Confessions of a Cattleman; Lessons learned in the chicken house!

Stan Smith, OSU Extension PA, Fairfield County (originally published in the Ohio Farmer on-line)

Can cattlemen achieve the same uniformity we see in these broilers?

Perhaps you’ve heard me say before that my ancestors settled near the banks of the Sycamore Creek in 1826. Like most back then, during their first 130+ years in Fairfield County they farmed a little bit of everything while providing for each of the several generations of Smiths that followed. They had some dairy, beef, hogs, chickens, a few sheep and whatever crops it took to feed the livestock.

Like most farms back then, they grew most of their meals. In fact, around the Smith farm as recently as the late 1950’s and early 60’s, perhaps the greatest treat one of the kids could experience was being chosen to help Grandma snare an old hen to make pan fried chicken for lunch. Much like the cattle in the dairy were then, those old leghorns were a dual-purpose critter that served us well. The extra eggs were sold to the local creamery, and the spent hens had just enough muscle to Continue reading

Developing a Winter Feeding Program

Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

Winter feed costs are the largest single expense in most livestock grazing production systems.  Extending the grazing to reduce the cost of feeding stored feed will greatly increase profits.  Labor can be reduced 25% or more.  Rotational grazing takes about three hours per acre per year as opposed to hay production, which takes seven hours per acre per year.  The cost for grazing a cow per day is $.25 compared to $1.00 per day to feed hay to a cow.

The first step is to evaluate the potential, available, existing feed.  Crop residue can be an abundant winter feed.  Corn stalks can maintain a spring calving cow in good body condition for about 60 days after corn harvest.  The feed value will decline quickly after the 60-day period.  Cattle will select and eat grain, then husks and leaves, and last cobs and stalks.  Strip grazing increases utilization, rations the feed, and reduces the need for supplementation.  The crop fields should be grazed so that Continue reading

Heifer Development Beginning at Weaning

Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

HEIFER SELECTION:  Heifers can be sold at weaning or anytime thereafter.  Select at least 20% excess and continue growing the heifers until breeding.  A second selection at yearling age is helpful.  Let the bull or artificial insemination program select the heifers you keep by maintaining a relatively short breeding season (45 days).  Pregnancy diagnosis after the breeding season provides another opportunity for culling.  A final selection can be made after heifers wean their first calf.  Weaning weight of the first calf is a fairly good, though not foolproof, indicator of future production.

EARLY GROWTH (weaning and yearling weight) AND FRAME:  The traditional method for choosing replacements is pick the big ones at weaning.  Traditional selection is simple and is not necessarily all bad.  If growth is needed, selection on size will provide it. The bigger heifers are generally older, and thus selection is from the earlier calving cows. It also may (or may not) select heifers of heavier milking cows.  Heavier and older heifers are more likely to cycle and breed early and be well on their way to having acceptable lifetime performance.

However, there are problems with the traditional method of selection.  Some of the heaviest heifers at weaning may be fat and offer the potential of poor Continue reading

Preparing for Weaning and Beyond

– Dr. Michelle Arnold, UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Preconditioning programs for feeder cattle have long been recognized by the beef industry as a way for cow-calf operators to add credibility and, therefore, value to their annual calf crops. These programs prepare the calf for the known stressors ahead associated with weaning, transportation, and commingling that make calves more likely to get sick with bronchopneumonia, also known as Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD). Most preconditioning programs recommend starting vaccinations 2-3 weeks prior to weaning because it allows sufficient time to develop protection before natural exposure to the BRD “bugs”. At minimum, preconditioning programs require two rounds of viral vaccine (at least one must be modified-live vaccine or “MLV”) and Clostridial (blackleg) vaccinations, a Mannheimia haemolytica toxoid (“Pasteurella” shot), deworming, castration of bull calves and healed, heifers guaranteed not pregnant, and a minimum of 45-60 days weaned. Some programs require producers to use products manufactured by only one pharmaceutical company. In addition, weaned calves are expected to know how to eat from a feed bunk and drink from a fountain or tank but should not be over-conditioned or “fleshy”. Buyers prefer weaned calves that have been properly fed and with documented vaccinations and parasite control compared to similar quality non-vaccinated and non-weaned calves, which can translate to price premiums that vary in size depending on the Continue reading

Whole Herd Performance Data Reporting

Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

This article is based on information by J. Bormann and M. Rolf. See: Beef Sire Selection Manual 3rd Edition, page 13

Some breeders choose to report performance data only on calves that they want to register. However, this is not in the best interest of either the producer or their customers as this practice leads to biased and inaccurate EPDs. Complete reporting of every animal in the herd is critical to obtain the best estimates of genetic merit. By only reporting the best calves, producers are inadvertently penalizing their highest-performing calves. In the following example, we will use weaning weight ratios to illustrate the effect of only reporting the best calves. Suppose we have 10 calves with an average adjusted weaning weight of Continue reading

Water is Everything

Chris Penrose, Agriculture and Natural Resources, OSU Extension, Morgan County

Originally constructed in the ’60’s, this spring tank was recently rebuilt.

Over the years as I have worked with producers developing a grazing system, you would expect fencing to be the major issue. As the paddocks are set up, water almost always becomes the major issue. If you are fortunate enough to have reliable ground water or public water, this issue is minimized. I recall the droughts back in 2012 and 1988 and feed for livestock was not the issue, it was water. As creeks, springs and ponds dried up, options were limited and expensive, many had to haul water. On our family farm, I rely exclusively on creeks and springs and have developed most springs on the farm for the cattle. The first springs that were developed back in the 1960’s that had an estimated lifespan of 20 years lasted much longer and have been rebuilt except one that is still going strong. Since the drought of 88, I have developed the remaining springs to try to minimize issues in dry weather and provide multiple water sources in each paddock.

An important consideration, if an option, is will the livestock go to the water or will you take the water to the livestock? When possible, it is almost always the best option to take the water to the livestock because water is generally the most powerful force determining where livestock will spend their time. A three year study at the Forage System Research Center in Missouri showed Continue reading

Learn about Environmental Assessment of Pasture at FSR

Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist

Inadequate cover and erosion. Photo courtesy of ARS

The environmental benefits of well-managed pasture include:

  • reduced soil erosion,
  • improved air and water quality,
  • better plant diversity, vigor, and production,
  • improved fish and wildlife habitat.

Improving grazing management will result in more grass cover and improved soil structure that will allow a higher percentage of the rainfall to infiltrate the soil, where it can be used for plant growth, rather than running off resulting in soil erosion and sedimentation problems. The ecological processes, including decomposition of manure and increase in a highly managed pasture. Nutrients can then be recycled several times during the growing season. The overall soil quality improves with improved grazing management.

Water Quality Improves with Pasture Quality

Water quality improves as the pasture vegetation becomes denser and the soil conditions improve. A university study showed that pastures are the best “crop” for Continue reading

Does corn silage fed to feedlot cattle need to be kernel processed?

Jerad Jaborek, Michigan State University Extension Beef Feedlot Systems Educator

Processing corn silage can improve corn kernel damage and increase starch digestibility when fed to cattle; however, the expected increase in feedlot performance may be minimal.

It’s that time of year again when corn across the Midwest is beginning to reach the ideal maturity needed to produce corn silage. Many producers often question how they can produce the highest yielding or quality crop. A review by Johnson and others in the Journal of Dairy Science report that mechanically processing your corn silage may be an option to improve the quality or feeding value of your corn silage crop. More information regarding corn silage can be found on the Michigan State University Extension corn website.

Fully active mechanical processors are most common and consist of two counter rotating rollers located between the cutterhead and the blower of the harvester. The grooved or serrated rollers crush or shear the corn silage as it passes between the two rollers with a space typically ranging from 1 to 5 mm. However, additional energy (7 to 15%) is required and there is a reduced . . .

Continue reading Does corn silage fed to feedlot cattle need to be kernel processed?

Open Heifer Options – Making Lemonade out of Lemons

– Kevin Laurent, Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky

There are many events or moments throughout the year that we as beef producers look forward to with great anticipation, excitement and frankly some degree of worry. It could be the daily checks during calving season or finding out your pay weight and price for a load of yearlings you delivered to the sale barn. I think most of us would agree that the annual preg checking of the cow herd is right there towards the top of the list of management activities that can have us on pins and needles. Open cows and open heifers are part of the business. What we choose to do with open females can affect our bottom line. For the sake of brevity, I would like to limit this discussion to replacement heifers and what options we have when the vet finds her empty.

Give her another chance or cull her? It may be tempting to give open heifers another chance especially if you have both a fall and spring calving season. The problem with this option is research shows that there may be upwards of 20% reduction in conception rates on heifers that failed to conceive in the first breeding season. Ask yourself, if she was a slow breeder as a yearling, what will her chances be of breeding back as a 2 year old? If we choose to Continue reading

Preconditioning – Why it pays

– Kirsten Nickles, Graduate Research Associate and Anthony J. Parker, Associate Chair and Associate Professor. Department of Animal Sciences, Ohio State University (also published in Ohio Farmer on-line)

Our most commonly used weaning method may not be in the best interests of the seller, the buyer, or ultimately the consumer!

There are many preconditioning programs available for producers to choose from to increase calf market value. It is important, however, to think about what program works best for your operation and the reasons why these programs can add value to your calves. If the reasons behind certain preconditioning program guidelines are not understood, it is possible that you will be missing out on adding value to your calves.

The most common weaning method in the U.S. beef industry is abruptly weaning calves from their dams (Enriquez et al., 2011). This abrupt separation is commonly combined with vaccination, castration, transportation, and co-mingling with other groups of calves at the sale barn and/or at the feed yard. This multitude of stressors placed on calves causes morbidity and mortality from the bovine respiratory disease complex, which continues to be the most significant health problem facing the U.S. beef industry (Duff and Galyean, 2005). Bovine respiratory disease not only increases expenses to the feeder through treatment and labor costs, but it decreases growth and efficiency and has been shown to negatively affect marbling score, quality grade, and hot carcass weight (Montgomery et al., 1984; Roeber et al., 2001; Fulton et al., 2002). Therefore, preconditioning programs have been developed to Continue reading