Grass Tetany Could be Looming for Cattle and Sheep

Are your pastures ready for spring and your livestock ready for pasture?

As fast as this year seems to be going, pastures will be greening up and it will be time to start grazing again. Although we haven’t had much of a winter so far, and I hope I am not jinxing us by mentioning it here.

Spring arrives soon
Soon it will be time to start preparing our livestock for lush green pastures. Last year was a tough year for getting stored forages harvested, especially first cutting hay.

Supplement energy
Some hay analysis I have seen this past year would suggest that many need to supplement energy to maintain body conditions during this last trimester prior to the spring calving and lambing season. Continue reading

Planting Trees Correctly

Yes, there are right and wrong ways to plant a tree.  By following correct planting practices, you can ensure trees will avoid a slow decline and possible death from several causes. This is especially important for trees, which can be a large, long-lasting, and worthwhile landscape investment.

Choose the right tree for the right site, not just a tree you like.  This means that it will be cold hardy in your area.  It also means that it will be adaptable to your soils and site.  A sugar maple near pavement and buildings may dry out with leaves turning brown, or show salt injury if near roads.  A pine tree will grow poorly on a heavy clay soil.

Consider trees for their function.  Perhaps it is just the beauty of a spring crabapple in bloom, and the fall fruits it produces for birds.  Native trees provide the thousands of insects that birds feed upon.  Picking fresh fruits from your trees provides incredible taste and nutrition, plus saves money over buying them.  Of course, trees can be used for windbreaks and summer shade.

Choose a healthy tree.  This is one that has a good amount of roots in proportion to the tops.  Beware of trees that have been recently dug from the wild with little or no preparation prior to digging.  Often you get what you pay for.  Obviously check for signs of leaf injury from pests or diseases or trunk damage from mishandling.  Local nurseries with trained professionals are your best bet usually for buying healthy and appropriate trees.

Beware of trees sold in many large national chain stores.  These usually have been grown in distant areas, and may not be acclimated to our area.  I have found ones at such stores with few roots, the pots containing stones to hold the plants upright.  If in doubt, gently pull the plant out of the pot and look at the roots.  If non-existent, too few roots, too small pot and root size for the plant top, or the plant is pot-bound, keep looking. Continue reading

What to Do About Mold in Feed

Now that we are getting into the summer months, moldy feed might not be on your mind right now, especially if your livestock are grazing. But now is a great time to be cognizant of the conditions that lead to moldy feed in the winter months. The conditions that forages are grown and harvested in can determine the risk of mold developing later in storage.

First, let’s talk about what mold is. When we say something appears “moldy,” it usually has a dusty or fuzzy appearance or seems off-color. Maybe it produces a certain moldy odor. While many microbes might be referenced when we say mold, it is usually one group of microbes that is causing the problem: fungi.

When mycosis develops
In the U.S. and Canada, mold can be attributed to about $5 billion in cost. This not only includes the loss of feed, but also costs from vet bills or even loss of animals that consume contaminated feed — and develop a mycosis, or disease, caused by a fungus.

Mycoses may result from inhalation of spores or from mycotoxins produced by certain species of fungi under specific conditions. Oftentimes, many individual animals on a farm may show symptoms of mycotoxin contamination if they have a shared feed source. These symptoms may include reduced feed intake and efficiency, inflammation and lameness in extremities, gastrointestinal upset, reduced fertility, an increase in the number of abortions, and decreased milk production, among others.

Symptoms may appear within a matter of days or weeks and are more often chronic than acute. Cattle, sheep and goats tend to be more tolerant to mycotoxin contamination, while equine animals and other non-ruminants are more vulnerable.

Beyond mycotoxin and spore production, many of these mold-causing microbes reduce the overall quality of feed as well. Many fungi are decomposers — that is, they break down nutrients and dry matter. This can lead to reduced intake of energy and nutrients in animals and reduce the digestibility of feed. Significant mold in feed can result in production losses between 5% and 10%, even without the presence of mycotoxins. Certain species of fungi can increase activity and temperature when hay is wet, thereby increasing the risk of spontaneous combustion.

How much mold is too much?
Most hay feeds have an estimated 10,000 mold organisms per gram of forage, or around 1% biomass of the hay. This is normal and of no cause for concern. However, when mold becomes visible to the naked eye, the count can reach up to a million or more organisms per gram, or about 10% fungal biomass. At this stage, animals may start to avoid these contaminated feeds.

When does mold become a problem in pastures and feedstuffs? It often starts at crop growth and harvest. Wet summers or harvests can create conditions optimal for mold growth. In hay, moisture levels above 15% can result in mold growth.

Plant stress, whether caused by extreme environmental conditions, insect damage or other factors, can exacerbate the occurrence of mold. Wet hay with many seed heads or weed seeds, corn or sorghum silage not packed well, or wet byproducts are the most vulnerable feeds. Haylage, due to its higher moisture content, is also more susceptible.

Preventing mold in feed
So how do we prevent moldy feeds? The first step is common sense — harvest at the right time during dry weather and store at adequate moisture levels avoiding exposure. But this is easier said than done during years where we have constant rainfall throughout the summer months. Purchasing mold-resistant varieties may be an option if available. Microbial additives, acetate and other hay preservatives that can compete with mold-causing fungi and limit microbial development, or potassium or sodium carbonate that can speed the drying process, can be used with other practices, but should not be considered a silver bullet. If grain or hay has more than 15% moisture, it should be used first, so it doesn’t sit out for too long. Make sure new barns are constructed to prevent conditions optimal for mold growth.

Some mold development in feed is unavoidable. Avoid giving moldy feeds to more vulnerable livestock, such as horses or young or lactating animals. Get your feedstuffs tested for quality, whether through forage or general feed testing. Acid detergent-insoluble nitrogen, acid detergent fiber crude protein, and insoluble crude protein levels can help identify if there is a mold issue. In the event that feed is suspected of containing mycotoxins, avoid using it. Submit a sample for mycotoxin testing if symptoms, health and performance cannot be explained by other factors.


Hay Equipment Checkpoints for Optimal Drying

The primary purpose of our haymaking equipment is to dry hay to the optimum moisture for storage, then package densely. This winter, our

shop has been a staging ground for improved hay drying.

The mower conditioner, both rakes and tedder have all been rotating through our shop to be sure they are ready to not only function properly

Uneven roll wear can result in poor conditioning across the length of the rolls. Photo provided by Jason Hartschuh.

but to make sure hay dries as fast as possible. It is amazing how little adjustments in the shop can save a couple of much-needed hours of drying time. Your operator’s manual will have the proper adjustments for your machine. Just as we always start with the mower for winter repairs, let’s start there on best maintenance practices to improve hay drying.

Mower checklist

Improved hay drying starts at the cutter bar. When the crop is cut ragged with lots of long plant material still attached, this material is often ripped loose by the rake and ends up creating wet spots in windrows. The primary winter service to prevent this is to make sure knives are sharp and not dragging on the cutter bar when spinning. This is also a good time to check all gear boxes and, on disc mower conditioners, that cutting modules are not worn to the point of becoming out of time. Changing cutting speed by slowing down can improve the machine’s ability to cut the entire crop and not leave long stems attached. Continue reading

“If you have high ash content in your forages, you’re feeding dirt”

According to Ted Wiseman, Ohio State University Extension Educator in Perry County, “If you have high ash content in your forages, you’re feeding dirt.” And, the feed conversion on dirt is not good!

During the second session of the 2020 Ohio Beef Cattle Nutrition and Management School that was hosted by the Ohio State University Extension Beef Team, Wiseman discussed the value of analyzing the nutrient content of forages. Included in that presentation was an explanation regarding ash content, what it results from, and why it’s a concern. In this brief excerpt from his presentation, he explains, in part, how 5 pounds of a forage with 18% ash content is equivalent to feeding a pound of dirt to the animal, and offers some thoughts on preventing high ash content in our forages.


Alfalfa Weevil – It’s Closer Than You Think

Green alfalfa weevil larvae (the main feeding stage) at various growth stages, and brown adults. Photo by Julie Peterson, University of Nebraska.

Though it seems like spring has been slow to come this year, we have actually accumulated enough degree days to see potential outbreaks of alfalfa weevil in some locations.  Ohio experienced its 5th warmest winter on record (1895-2020) and March temperatures averaged 2-8°F above average. Overwintered adults begin laying eggs when temperatures exceed 48°F.  Peak larval activity and feeding damage occurs between 325 and 575 heat units (based on accumulation of heat units from January 1 with a base of 48°F).  Current (Jan. 1 – Apr. 11, 2020) heating units range from near 100 in far northeastern Ohio, 100-200 across much of northern Ohio, and 200-300 units across much of central, southwest, and southeast Ohio. South central Ohio has currently eclipsed 300 units as evident at OSU South Centers in Piketon.

In short, now is the time to start scouting.  Alfalfa fields should be scouted weekly for weevils until at least the first harvest.  Don’t let your guard down with the recent turn to cooler weather! We’ve seen significant weevil infestations in past years when early warm weather pushed weevil development earlier than normal, followed by cooler weather later that slowed alfalfa growth. Continue reading

Big Temperature Swings Next Two Weeks

Source: Jim Noel, NOAA

April Temperatures

Temperatures will be on a big roller coaster the next two weeks with highs ranging from the 40s to 70s and lows for the mid 20s to 50s. The tendency will be to switch from above normal the first half of this week to slightly below normal later this week and on.

April Precipitation

A progressive pattern is expected the next 2-3 weeks with a series of generally weak to moderate systems. The below normal rainfall pattern did occur to start April and that helped dry things out some. It does looks like we will see a gradual increase in rainfall chances the next few weeks. However, since systems will generally be weak to moderate rainfall will average 1-3 inches the next two weeks. Normal is 2 inches. The overall pattern will be switching to a bit more cool and damp as we go into mid to late April.

Continue reading