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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

You may subscribe to this weekly BEEF Cattle letter by sending a blank e-mail to beef-cattle-on@ag.osu.edu

Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter

Issue # 556

September 26, 2007

Forage Focus: Winter Feed Options - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County

A shortage of forage, whether it is stockpiled pasture growth, hay, or both, is the current situation facing many beef producers. Competition for scarce hay supplies is driving the price for even low quality hay to record highs. In these circumstances what options can be considered to feed the cow herd through the winter? I recently had a phone call from a beef producer asking about the use of corn silage. He wanted to know how much could be fed to a cow, what kind of nutrient levels to expect and how feasible it might be to purchase and haul silage left over from a previous year. I decided to make some phone calls to some OSU Extension specialists to get their input on these questions.

My first phone call was to Steve Boyles, Extension beef specialist, to find out what he would advise regarding feeding corn silage. Well-eared, good quality corn silage will have a crude protein content (CP) somewhere around 9%, with a total digestible nutrient (TDN) content of about 68%. Silage made from drought stressed corn does not have the same nutrient values. Energy content (TDN) will be lower. How much lower depends upon the amount of corn grain that developed. Fiber levels will also be higher since there are fewer corn ears. On the other hand, CP values may be one to two units higher. All in all, if drought stressed corn is chopped at the proper moisture content it can make good silage. Steve mentioned that feeding corn silage free choice to beef cows will likely result in cattle consuming an excess of energy. In this case, monitor the body condition score of the cow and if cows begin to put on extra condition, back off the amount fed.

Another way to use corn silage rather than feeding free choice, is to use it as the main portion of the ration, with a little bit of hay and maybe some protein supplementation thrown in. This requires knowing cow nutrient requirements and nutrient values of the corn silage and hay. Nutrient requirements of a 1200 lb cow for mid-gestation and late-gestation are given in the following table:

Mid Gestation

Late Gestation

Cow weight CP (lbs/day) TDN (lbs/day) CP (lbs/day) TDN (lbs/day)
1200 1.5 10 1.7 12

While we talked on the phone, Steve used a computer program and book values for good quality corn silage and mature fescue hay to develop a ration. The ration program fed 40 lbs of the corn silage on an as-fed basis with a small amount of hay. Figuring corn silage at 35% dry matter and the values mentioned earlier in this article, provides about 9.5 lbs of TDN and 1.26 lbs of CP. To meet the remaining need in mid-gestation will require about 3.5 lbs of hay per cow (using a CP content of 9% and a TDN value of 50%). This will result in the crude protein requirement being met and the TDN requirement being exceeded by about one pound per day. In late gestation, feeding this same amount of corn silage (40 lbs as fed or 14 lbs on a dry matter basis) will require that about 6.5 lbs of hay be fed to meet the nutrient shortfall. Steve then plugged in a lower quality silage with few ears; similar to what would be seen in drought conditions. In this case the program fed corn silage at 20 lbs as fed (7 lbs dry matter), 12 lbs of mature fescue hay and about one-third pound of soybean meal. More or less silage can be fed depending upon the needs of the cows and your supply of feed. During the course of this discussion, Steve pointed out that getting a forage analysis of the hay is an important factor in putting together accurate rations. Testing the corn silage is probably also a good idea, particularly if the quality is lower due to the drought. As we talked, Steve commented that many smaller cow/calf producers may not be set up to handle and feed corn silage. He suggested that they consider other feed options, which I will cover later in this article.

My next phone call went to Mark Sulc, Extension forage specialist. My question to Mark dealt specifically with transferring silage from one silo to another farm silo or pile. To answer this question, Mark referred to a fact sheet on this topic from the University of Wisconsin Extension forage team. According to this fact sheet, this type of silage moving and handling can result in both good and bad experiences. There will be loss of both nutritive and dry matter value because of the introduction of oxygen into the transferred silage. The severity of the loss depends upon the quality of the corn silage to begin with, and factors within the transfer process.

The goal in either transferring silage or feeding silage is to minimize the heating and resulting spoilage that will occur once oxygen is introduced. Therefore, if silage is to be transferred from one farm to another it should be done during periods of cold weather to reduce heating. Once the silage arrives at its destination it should be put into a bunker silo, or pile and re-packed to exclude oxygen. Covering the pile after packing will also help to reduce spoilage. In some cases, adding a propionic acid based additive can reduce the growth of yeasts and molds. According the University of Wisconsin fact sheet, these products are usually added at a rate of about 4 lbs/ton of as-fed silage. Finally, the transfer and transport of the silage should be done as quickly as possible. The shorter the distance between farms, the better.

My next conversation was with Bill Weiss, an Extension dairy nutrition specialist located at OARDC. Bill said that transferring silage between farms is something that is commonly done and losses can be as low as 1 to 2 percent when everything is done right. Done right means starting with well-fermented, high quality silage. Transfer is done during cold winter temperatures and the silage is either re-packed into a silage bag or bunker silo within a 48- hour period. The sooner the better. The worst situation would be transferring during warm weather over more than a 48- hour period and storage on bare soil. Recognizing that utilizing silage as a one-time emergency feed will not justify pouring a concrete slab to store silage, Bill said that bagging would be the preferred storage method. He said that bagging would pay for itself several times over by what it would save in spoilage. Bill thought that by transferring silage in cooler fall temperatures, and doing it quickly within 48 hours or sooner, and bagging on the farm could reduce losses to the 5% level. If the only alternative is to pile on bare soil, it is critical that the pile is well packed and then covered with plastic. It is likely that losses will be in the 10% range in this situation according to Bill.

If at all possible, a preferable situation over silage transfer would be for the producer to contract with a custom operator to chop this years corn crop, haul it to the farm and either pack it into a bag or pack in a pile, cover, and let the ensiling process take place on the farm. Corn should be chopped at a moisture level of 65 to 68% (32-35% DM). The ensiling process is generally complete in about 3 weeks for corn chopped at the proper moisture content. Most producers typically allow at least 4 weeks after ensiling before they begin feeding corn silage. Once a pile or bag is opened, the face is exposed to oxygen and subject to heating. Producers should try to feed/remove at least 6 inches across the face of the pile per day to keep dry matter losses to 3% or less for densely packed silage. Looser packed, more porous silage will have greater losses and/or will have to be fed to remove a larger volume. It is likely that a producer would need at least 30 cows feeding corn silage at between 25 to 30 lbs/head (as-fed) to maintain a removal rate of 6 inches/day on an 8- foot diameter bag of silage.

Alright, now back to the suggestion by Steve Boyles that producers consider some other feed options other than corn silage to stretch hay supplies. One of those options is to feed corn grain and limit feed hay. Corn generally contains about twice the energy value of average quality hay. Corn at $4/bushel is worth about $142/ton. On an energy basis that makes corn more economical to feed when hay cost goes over $71/ton. According to an article written by Steve Loerch, a ruminant nutrition researcher at OARDC, for the OSU Extension beef cattle letter, cows can be fed a ration of 10 to 12 lbs whole shelled corn with 4 lbs of average quality first cutting hay. This ration does require a feedlot supplement fed at 2 lbs/cow/day, an adjustment period to work the cows on to this diet, and enough bunk space so that all cows get their share of the ration. For more specific information about this diet, click on the following link: http://beef.osu.edu/library/limitfed.html.

Another feed option Steve mentioned was the use of wheat middlings to stretch hay supplies. Wheat mids can be fed up to about 1% of body weight, contain 14 to 18% CP with an energy value that is 80 to 85% of corn. Click on this link: http://beef.osu.edu/library/wheatmid.html for an article on using wheat midds written by Steve Boyles.

For most beef producers this fall and winter will be a challenging time to feed the cow herd. There are some feed options out there, but deciding which one is right for your operation will take some investigation, cost analysis, and consideration of what is required to feed an alternative feedstuff.

How Many Open Cows Will You Feed this Winter? - Kyle Stutt, Noble Foundation

With the end of the spring breeding season coming to a close, it's time to start planning the next step for the cows in your herd pregnancy evaluation. Pregnancy evaluation in cattle is an important and valuable management tool. Checking the pregnancy status of your cow herd allows you to make timely culling decisions and focus your resources on the sound, reliable breeders in the herd.

I hope "preg checking" is an annual ritual for your herd. If you have not incorporated this management practice in the past, the dry conditions this year and the need to get rid of a few cows may force you to do so. When it comes time to cull cows from your herd, pregnancy status is one of the first criteria that will determine whether a cow stays in the country or goes to town.

According to the results of a survey conducted by the National Animal Health Monitoring System, fewer than 20 percent of beef cow calf producers used pregnancy testing or palpation in their herd. However, the benefits of this practice are fairly simple to realize. First of all, pregnancy diagnosis allows producers to identify "open" or nonpregnant cows that won't behaving a calf next year. Compare the roughly $5 per head cost of a pregnancy exam with the $100 per head cost of hay alone to feed an open cow through the winter (if you can find hay for $30 per roll). It is easy to see that pregnancy testing quickly pays for itself.

Second, pregnancy testing will provide a producer with the information of when cows will be calving based on the age of the fetus at the time of the pregnancy exam. An average calving date can be calculated and the producer can use this information to better supplement, the cows through the winter. The nurient requirements of cows increase as pregnancy progresses, and having this information will allow a producer to adjust the supplementation in a timelier manner.

Finally, if the herd needs to be culled and pregnant cows need to be sold due to drought and lack of pasture, knowing the pregnancy status of the cows will be appealing to potential buyers. Buyers will be looking to purchase cows that will calve closely in line with the cows already in their own herds.

Pregnancy diagnosis is a quick and simple procedure that requires a trained technician, usually a veterinarian. There are two practical methods for pregnancy diagnosis in beef cattle: 1) rectal palpation and 2) transrectal ultrasonography. Rectal palpation is most common and is an accurate form of pregnancy diagnosis that can be performed after day 35 of pregnancy. Most veterinarians are proficient at rectal palpation, and this procedure requires little time in the squeeze chute. Transrectal ultrasonography, commonly referred to as ultrasound, can be used to detect pregnancy as early as 28 days with a high degree of accuracy. This method can be employed just as quickly as rectal palpation when done by a skilled technician and may provide additional information that cannot be determined by rectal palpation. Using transrectal ultrasonography, the technician is actually "looking" at the fetus and can determine the viability of the fetus and the incidence of twins. It is also possible to determine the sex of the fetus between days 60 and 90 of pregnancy.

A final piece of information to keep in mind is to sell cull cows early. The market for cows is usually good through September, and then the price goes south at a fairly rapid pace until it bottoms out in November. So, pull the bulls at the end of the breeding season, schedule to pregnancy check your cows about 35 days later, and get rid of the open cows and other culls before cow prices take a nose dive.

Weekly Roberts Agricultural Commodity Market Report - Mike Roberts, Commodity Marketing Agent, Virginia Tech

LIVE CATTLE futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) were up on Monday. The OCT'07LC contract settled at $97.650/cwt, up $0.950/cwt and $2.675/cwt higher than last Monday's close. DEC'07LC futures finished at $100.775/cwt, up $0.60/cwt and $2.225/cwt higher than a week ago. Some deferreds set fresh highs. Funds were noted buyers as cash cattle rose on Friday amid a bullish USDA report. October/December spreading was noted. USDA reported on Friday a 6% decline in cattle on feed and 100% of August marketing numbers over this time last year. Tight supplies in Texas and Oklahoma were especially noted. Cash prices were better than estimated late last week and helped push futures higher late in trading. Prices are expected to trend higher amid tight supplies. Packers will have to pay more for cattle despite negative margins. On Monday USDA put the choice boxed beef cutout at $146.26/cwt, up $1.19/cwt. The average cutout margin for Monday, according to HedgersEdge.com, was a negative $34.25/head, $2.35/head better than last Friday and $8.75/head better off than one week ago Monday. Cash sellers should consider selling heavy weights to maximize profits. It might be a good idea to price some near-term corn inputs if you can.

FEEDER CATTLE contracts at the CME closed up on Monday with the exception of the SEPT'07FC contract which finished at $116.150/cwt, off $0.250/cwt but $0.475/cwt higher than last Monday. The SEPT'07FC contract expires on Thursday. OCT'07FC futures closed $0.050/cwt higher at $116.250/cwt and $0.75/cwt higher than last week at this time. A weaker corn market and a bullish USDA report showing a 7% decline in August placements over a year ago were supportive. Cash feeders traded to $1.00/cwt higher. The latest CME Feeder Cattle Index for September 20 was placed at $116.34/cwt, down $0.13/cwt. It might be a good idea to price some feeder sales and buy some near-term corn inputs at this time.

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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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