
On the other hand, a survey conducted by BEEF magazine in early 2011 revealed interest by cow-calf operators to expand their herds; over 50 percent of respondents declared intentions to expand in 2011, mainly by retaining heifers. The net effect of either of these two scenarios is pressure on the feeder calf supply.
A moderating factor in this analysis is the impact of corn price on feeder calf prices. Greater feeding costs resulting from higher corn prices typically impact feeder calf prices negatively. However, when comparing futures market behavior of the October 2011 feeder calf contract against the September 2011 corn contract, since January, increases in corn grain price quotes have not impacted feeder calf price quotes negatively with the exception of a few days early in June.
Where the limit is for corn price to begin to affect feeder price is not known. Smaller-than-expected corn crop production estimates by USDA early in August will certainly test this limit.
In spite of a bullish market for feeder calf prices, cow-calf operators are strongly encouraged to evaluate their marketing plan for their calf crop. Positive news about feeder cattle prices is not an excuse to be negligent in developing a marketing plan. Seasonal trends still exist in feeder calf prices with lowest prices obtained for calves sold in November.
Similarly, calves that do not conform to conventional market requirements such as: intact male, lame, blind, or unthrifty calves or those with horns or frozen ears will continue to be discounted severely. Calves sold as singles or even in groups of fewer than six head will likely be discounted. Therefore, the first step in preparing for marketing is to cull calves that will be discounted or to present for sale groups of calves that will result in sale drafts of six or more taking into consideration sorting for sex, size and color.
Without attempting to offend anyone, cow-calf operators must also recognize that certain breed or coat colors are perceived to be of lower value by cattle buyers. Whether there is sufficient scientific background to support this perception or not is immaterial; what matters is whether the customer (cattle buyer and/or feedyard operator are actively seeking them out or not).
For instance, a recent report revealed that Hereford X Charolais, spotted or striped feeder cattle received the lowest price. Indeed, efforts to improve genetics by cow-calf operators of breeds typically discounted at the sale barn need to be rewarded by an alternative marketing arrangement: partial or full retained ownership or direct marketing to feedyard operators that value the breed and the efforts.
A discussion on marketing calves would not be complete without consideration to age and source verification, use of implants and/or preconditioning. Previous evaluations of premiums received for source-verified, "natural" or preconditioned feeder cattle are heavily region-dependent. Thus, considering costs and expected returns for either of these value-added features may be more appropriate.
Evaluations of gain response by pre-weaning calves to implants place the average improvement on rate of gain at 0.10 lb/head/day. On a minimum of 80 days, implants would return an additional 8 lb at sale or $12/head. At a cost of less than $1 for the implant, and $2 for labor, a modest estimate of $12 gross return comes at a cost of $3 for a 400 percent return on investment. Thus, not implanting calves would have to return at least $9/head or $1.80/cwt.
Source verification costs are highly variable, but may start at as little as $3/hd. A recent review of premiums received by source-verified feeder cattle weighing less than 650 lb demonstrated a price advantage of $1.30/cwt or $6.50 for a 500-lb calf.
Lastly, preconditioning premiums realized in field studies for calves that are vaccinated and weaned for 30 days range from $2 to $6/cwt. Adding no weight to gain post-weaning, this represents an additional $10 to $30/head.
On the other hand, in today's high-grain prices, cost of gain for feed will likely average $1 to $2/head/day for a minimum cost of $30 to $60 to feed a calf for a month after weaning.
This analysis for preconditioning does not mean that preparing calves for a healthy future using the appropriate vaccination at weaning is not desirable or profitable. Discounts for non-vaccinated calves range from $2 to $4/cwt.
Thus, not vaccinating calves at weaning, even though they are not pre-conditioned, may have an impact of $10 to $20/head, while most vaccination programs cost less than $10/head.
Roberts Agricultural Commodity Report - Mike Roberts, Agricultural and Resource Economics, NC State University
CORN futures on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) finished mixed on Monday. The DEC'11 contract closed at $5.924/bu; even with last Friday's close but 56.75 cents/bu lower than a week ago. MAR'12 futures closed at $6.060/bu; up 0.25 cents/bu but 55.25 cents/bu lower than this time last week. The DEC'12 contract closed down 3.25 cents/bu at $5.624/bu and 27.0 cents/bu lower than a week ago. The contract limit expanded to 60.0 cents/bu on Monday after the limit down trading last Friday. News that China is expected to triple corn purchases offset bearish exports numbers. USDA put corn-inspected-for-export at 28.443 mi bu vs. estimates for 30-35 mi bu. Even though large funds reduced long holdings in CBOT corn on Monday it should be noted that they have held long positions for the last four consecutive weeks. This should prove price supportive later on. Put options would make a good price floor mechanism. However, upside potential may be in the offing.
LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) finished mixed on Monday with nearbys up and deferreds taking some heat. The OCT'11LC contract closed at $123.100/cwt up $0.950/cwt and $3.275/cwt higher than last report. JUNE'12LC futures closed at $123.900/cwt; up $0.400/cwt and $0.15/cwt over last report. Global instability, and follow through buying were supportive. Two pit sources said there was talk that there is some sentiment that if the corn market continues to lose value it may drag down deferred CME live cattle contracts because cheaper feed might prove to be incentive to grow the herd. Profit taking after the last few days of increases could also weigh on prices. USDA put the 5-area average price at $120.26/cwt; $4.37/cwt over last report. On Monday, October 3, USDA put the beef cutout value at $183.10/cwt; up $1.07/cwt lower than a week ago. Packers continue to pay higher prices for new supplies in spite of declining margins. According to HedgersEdge.com, the average packer margin was raised $1.20/head from last report to a negative $15.30/head based on the average buy of $115.94cwt vs. the average breakeven of $114.77/cwt. The packer margin last Friday was placed at a negative $9.10/hd. Grain pricing should be considered at this time.
FEEDER CATTLE at the CME closed down on Monday with the exception of the October. The OCT'11FC contract finished at $141.000/cwt, up $0.475/cwt and $3.175/cwt. The NOV'11FC contract settled at $142.850/cwt, off $0.075/cwt; but $3.275/cwt higher than last report. APR'12FC futures finished at $146.200/cwt; down $0.950/cwt but $1.750/cwt higher than this time last week. Feeder cattle were supported by lower corn prices helping offset input costs for cattle feeders. At the Oklahoma National Stockyards in Oklahoma City, OK estimated receipts were placed at 10,500 head vs. 8,441 a week ago and 7,407 head this time last year. Compared to last week: feeder cattle and calves were $3-$6/cwt higher with steers less than 500 lbs steady. Demand was considered good except for un-weaned calves, in light-to-moderate demand. Quality was considered average. Cattle over 700 lbs were not tested. Most cattle weighed in between 500-700 lbs. The latest CME feeder cattle index was placed at $134.60; up $1.23 and $2.97 over this time last week.
Visit the OSU Beef Team calendar of meetings and upcoming events
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