Managing Plant Biodiversity to Increase Ranching Profits

Recent cow-calf model analysis from the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University indicates that forage yield per acre is a very important driver of profitability; more so than increased reproductive efficiency, decreased maintenance energy requirements or increased forage digestibility (Figure 1).  Increasing reproductive efficiency reduced replacement heifer costs. Decreasing maintenance energy requirements or increasing forage digestibility increased calf growth and calf revenue. But the reduction in replacement costs or increase in revenue was not as great as the reduction in winter feed costs from more forage yield and longer grazing season. Thus, increasing forage yield per acre is one of the most powerful management tools to increase cow-calf profitability.

Plant biodiversity is beneficial for grassland ecosystems by providing food and habitat for wildlife and improving nutrient cycling, soil organic matter, water infiltration, and total biomass production to name a few. Monocultures are easier to manage but may be hurting the productivity of the grassland and making it less resilient to drought and heavy grazing. Mixtures of forbs, legumes, and grasses can boost grassland productivity in the long-run and are more sustainable ecosystems.

When we think of cattle grazing pasture or rangeland, we picture cattle consuming grass, but cattle consume much more than grass. Many plants/forbs considered weeds such as ragweed actually have better nutritional profile than many grasses, and cattle will eat many of them at different stages of plant development. Some of these plants have large tap roots that bring water and nutrients up to the soil surface where the fibrous roots of grasses have access. Non-grass plants can grow between clumps of bunch grasses and provide increased forage through both primary production but also by improving nutrient cycling and soil function for growth of the whole plant community. Additionally, mixtures of grass species that have primary growth at different times of the year such as fescue and crabgrass also increase grassland productivity. The difference in timing of primary growth allows nutrient cycling in a grazing system as the defecated nutrients from one grass fertilize the other.

Not all forbs are consumed by cattle, but forbs that fix nitrogen can be beneficial by adding nitrogen to the soil through decomposition even when not consumed. However, some forbs such as sericea lespedeza can have negative effects on overall grassland productivity, and must be kept in check.

Herbicide sprays often kill both harmful (e.g., sericea lespedeza) and beneficial (e.g., Illinois bundleflower) forbs and legumes, which may reduce overall productivity rather than increase it. Assessing the plant species composition of harmful to beneficial forbs is critical to evaluate whether herbicide application will be cost effective. Other tools such as prescribed burning can also be used to manage the plant species composition without detrimental effects on all forbs and legumes. The take-home message is that a clean field of grass is likely not the most productive or profitable, but neither is a field of weeds: the goal should be to balance the species composition to maximize consumable biomass over the long term.

Figure 1. Correlation of management factors with overall cow-calf profitability. The larger the difference from 0 the more important the management factor to profitability.

Episode 1- Sustainability Definition, Cattle Greenhouse Gases, Small and Family Farms

In this episode, we go into what sustainability is and the different components of sustainable beef production, cattle’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and what family and small farms are in the United States. These podcasts are sponsored by Beef Checkoff. Follow BCI on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you have any questions email us at

Nutritional Technology Impacts Animal Health and Social Sustainability of Beef Production

Animal health and welfare are important components of social sustainability. In the beef industry, bovine respiratory disease complex is likely the largest issue, and also influences antimicrobial stewardship. Nutritional stress when adapting cattle to high grain diets occurs in the form of subacute acidosis predisposing cattle to other health challenges such as bovine respiratory disease. Acidosis occurs from overproduction of lactic acid from rapid fermentation of starch, and the slow adaptation of cattle to a high grain finishing diet is necessary to allow the population of lactic acid utilizing bacteria in the rumen that keep the lactic acid concentration low and rumen pH high.  Subacute rumen acidosis has been linked to the release of lipopolysaccharides from dead bacteria causing inflammation that may predispose cattle to other health issues. Early bovine respiratory disease research indicates that high concentrate starting diets and lack of adequate roughage intake during the receiving period, both of which could result in subacute rumen acidosis, increase the incidence of respiratory disease.

A major lactic acid utilizing bacteria in the rumen is megasphaera elsdenii.  Inoculation of cattle with M. elsdenii when introducing a high starch diet, stabilizes rumen pH, prevents subacute rumen acidosis, and allows stepping cattle up to the finishing diet quicker. Additionally, inoculation of feedlot cattle on arrival can reduce respiratory morbidity, particularly in higher-risk calves, although the number of studies is limited (Figure 1).  Clinical signs of rumen acidosis and respiratory disease are somewhat similar and misdiagnosis can occur. Thus, the reduction in respiratory morbidity could be those calves with rumen acidosis being misdiagnosed as bovine respiratory disease.  But either way, inoculation of cattle with M. elsdenii at arrival can reduce animal disease and antimicrobial use. Nutritional technology plays a role in animal health-improving antimicrobial stewardship and social sustainability.

Figure 1. Prevalence of bovine respiratory disease in calves (1 study) or yearlings (2 studies) receiving megaspheara elsdenii orally at arrival (ME) or not (Control). Data from McDaniel (2009; and Miller et al. (2013; Bovine Practictioner 47:137)

Changing the Timing of the Spring Calving Season can Increase Economic Sustainability

Choosing the optimum time to calve beef cows involves thinking through a multitude of factors such as potential for extreme weather, availability of grazed forage, marketing and seasonality of calf prices, and availability of labor. Thirty years ago, the logic used for choosing a calving season focused on maximizing calf nutrient intake. At about 3 to 4 months of age, the calf’s nutrient requirements exceed the cow’s milk production, and thus calf nutrient intake and growth could be increased by coinciding this time with the time of highly nutritious forage. In order to accomplish, cows needed to calve in February and March for most latitudes. However, this results in increased feed costs because lactating cows consume more harvested forages and the nutritive value of harvested forages is generally not adequate to meet the nutrient requirements of early lactation cows. Thus, supplemental feed is usually necessary to keep cows in adequate body condition (≥ 5) prior to breeding to ensure high pregnancy rates.

Matching the calving season with the onset of green pasture synchronizes the high nutrient demands of the cow during early lactation and breeding with the time of maximum forage nutritive value. By doing this, stockpiled forages and crop residues can meet the nutritional requirements of cows through December reducing winter hay feeding. Additionally, cows that calve in synchrony with forage nutritive value do not require supplemental feed to maintain body condition prior to breeding. Figure 1 shows the difference in winter hay and supplemental feed usage and delivered feed costs for cows in a Kansas native range forage system with an average calving date of March 1 or April 15.

Many factors affect the sale price of calves including supply and demand, cost of gain the feedlot, and geopolitical issues, all of which the producer has very little control over. Several analyses of performance and financial records indicate that the most profitable operations are those that have low cost of production, which the produce has more control over. Even though later born calves will be lighter at the same sale date and likely even at the same age, controlling costs can improve net returns. Thus, matching cow requirements with forage nutritive value by adjusting the calving season can increase the economic sustainability of a beef operation.

Figure 1. Estimated winter hay and supplement usage, and delivered feed costs for beef cows with an average calving date of March 1 or April 15. Feed costs are calculated using $60/ton and $200/ton for hay and supplement, respectively.

Regenerative vs. Sustainable Agriculture: What is the difference?

By Phillip Lancaster

In the last 20 to 30 years, there has been a lot of discussion about sustainable agriculture. ‘Sustainable’ has been a buzzword in many industries for the last 20 years with everybody from farmers and ranchers to multi-billion-dollar corporations trying to find ways to be more sustainable. But what does the word sustainable really mean? If we break down the word, ‘sustain’ means to strengthen or support according to Oxford Dictionary. In the context of agriculture, we generally think of sustainability as the ability to support or maintain food production into the future, which suggests more efficient resource use. Agriculture has made tremendous strides in efficiency of resource use over the last 50 years.

Lately, the term regenerative agriculture has become a new buzz word, but it is really not a new concept. Robert Rodale coined the term ‘regenerative organic agriculture’ in the late 1970s as an approach that encouraged continuous innovation and improvement. Breaking down the word, regenerate means to regrow or replace what is lost. In the context of agriculture, we generally think of regenerative as replacing soil carbon/organic matter that was lost due to soil tillage or overgrazing. Again, agriculture has made tremendous strides in replacing soil carbon with adoption of no-till and cover cropping practices, and management intensive grazing in the last 30 years.

There are other aspects of the ecosystem such as plant and animal biodiversity that also fall under the idea of regenerative agriculture. Researchers are beginning to understand how grassland and rangeland management impacts plant species composition and wildlife populations, and developing novel management strategies to such as patch burning to enhance plant and animal biodiversity.

Many of the agricultural management practices that we considered sustainable are also regenerative. Whether the practice is sustainable or regenerative depends on the context of the situation in which the practice is being used. All soils have a maximum attainable soil organic carbon content based on physical characteristics (clay content, bulk density) and climate (rainfall, temperature). For example, a rancher whose soil has reached its maximum attainable soil organic carbon and practices management intensive grazing is sustaining the level of carbon. A second rancher whose soil has not reached its maximum attainable soil organic carbon and practices management intensive grazing is regenerating the level of carbon. Thus, even though they are using the same management practice, the first rancher is practicing sustainable agriculture whereas the second rancher is practicing regenerative agriculture.

As with soil organic carbon, a maximum attainable level of other aspects of the ecosystem will be achieved with regenerative agriculture.  At this point, we will move from replacing what was lost to maintaining the new level, and from regenerative agriculture to sustainable agriculture.

The Confined Cow-Calf System: Tradeoffs Between Environmental and Economic Sustainability

With the high cost of pasture and rangeland, alternatives to grassland cow-calf production are being investigated with cows and/or calves being in confinement all or part of the production cycle. There are many management options with year-round confinement in regions where grazing grass or crop residue is not possible or desirable, short-season grassland grazing during summer and confinement during winter, or confinement during summer and crop residue/cover crop grazing during winter. Harvesting and delivering feed to the cow rather than the cow harvesting feed herself always adds cost to the production system, and thus, confinement or semi-confinement cow-calf systems have additional costs that need to be offset in some way.

One advantage of having cows in confinement is improved feed management with control over the quality and quantity of feed consumed by the cow-calf pair. By limit feeding cows a high energy, by-product diet during the confinement period, maintenance energy requirement is reduced 20 to 40% compared with a low-energy, forage diet fed ad libitum. This reduction in maintenance energy requirement decreases the total feed energy necessary to maintain the cow. Additionally, the calf has access to higher quality feed (ration vs. grass) and weaning weight is increased if the confinement period coincides with mid and late lactation. The higher quality and lower quantity of feed consumed by the cow reduced methane emissions and would likely require less land improving the sustainability of beef production.

But, as mentioned above, there are additional costs for feed, facilities and equipment, and labor; studies indicate that the net returns decrease as the length of the confinement period increases. Additionally, even though less total land would be used, the amount of land under intensive crop production would likely increase reducing ecosystem services provided by grasslands. Also, the conversion efficiency of non-human edible protein to human edible protein decreases with the use of high-energy, by-product diets because more human edible protein is used in the diet. Protein conversion efficiency is one of the most positive attributes of using ruminants for food production and should be a primary goal in designing any cattle production system.

Developing an economically and environmentally sustainable cow-calf production system will be difficult. Changing one aspect of the system to cause an improvement in one metric can easily result in moving another metric in the wrong direction. The beef cattle production system needs to be evaluated as a whole and careful analysis should be completed before making decisions.

Figure 1. Cow maintenance energy requirement (MEm, Mcal/kg.75), cow methane emissions (CH4, CO2 equivalents/kg HeP), human edible protein conversion efficiency (HePCE, %), and net returns (Returns, $/cow) for conventional pasture-based and semi-confinement (3-4 months) cow-calf production systems

Reproductive Management of Beef Cattle Herds

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD

There are a number of important factors that interact to impact the number of calves weaned per cow exposed for breeding. One of the important factors that is often not recognized is that the previous years’ timing of calving will have either a positive or negative effect on this year’s reproductive success. I use the term “herd momentum” to describe the impact that previous reproductive outcomes have on the current and future reproductive performanceof the herd.

Several key facts about the cattle reproduction and cow-calf production impact each year’s reproductive success. First of all, it is necessary for beef cows to calve at about the same time each year in order to appropriately match the cow production cycles with the forage production cycle. Recognizing that pregnancy lasts 283 days means that there are 82 days from the time a cow calves to the time it needs to become pregnant again to maintain a 365 day calving interval. This fact is important to remember when we understand that beef cows have a period of time after calving, called postpartum anestrus, when they do not display heat behavior necessary to initiate mating and they do not ovulate fertile eggs. It takes about 70 to 100 days from calving for 90% of cows to resume fertile cycles if they are in good body condition, but this period is longer in cows that calve in thin body condition. Because of these limitations, only cows that calve in good body condition during the first 42-52 days of calving are likely to resume fertile cycles before the start of breeding or during the first 21 days of breeding. In contrast, cows that calve later than the 52nd day of calving are not likely to resume fertile cycles until the second 21 days of the breeding season or later.

Most producers recognize that first-calf heifers take about 20 to 30 days longer to resume fertile cycles after calving than mature cows. In order to have fertile cycles by the start of the breeding season for their second pregnancy, first-calf heifers need to calve in good body condition at least 100 days ahead of breeding – which is before the mature cows start calving. 

Whether cows calve in the first, second, or third 21 days (or later) in the calving season impacts the timing of when they will resume fertile cycles and can become pregnant in the following breeding season; therefore, cow-calf herds have reproductive momentum from year to year. This momentum can be positive (most cows calve early in calving season and breed early in the following breeding season) or negative (most cows calve late in calving season and breed late in the following breeding season). Positive momentum results in cows that calve early and have increased longevity in the herd. 

Another important fact to understand about cattle reproduction is that even when a perfectly fertile cow is mated to a fertile bull, not every mating will result in successful fertilization and embryo development. In fact, we estimate that the likelihood of a fertile mating will result in pregnancy that can be detected at preg-check time is 60 to 70%.

Most commonly, this pregnancy failure occurs during the first 14 days of pregnancy and the cow will express heat and ovulate a fertile egg about 21 days after her last heat and have another 60-70% chance of conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy. Cows with three opportunities to be mated to a fertile bull (each with a 60-70% probability of a successful pregnancy) during a breeding season will have a 90-95% probability of giving birth to a calf at the end of gestation. Animals in the herd expected to have completed the postpartum anestrous period and to be having fertile estrous cycles by the 21st day of the following breeding season include: nearly all mature cows that calve in good body condition during the first 21 days of calving, many of the mature cows that calve in good body condition in the second 21 days, some of the cows that calve between 42 and 52 days into the calving season, and first-calf heifers that calve before the start of the mature cow calving season. 

Cows with only two opportunities to be mated to a fertile bull during a breeding season will have about an 84% to 91% probability of becoming pregnant and maintaining a pregnancy to the end of gestation. Cows with only two or fewer opportunities for mating would include mature cows that give birth to a calf more than 42-52 days after the start of the calving season, first-calf heifers that calve after the start of the mature cow calving season, and first calf heifers or mature cows that are thin and have a prolonged period of postpartum anestrus. 

Extending the breeding season longer than 65 days (three 21-day periods) will allow more cows to become pregnant, but cows that conceive more than 52 days after the start of breeding are very unlikely to begin fertile estrous cycles until the second or later 21 day period of the breeding season, and cows that conceive more than 82 days after the start of breeding will not calve until after the start of the following breeding season. This scenario could be described as “negative reproductive momentum”.

From a reproductive standpoint, herds should be managed so that 95% or more of the cows have resumed fertile cycles early enough to be mated during the first 21 days of the breeding season. This will result in herds that are “front-end loaded” and have “positive momentum”, in that 60% or more of the cows will calve in the first 21 days and 85% of the cows will calve in the first two 21-day periods. In order to achieve this goal, producers must focus on: developing heifers to become pregnant early in the breeding season, ensuring bull breeding soundness, aligning the calving period with optimal resource availability, managing forage and supplementation to ensure good cow body condition going into calving, and minimizing reproductive losses due to disease.

Record Keeping

Bob L. Larson, DVM, PhD
Beef Cattle Institute
Kansas State University

Because cow-calf operations characteristically have high operating costs and deal with fluctuating input and sale prices, ranches typically operate within a narrow profit margin. However, there are great differences between ranches in their overall profitability as defined by the difference between prices received and operating costs. In order to maintain a profitable ranching operation, producers must continually look to improve herd efficiency through increasing the value of animals sold and/or decreasing the cost of production. The use of records is essential to identify sources of inefficient production so that management changes can be implemented, and then to track the effects of management decisions on production efficiency. In addition, the trend toward “identity preservation”, and “process verification” has led to new opportunities for those producers that can document production practices as well as growth efficiency and carcass quality after cattle leave the ranch.

Veterinarians who work with beef cattle producers often desire records to assist in the assessment of production efficiency, to help in the investigation of disease outbreaks, and as a component of Beef Quality Assurance (BQA). Different veterinarians have preferences for different types of records and record-keeping systems, but all would agree that having accurate information about the herd has many valuable uses.

Systems for gathering data for records are numerous and varied. These systems can collect data on either the whole herd or on individual animals. The simplest form of record gathering is head counts for the purpose of keeping accurate inventories. The next level of record gathering is whole herd data that includes percent calf crop, percent pregnant, average sale (weaning) weights, etc. and this type of record gathering is adequate to get a picture of overall herd performance. The next level of record keeping involves individual animal performance records which provide the best information for identifying problems and possible solutions, however, this type of system requires a greater commitment in time and expense.

From a record-keeping standpoint, the needs of cow-calf ranches differ from other livestock operations such as dairies, feedlots, and swine or poultry operations in that cow-calf ranches only collect usable information at a few specific times of the year such as at preg-check, weaning, pasture turn-out, or at times that specific ranches handle their cattle. This is in contrast to other livestock production systems that hand-deliver feed on a daily basis, measure production on a daily (dairy) or at least weekly or monthly (swine or poultry) basis due to frequent marketing, and tend to have more animals so that treatment for disease is a frequent activity of herd management. Because of these differences, the relatively low amount and frequency of data collection in cow-calf herds allows ranchers to have very effective record keeping systems that are simpler than systems needed by other livestock production systems. In fact, a lot of important information can be captured on the ear tag or freeze brand (year of birth, sire breed, calving order – i.e. calved early or late in calving season) and paper or relatively simple computer programs can be used to keep and organize ranch production and health records. It is important to gather all the information that you will need to make decisions, but it is not necessary to set up record-keeping systems that collect information that is not used.

One area of record keeping that is valuable for cow-calf ranches and their veterinarians is information to measure reproductive efficiency. The information that is needed to identify opportunities for enhanced reproductive efficiency and to help diagnose reproductive inefficiency includes: accurate estimates of when cows become pregnant, cow characteristics such as age and breed, and breeding group information such as which bulls were in the breeding pasture, characteristics of the breeding bulls such as age and breed, the length of the breeding season, and a record of any events such as bull injury that occurred during the breeding season. Veterinarians can use this information to create graphs that show how many cows become pregnant each 21-day period of the breeding season, and can determine if specific ages, breeds, or breeding groups are not as reproductively efficient as the rest of the herd.

When veterinarians investigate disease outbreaks, information about which cattle got sick or died (age of cattle affected), what behavior the rancher saw that caused concern, the date an animal was first identified as sick or died, and which pasture or lot the sick animals were housed in prior to being identified can all be used to look for patterns in age, location, dam age, or other characteristics that help identify the events that led up to the disease problem. Any information about individual sick cattle or outbreaks of disease should be kept for several years so that if a similar problem reoccurs, accurate information is available.

Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) involves several aspects of cattle management that directly affect the quality of the beef products sold to consumers as well as the health and welfare of the herd. Accurate documentation of all events that occur to an animal from the time of birth, through all of the production phases and on into the slaughter house is becoming the expected level of record-keeping.  Whenever a vaccine, dewormer, fly control, antibiotic or other product is administered to cattle, you should record the exact name of the product, the serial number of the product you purchased, the dose that was administered, and how the cattle were treated (i.e. by mouth, in the muscle, under the skin, etc.).

If you are considering a change in your record keeping system, it is important to develop a system that collects all the information that you need to make the management decisions that you are targeting; but in the simplest manner than accomplishes your goal. The output of any record keeping system should allow you to easily and accurately see the overall productivity of your herd as well as to use individual performance data to make management changes that improve overall efficiency.

Hy-Plains Feedyard with Paula

Written by: Patti Dollarhide

Paula Ghazarian

“Paula, do you want to go on a road trip?”

“Sure, where to?  We made great memories when we traveled to the nutrition conference in Miami on the beach a few years back.  When and where?”

“June 20, 2019 at Hy-Plains Education & Research Center, Montezuma, KS.  Be sure to wear close-toed shoes.”

And that is all it took to get my friend Paula Ghazarian, RN, leader of the Infection Control oversight team at one of the largest hospitals in Kansas for many years, to attend the “Appropriate Antimicrobial & Use & Stewardship” conference several hundred miles away.  She is a life-long learner who pursues learning no matter what the time or setting.  Paula was raised in West Virginia and has stories about raccoons, squirrels and prized coon dogs that make you laugh so hard your stomach hurts, but we soon found that cattle chat was a foreign language to her.  The cattle talk took us to other health-related topics.  I could feel some common ground as she shared her frustration with parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, resulting in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.  This easily translates to the cattle business as our customers want us to stop using antibiotics to treat food animals.

We arrived at the Hy-Plains feedlot a little early, and Tom Jones took time to give Paula a tour of the cattle processing area.  Her morning started off with amazement.  “I had no idea it would be so calm, quiet and clean.  I was expecting chaos and very bad odor.”

Paula asked a few questions that were easy to answer, as well as some that don’t really have answers.  She was disappointed that a retailer she held in high esteem due to their stand against antibiotics in chickens has created a trade-off that includes a negative effect on animal welfare.  Increasing animal mortality is not the outcome she wants.

As the day went on, speakers discussed opportunities in our business to reduce stressors that drive how we currently use medically important antibiotics   Modern beef production is a highly specialized business in which technology has allowed farmers to produce more food for a growing world and still stay in business – a cattleman’s ultimate definition of sustainability.

Two different times during the day, questions came from the agriculture audience wondering what the human medical community is doing to address appropriate use and stewardship.   We know, and they know, that there are opportunities.  Paula shared multiple examples on our return trip of how practices and procedures have changed, such as simple oversight in the ICU to remove Foley catheters after three days which had an immediate impact on infection reduction.   She also shared case studies that her specialized infectious disease team worked with that would break your heart.

One Health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment.  Research and industry collaboration are essential.  I was proud to have my friend see and hear the efforts that are going on in the agriculture community to make change so she will trust our food supply and want to continue to eat beef

My hope for future meetings is to include more human health professionals in our discussions.  Let’s hear what initiatives they are working on and address antimicrobial use together.

Thru the eye of an infection control nurse not familiar with USA Beef production:

  1. How do the animals get out of this chute?  How do you get them back to the pen?
  2. Why do you track “days on feet”?  Aren’t they always on their feet? 
  3. What are “check off dollars”?
  4. I have never heard of ionophores in human medicine.  What are they? 
  5. There is a lot to know about.
  6. How to the producers at the farmer’s market fit into this model?
  7. There are trade-offs. 
  8. I never thought about how we grind different animals together to make hamburgers.
  9. Antibiotic resistance is everyone’s problem.  We have a lot of examples of changes we have made in human medicine, as well as a lot of challenges this group might be interested in.

Using the Pregnancy Analytics Mobile App: Bull problems and BSEs

The Beef Cattle Institute’s Dr. Bob Larson brings you a series of “cases” employing the use of the Pregnancy Analytics mobile app. Each case will explore a unique herd and examine its reproductive efficiency, strengths, challenges and areas of improvement. The reports (linked below) will lead you through using the Pregnancy Analytics app to utilize the data and practice using it on an actual problem herd.

The case: Bull problems and BSEs

A herd of 209 commercial red-composite cows was palpated on October 7. The herd is split into three breeding pastures with bulls being turned out on June 10 and removed on August 15. The calves were being weaned on the ranch (i.e. left in their current pastures) and the cows were being trucked to a new pasture so the owner started dropping off cows at your clinic very early in the morning to be preg-checked, dewormed, and vaccinated before being taken to fall grazing on corn stalks. During the breeding season: 62 were in the “West Pasture” with two bulls, 81 were in the “North Pasture” with three bulls, and 66 were in the “Windmill Pasture” with two bulls. About 60% of the first-calf heifers were in the West Pasture –– with the rest split between the other two pastures.


Seventy-six cows were open (64% were pregnant) and only 8% of the cows were classified as being “thin” (BCS <5).

The first analysis of the preg-check data was to look at the percent of the herd that became pregnant each 21-day period of the breeding season and we find that 44.5% of the herd became pregnant in the first 21-days (pregnancies would have been 98 to 119 days), 13.9% in the second 21-day period (77-97 days), and 5.3% in the third 21-day period (56-76 days). The goal for this herd (and most herds) is to have at least 60% of the cows becoming pregnant in the first 21 days of breeding.

Another way to evaluate preg-check data is to determine the percent of the available (non-pregnant) cattle that become pregnant each 21-day period. Recognize that as the breeding season goes along, once cattle become pregnant, they are no longer available to get pregnant again, so the percent of the herd that becomes pregnant each 21 days is not the same as the percent of available cattle that become pregnant each 21 days. To display this measure of reproductive success using the Pregnancy Analytics App – select “% Preg Success”. Based on expected pregnancy success when both cow and bull fertility is optimum, the “% Preg Success” goal should be between 60%-70% for every 21-day period of the breeding season.

Looking at the percentage of open cows that became pregnant each 21-day period, we find that either cow or bull fertility (or both) was lower than desired at the start of the breeding season (44.5% settling in first 21 days) and pregnancy success did not improve and in fact got worse as the breeding season progressed (25% in the second 21 days and 12.6% in the third 21 days).

In this herd, the poor over-all percentage pregnant clearly indicates a problem and the percent pregnant by 21-day interval provides information that the poor reproductive performance continued for the entire breeding season. To begin to evaluate the herd further, the Pregnancy Analytics App provides a way to easily divide the herd into pertinent sub-groups – and when the pregnancy success by 21-days is evaluated by age group, we find that both the first-calf heifers and the mature cows had too many open cows. (1st-calf heifers are defined as those cows suckling their first calf and being bred for their second pregnancy).

More information can be found by displaying the % Preg Success and while neither the 1st-calf heifers nor the cows reached the expected reproductive performance of 60-70% of open cows becoming pregnant in a 21-day period –– the 1st calf heifers tended to perform better than cows and the performance declined over the breeding season.

The preg-check data can also be evaluated by comparing the breed-up differences between body condition score categories. We know that only 8% of the herd was classified as “thin” at the time of preg-check, so we may be justified to ignore any assessment of the association between BCS and pregnancy distribution in this herd; but to be complete, I looked at BCS and found that cows classified as being in moderate body condition performed as poorly as cows classified as being thin.

So far, the information I have looked at raises the possibility of either Trichomoniasis or bull problems being the most likely rule-outs – with cow infertility due to nutritional or late-calving being less likely because the magnitude of open cows is more compatible with bull problems or Trich and the fact that fertility does not improve as the cows have more time post-partum to resume fertile cycles as the breeding season progresses.

The most revealing information about this herd is obtained by looking at the effect of breeding pasture on reproductive performance (both the pregnancy distribution and % Preg Success).

I interpret this information as evidence that the primary problem for this herd is in the Windmill pasture. The other two pastures (West and North) perform very well early in the breeding season – indicating that the cows must have had time post-partum and adequate nutrition pre- and post-partum to resume fertile cycles by the 21st day of the breeding season. Nearly all the open cows were in the Windmill pasture and fertility was very poor throughout the breeding season. The magnitude of the infertility is worse than I would expect for Trichomoniasis and definitely worse than I would expect with a cow problem (in addition, excellent cow performance in the other pastures pretty much rules out a cow problem). The poor reproductive performance in the Windmill pasture must be due to a bull problem.


The primary problem in this herd is in the Windmill pasture and almost has to be due to a bull problem even though the rancher reports that all the bulls were between three and five years of age and had been successful breeders in previous years. I would recommend a BSE on both bulls from this pasture, but if one or both bulls pass the BSE, my diagnosis would not change (finding a musculoskeletal or semen problem in one or both bulls would confirm the diagnosis).

To prevent this problem in the future, I would strongly recommend a BSE for all bulls before the start of breeding and frequent assessment of bull musculoskeletal health and amount of estrus activity throughout the breeding season.

Download the report here.

Vet Call: Anaplasmosis

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM, professor of production medicine
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

Anaplasmosis is a serious disease that affects cattle in an increasing larger area of the country. A tiny organism called Anaplasma marginale attaches to red blood cells which leads to destruction of those cells and a decrease in the ability of affected cattle to carry oxygen in their blood. If more red blood cells are destroyed than the animal can replace with new cells the blood becomes watery, the animal becomes anemic, and other signs of infection can occur including yellow discoloration of the mucus membranes, fever, depression, dehydration and rapid or difficult breathing. Sometimes affected animals become excited and aggressive when not enough oxygen reaches the brain. Young animals are often able to recover because they can make new red blood cells very quickly, but older animals do not produce new cells very fast and they can quickly become very anemic and have very low oxygen levels in the blood leading to severe illness or death.

Anaplasmosis is primarily transferred between cattle by ticks, but the movement of blood from infected cattle to susceptible cattle can also be accomplished by biting flies such as horseflies, or by human activities such as via blood-contaminated needles, dehorning instruments, tattoo pliers or palpation sleeves. The disease has historically been a problem in the southern parts of the United States but has now spread north so that cattlemen in many important beef-producing areas need to be aware of the problem. In herds that become exposed to the organism, cattle of any age can become infected, but the severity of illness is usually mild in young cattle and increases with age. In cattle that become infected when they are 3 years of age or older, 30% to 50% of animals showing signs of the disease are likely to die. If infected cattle are able to survive they are not likely to have severe problems due to the disease in the future, but they remain as carriers for the rest of their life. In some cases these carrier infections can be eliminated using antibiotic treatment.

The first sign of anaplasmosis in a herd may be the sudden death of adult cattle. If anaplasmosis is identified as a cause of death and disease in a herd, cattle that are obviously sick should be kept as quite as possible and treated with a blood transfusion to replace red blood cells and/or with an injectable tetracycline antibiotic to kill the organism. In addition, healthy animals should be moved away from the affected cattle to reduce the risk of the organism being transferred to the rest of the herd by ticks or biting insects, and low levels of tetracycline can be fed in the mineral mix or supplement to provide additional protection to the herd.

For carrier cattle that don’t appear sick but that are infected with the anaplasma organism, your veterinarian can plan a treatment protocol using tetracycline antibiotics administered over several days to clear the organism. However treatment with tetracycline is not effective for all cattle and those animals that are cleared of the organism become susceptible to re-infection.

The best plan to minimize disease lose due to anaplasmosis depends greatly on a farm’s or ranch’s geographic location and the number of cattle in the area that are infected. In parts of the country where anaplasmosis infection is rare, a strategy to find and treat and/or remove any carrier-animals is recommended. In contrast, in areas of the country where many cattle are infected, an attempt to remove all carriers from a herd will result in a herd that is susceptible to re-infection and the herd may have greater losses than if other strategies had been used to minimize the disease’s effects.

If infected cattle are found in a herd in a part of the country where anaplasmosis is rare, one strategy to minimize disease loss is to test the herd for anaplasmosis infection and to treat any test-positive animals with tetracycline as directed by your veterinarian. This treatment should be at a time of year when the local tick and fly population is the lowest. Because the treatment does not clear infection from every animal, the animals should be tested again about six months after the tetracycline treatment and if a positive is found at this time, it should be considered a treatment-failure and removed from the herd, either by slaughter or by being sold to a herd in an area where anaplasmosis is common.

In contrast, in herds located where anaplasmosis is common, rather than trying to avoid infection, some producers may want to allow infection to occur while the cattle are young in order to minimize obvious sickness and death loss. In some countries young animals are purposefully exposed to the organism allowing them to build immunity at a time in their life when the disease is mild. Although they will be infected for life, they are not likely to suffer severe illness. In some states in the U.S., your veterinarian may be able to obtain an experimental anaplasmosis vaccine that does not prevent infection, but is reported to reduce the risk of clinical signs and death. Producers may also elect to feed low levels of chlortetracycline when the disease is most prevalent to control active infection and use insecticides to control tick and fly populations.

Because the best anaplasmosis control strategy for a particular farm or ranch depends on how likely that herd is to come into to contact with the organism, an important component of a control strategy is a plan to deal with replacement animals. If your herd is free of anaplasmosis and the risk of exposure is low, any replacement animal should be tested before being brought into contact with the herd. A test-positive animal should either be culled or isolated and treated with tetracycline and then re-tested six months after treatment. In contrast, if your herd is infected with anaplasmosis and the organism is common in your area, a test-positive replacement animal is desired, and the greatest health risk is in replacement animals that are not infected with the organism but that will be placed in direct contact with carrier animals. In this situation, one option is purposeful exposure (or vaccination if available) with close monitoring for clinical signs of the disease and quick treatment if disease is detected.

Anaplasmosis control requires a good working relationship with your veterinarian to determine your level of risk and best control strategies. The best control strategy for your herd may be very different from that of your neighbors or cattlemen in other parts of the country.

Dr. Bob Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. He specializes in the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

BCI collaborates with K-State’s housing and dining, animal science, others to celebrate Kansas Day

Beef was for dinner on Tuesday, Jan. 29 for every on-campus student at K-State’s Derby, Van Zile and Kramer dining halls. To celebrate Kansas’s 158th birthday, the BCI partnered with K-State’s Department of Housing and Dining Services; Department of Animal Sciences and Industry and the department’s Collegiate Cattlemen and Meat Science Association; and the Kansas Beef Council, to bring burgers and other Kansas-sourced foods to plates across campus. The night fostered promotion of beef in college dining centers and discussion of beef-related perceptions.

Kansas-sourced beef burgers twice the size of the dining halls’ standard menu drew students from across campus residence halls to wait in 20-minute lines.

Students waited an average of 20 minutes to enjoy the double-sized burgers served at K-State’s Derby, Kramer and Van Zile dining halls on Kansas Day.

The event, spurred by the Beef Cattle Institute’s (BCI) Director of Value Chain Alliances Patti Dollarhide, collaborated with Dr. Kelly Whitehair, instructor with the college’s Department of Human Ecology, to raise students’ awareness of beef.

The menu featured beef burgers from K-State’s Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, buns from Flowers Baking Company in Lenexa, macaroni and cheese made with sorghum from Nu Life Market in Scott City, chili verde made with pork from the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, rolls made with flour from Grain Craft Mills in McPherson, and birthday cake and K-State’s own Call Hall ice cream.

Students attending the dining halls that evening were greeted with a large image of a cow projected on-screen, and members of the university’s Collegiate Cattlemen’s club and meat science program, who helped answer student questions.

Both Dollarhide and Dr. Whitehair agree the double-sized burgers were a huge hit, but Dr. Whitehair believes the students understanding the products were made in Kansas made an impact.

“Beef is important to sustaining our Kansas economy,” says Dollarhide. “I wanted to feature this healthy, delicious protein in conjunction with our talented K-State dining services team, which has a reputation for serving great food. It was important to have representatives from the Department of Animal Science’s Collegiate Cattlemen and the Meat Science Association available to  answer questions for those unfamiliar with modern agriculture. Telling the story of Kansas beef here in our dorms proved to be one more way we can be transparent about our industry and help people feel good about enjoying beef in their diets. The dining staff executed the meal perfectly, and the long burger lines proved there was no difficulty getting students to celebrate Kansas beef.”

Plans are in the works to hold the event again next year, as well as for more beef education events throughout the year.

Patti Dollarhide is a registered dietitian and the director of beef value chain alliances at Kansas State University’s Beef Cattle Institute. Learn more about her here

Listen to a clip from the Kansas Livestock Association here.

Top 5 ways to prevent and manage calf scours

By Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine

5. Identify sick calves as soon as possible so that you can remove them from contact with other calves and to treat them appropriately with fluids as directed by your veterinarian.

4. Make sure that cows calve in adequate body condition (Body Condition Score of 5 or 6) to ensure that each cow has a sufficient quantity of good quality colostrum.

3. Make sure that cows don’t congregate in one area of the pasture and create an extremely muddy environment for calves. Even if placed in a large pasture, cows will congregate near the feed and water and calves won’t spend time in the parts of the pasture that are clean. As much as possible, separate water sources and feed source and move bale rings frequently or unroll hay in a different part of the calving or nursery pasture each day so that cows and their calves spend time in the cleanest parts of the pasture.

2. Separate older calves from younger calves. Calves are at greatest risk for scours during the first three weeks of life and become fairly resistant by six to eight weeks of age. Even though older calves are not as likely to become sick with scours, they still shed a lot of the germs that cause scours and are a major source of germs to the susceptible young calves. Using several nursery pastures so that each pasture only contains calves of similar age greatly decreases the risk of calf scours.

1. Make every week like the first week of the calving season for as many cows as possible. The Sandhills Calving System recommends that enough calving pastures are available so that once a week all of the cows that calved that week are left in the pasture with their calves and all the cows that have not calved yet are moved to a new, clean pasture. In this system, calves born every week of the calving season are protected from exposed to older calves and are born on clean ground. Although starting new calving pastures each week is ideal, if you don’t have enough pastures to implement the full Sandhills System, starting new calving pastures by moving pregnant cows away from cow-calf pairs every two, or three, or even every four weeks will result in as many calves being born in the first week of their calving pasture as possible.

Vet Call: Cold-weather concerns

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM, professor of production medicine
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

A high percentage of the U.S. beef herd resides in areas of the country where moderately to extremely cold winter temperatures are common. By planning for winter weather, ranchers can avoid being caught off-guard by extreme events and can manage the typical winter conditions so cattle do not have to continually utilize body fat as an energy source to keep warm, leading to excessive loss of body condition.

Situations that are most likely to cause cold stress are: Cattle with thin fat cover and short hair coats (due to movement from a warmer environment to a colder environment, or extremely cold temperatures early in the fall/winter season); cattle with wet hides, or high wind speed accompanying cold temperatures. Wind chill is a better predictor of cold stress than temperature alone because cold wind draws heat away more quickly than still air at the same temperature. Wet or mud-caked hair losses its ability to insulate the animal and a wet winter hair coat only provides as much protection from the cold as a typical summer hair coat. If cold wind is combined with a wet hair coat (as can occur during a winter storm), the effects can be very profound.

Adult cattle with a dry hair coat, adequate body condition, and abundant, adequate-quality forage can withstand most winter situations, especially if they have the ability to find protection from wind and have been exposed to moderately cold conditions for several weeks which allows them to acclimate by growing a thick winter hair coat and increasing feed intake. As temperatures drop, cattle increase heat production which means the number of calories they need for maintenance increases. This increase is met by consuming more feed and moving it through the digestive tract faster, but the cost of this faster movement is that feed is not digested as fully. The effect of needing increased calories for maintenance at the same time that feed digestibility is decreasing means that if cows do not have access to plenty of digestible feed, they will have to “burn” body fat as a calorie source.

Another factor that can limit feed intake in winter conditions is if water sources are frozen or unavailable. If feed intake cannot keep up with energy demands, and body fat is mobilized to meet energy demands, then the cows will have less fat insulation and will be more susceptible to cold temperatures, causing a viscous cycle that can lead to cold stress and even more weight loss.

Cold weather brings a special concern with bulls because of the potential to have frostbite damage to the scrotum and testicles. It is very important that bulls have protection from the wind and adequate bedding if they are housed on concrete or dirt.

Cold temperatures have the greatest potential to cause serious problems in young calves, particularly calves in the first day of life. Because calves are born wet, have thin skin and very little body fat, they lose body heat very rapidly and if they are not able to become dry, can quickly become severely cold stressed. Contact with snow or wet ground will increase the amount of time that a calf stays wet and in danger. Body temperature of newborn calves can drop to dangerously low levels in 3 hours or less.
Calves are born with a body temperature of about 100˚F. When exposed to a cold environment, calves are able to produce heat in two ways: shivering and the heat production of brown fat (fat that surrounds the kidneys of a new-born), and they can conserve heat by reducing blood flow to the body surface and extremities (feet, ears, etc.). In early stages of cold exposure, calves will shiver vigorously and have a fast heart rate and breathing rate. If that does not keep the body temperature up, the calf’s body sends less blood to feet, ears and nose in an effort to minimize heat loss. Severe cold stress occurs when the body temperature drops below 94˚F. At this temperature, the brain and other organs are affected and the calf becomes depressed, unable to rise, unwilling to suckle, and will temporarily lose the ability to shiver. The good news is that if the calf can be warmed up and its body temperature can begin to rise, the shivering response will return and the core body temperature will slowly increase.

During periods of cold or wet weather, newborn calves (less than 1 to 2 days of age) should be checked every few hours with a thermometer and any calf with a below-normal temperature, even if it appears OK, should be warmed. Calves suffering from cold stress must be warmed so that body temperature can rise above 100˚F. If body temperature has not dropped too far, putting the calf in the cab of a pickup out of the wind and rain or snow will warm the calf. In more severe cases the calves can be placed in warm water, specially designed warming boxes, or near a heat source such as an electric blanket, heat lamp, or hot water bottles. To avoid skin burns, the heat source should not exceed 108˚F. In addition to an external heat source, cold-stressed calves should be fed warm colostrum, milk, or electrolyte fluid with an energy source using an esophageal feeder.

Prevention of cold stress involves management to ensure that calves can be born in a short period of time and both the calf and dam can stand shortly after calving so that they can bond and the calf can begin suckling. Anything that prolongs calving or reduces the chance that a calf will suckle soon after birth should be addressed by management changes. Calving difficulties are minimized by proper heifer development, proper bull selection for calving ease, and proper nutrition so that heifers and cows calve in a body condition score of 5 to 6 on a 9-point scale. Cows with large teats or that are not attentive mothers should be culled.

Use of pasture as the primary forage source during calving encourages cows to keep spread apart and minimizes development of muddy areas. If the herd forage plan includes feeding hay, consider feeding hay in early to mid-gestation and saving stockpiled pasture for the calving season. If supplemental hay and grain are fed during calving, these should be provided at locations that are separate and distant from water sources and windbreaks. I discourage the use of bale rings in calving and nursery pastures and suggest that if using large round bales, they be unrolled and the feeding area changed with each feeding. Unrolled bales will have greater hay waste, but reduced chance for mud caused by concentrating the herd into small feeding areas, and unrolled hay provides bedding for newborn calves so that they are not in direct contact with the ground.

In addition to monitoring the weather forecast for severe winter weather events and to be alerted to times when additional feed is needed, minimizing the effects of cold temperatures on newborn calves involves planning ahead and considering calf comfort and protection when making heifer development, bull selection, nutrition and pasture-management decisions. Making sure that cows will have adequate access to forage and water even in situations with significant snow cover is necessary to provide sufficient calories to maintain body fat and heat production. Protecting the cow herd (and bulls) from winter wind and providing bedding if on concrete or mud/dirt will minimize the effects of severe weather.

Dr. Bob Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. He specializes in the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

VTPRK alumni join BCI for workshop

On January 17, the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University hosted 19 graduates of the Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas (VTPRK) in Manhattan. The conference represented the first reunion of VTPRK alumni, and focused on promoting success earlier in the veterinary career. The College of Veterinary Medicine alumni attended presentations by Dr. Brad White, director of the BCI; Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine; Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal science and extension specialist; Dr. Dustin Pendell, associate professor of agricultural economics; and Dr. Tom Schwartz, director of the Veterinary Health Center.

Topics covered during the workshop included: Getting the most out of your career and life; adding value to your beef practice; cow herd reproductive services; and veterinary practice economics. The interactive sessions fostered discussion of improving veterinary clinic value, and improving relationships with clients and coworkers.

The day concluded with a reception inviting current K-State veterinary students to visit with VTPRK alumni.

The VTPRK program supports five students in each class enrolled in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM) program at K-State in obtaining $20,000 annually as a loan to be used for educational expenses. Each veterinary student in the program can borrow up to $80,000 during the four years while completing his or her veterinary degree to be forgiven if the veterinarian practices in a qualifying rural Kansas community for four years following graduation. Preference is given to students who are Kansas residents and who are determined to practice in any county in Kansas with fewer than 35,000 residents.

VTPRK alumni in attendance:
Carson Abrams –– Cottonwood Animal Clinic, Arkansas City
Tera Barnhardt –– Cattle Empire LLC, Satanta
Caitlin Beall –– Central Veterinary Services, P.A., Stockton
Nicole Born –– Countryside Veterinary Clinic, Garnett
Curtis Concannon –– Atchison Animal Clinic, Atchison
Christopher Cox –– Spur Ridge Vet Hospital, Marion
Darla Dwyer –– Flyin’ 3 Veterinary Service, Eureka
Bruce Figger –– South Wind Animal Health, Stafford
David Hanks –– East Emporia Veterinary Clinic, Emporia
Adam Hatesohl –– Animal Health Center, Washington
Nick Henning –– Heartland Veterinary Center, Ness City
Adam Lukert –– St. Marys Veterinary Service, St. Marys
Jodi Pitts –– Santa Fe Trail Veterinary Clinic, LLC, Montezuma
Elyse Rottinghaus –– McPherson Vet Clinic, McPherson
Stacy Rugan –– Animal Clinic P.A., Frankfort
Corbyn Schroeder –– Cedar Ridge Veterinary Clinic, Atchison
Sara Strickland –– Red Oak Animal Hospital, Bucyrus
Amy Sunday –– Heartland Veterinary Health Center, Holton
Jessica Winter –– Hillsboro Animal Clinic, Hillsboro

Current students in attendance:
Matt Kelso –– Class of 2020
Lena Fernkopf –– Class of 2021
Colton Hull –– Class of 2022
Whitney Sloan –– Class of 2022
Natasha Vangundy –– Class of 2022
Shanlyn Hefley –– Class of 2020
Anna Hickert –– Class of 2020
William Patterson –– Class of 2022
Shaylee Flax –– Class of 2022
Jared Heiman –– Class of 2021


Sustainable Beef 101: Food service professionals

Recently, the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University (K-State) hosted 22 members from the Department of Housing and Dining Services’ food service management team to learn about beef sustainability.

The tour, “Sustainable Beef 101: Food service professionals,” was intended to teach non-biased beef sustainability information to non-commercial foodservice providers.

“With this information, the Beef Cattle Institute aims to develop long-lasting relationships within the foodservice industry so that there will be ongoing dialogue about beef sustainability which will occur both up and down the supply chain using current scientific information,” said Patti Dollarhide, BCI project director of beef value chain alliances.

Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal sciences and industry and extension specialist, discusses low-stress cattle handling techniques with tour participants.

Food service professionals are vital to the future of the beef industry. As a land-grant university, K-State has a unique opportunity to help educate its food service professionals on where the beef they serve comes from.

Tour participants first visited K-State’s Stanley Stout Center where they learned the differences in methods of raising and taste of grass-and-grain finished beef. Debbie Lyons-Blythe, owner of Blythe Angus Ranch and Blythe Family Farms in White City, Kansas, and Lee Borck, chairman of Innovative Livestock Services and Beef Marketing Group in Manhattan, Kansas, both members of the BCI’s advisory board, answered the group’s questions. The visitors interacted during a live demonstration of low-stress animal handling at the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry’s Purebred Unit. The tour wrapped up at the Intake Unit where Dr. Bob Weaber, professor of animal science and industry and extension specialist, discussed confined feeding operations. Tour participants were given the opportunity to make their own “cattle casserole,” using ingredients common in cattle feed rations.

During the BCI’s Sustainable Beef 101 tour for food service professionals, participants were able to make their own “cattle casserole” using ingredients used to make cattle feed rations.

Tour participants agreed K-State’s beef production specialists are passionate about both their cattle and their work. The participating food service professionals enjoyed taking photos throughout the day and sharing what they learned about beef sustainability.

The BCI hopes this experience will help K-State’s food service professionals be more knowledgeable when purchasing meat, and help their team be a source of information for campus consumers.

“Our professional management team was excited for the opportunity to learn more about the science and production practices surrounding the beef industry,” said Mary Molt, associate director of K-State Housing and Dining Services. “The continuous quest of ranchers, feeders, and researchers to produce the best quality of beef using the most sustainable practices was especially educational. The program has prepared us to answer questions about the beef we serve. The real-life experience of seeing beef production operations and hearing from so many professionals has given us the accurate information to respond with some authority to the misconceptions we sometimes hear.”

More tours will be planned in the future. For more information on these sustainable beef tours, contact Patti Dollarhide at 785-564-7461 or

10 resolutions for cattle producers in 2019

New year, new herd.
Well, maybe not entirely. But here are 10 resolutions to help keep your cattle and your operation in top condition all through 2019.
1: Increase oversight of bulls.
Conduct breeding soundness exams (BSEs) regularly and make sure your bulls are out there doing their job.
2: Keep better records.
Preferably on each individual animal. Not just production and reproduction, but economics and finances, too.
3: Implement a body condition score (BCS) collection system.
Set a target to evaluate and collect scores two to four times per year.
4: Shoot for fewer days of harvested-forage feeding.
Maximize your grazing days.
5: Troubleshoot handling facilities.
Headgate that hangs up? Fences that need mended? Identify your problem areas and get them fixed.
6: Give your facilities a walk through when you’re not working cattle.
Less stress for everyone.
7: Participate in CattleTrace.
Get involved.
8: Have a plan for calving season.
Include dystocia troubleshooting and have your facilities ready for 2019 calves.
9: Implement strategies.
Think grazing management, herd health and calving management.
10: Increase your expert network.
Establish and maintain relationships with industry experts. These might include veterinarians, economists, bankers, geneticists and many others.
This list was originally broadcast on the BCI CattleChat podcast. Listen to the episode here.

Vet Call: The role of the veterinarian in your business

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM, professor of production medicine
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

Many people impact the success of your ranching business, including your customers, your lenders and your suppliers. One of the important suppliers for cow-calf producers is the local veterinarian. Veterinarians can provide important advice and service to improve ranch income, decrease costs, provide protection from losses due to disease, and offer options for marketing high-health cattle.

Ranch income is primarily derived from the sale of calves either at weaning for commercial operations or as breeding bulls or heifers for seedstock producers. Commercial ranchers can increase their income by increasing the pounds of calves at weaning and seedstock operations the number of marketable breeding animals from the same land and cow resources by increasing the reproductive efficiency of the herd. Veterinarians can provide advice and services to monitor and evaluate heifers, cows, and bulls so that a high percentage of the herd is able to successfully mate at the start of each breeding season.

Nutrition has an important impact on whether or not growing bulls and heifers reach puberty at an appropriate age and your veterinarian may be able to provide you with appropriate diets to meet targeted weight gain goals. Genetics also strongly influences whether developing bulls and heifers reach puberty by target ages, and your veterinarian is a valuable resource when considering selection and culling decisions. By doing breeding soundness examinations of bulls and heifers near yearling age, your veterinarian can help you identify the individuals that reach puberty at the time and with the amount of feed resources that you have identified to meet your ranch goals.

Doing breeding soundness examinations of mature bulls prior to the start of each breeding season allows your veterinarian to remove bulls that may fail during the breeding season due to foot or leg problems, other health problems, or reproductive tract problems. Although the reproductive tracts of mature cows are not routinely evaluated before the start of each breeding season, managing and monitoring the cows to confirm that a high percentage of the cows calve early enough in the calving season and in good enough body condition to resume fertile cycles by the start of the breeding season helps to ensure that herd reproductive efficiency will be high.

Monitoring body condition scores of the cow herd and rainfall amounts as predictors of future forage production potential allows your veterinarian to provide advice on a changing year-by-year basis to alter stocking density, timing of weaning, and supplementation strategies to ensure that cows enter the calving and breeding seasons in good body condition. The land base and herd size dictate much of the cost-side of cow-calf production and making sure that a high percentage of the cow herd becomes pregnant early in the breeding season allows those costs to be spread over a large number of marketable calves. By using body condition scores collected at several key points in the production cycle, your veterinarian can help you fine-tune the management of your herd based on the ranch forage-base, and the availability of cost-effective supplements or grazing alternatives, and the optimum cow size and milking ability for your herd.

While every production year is expected to generate income from the sale of calves and to incur expenses associated with pasture and supplementation costs as well as cow depreciation and bull costs, significant losses due to disease are expected to be a rare event for cattle operations. Losses that are expected to occur rarely if at all but that could have a devastating impact on the financial status of a ranch if they did occur must be managed with cost-effective risk management strategies. Because disease losses do not occur every year, providing no defense may appear to be a sufficient and very low-cost management strategy in the short-run. However, over a longer time-frame, it would be very unusual for a herd with minimal disease protection to avoid devastating financial losses due to disease at some point in the future. Your veterinarian can provide valuable information about the likelihood that your herd could suffer losses from various diseases and the expected magnitude of those losses should your herd be exposed. By considering the likelihood of a disease, the magnitude of losses associated with that disease, and the effectiveness of available control strategies, your veterinarian can work with you to optimize the disease risk management of your ranching business.

Marketing of cattle, whether feeder calves or breeding animals, increasingly includes information about health status. When considering the optimum herd health program from a marketing standpoint, the risks that down-stream buyers face and their willingness to purchase from suppliers who can reduce that risk must be considered. For example, your herd may have very low risk for a disease and incurring expenses through diagnostic testing or herd certification may not reduce your herd’s already minimal risk, but the costs could easily be offset by customers willing to pay for that low disease risk. Increasingly, you must think of your down-stream customers as you work with your veterinarian to plan a health program that not only meets the needs of your herd but also provides a cost-effective marketing advantage.

A successful cattle business requires a combination of cattle and business expertise. Many successful ranchers count on a trusted team of advisors and suppliers to help them improve the profitability and sustainability of their ranching businesses. Finding and working with a local veterinarian who can provide assistance to increase income, control costs and manage risks should be a goal of every cattle producer.

Dr. Bob Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. He specializes in the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

Gordon Food Service Distributor Show: A growing appetite for product transparency

By Patti Dollarhide, R.D., director of beef value chain alliances

The food service industry, much like the cattle industry, is built on relationships. We develop a network of people we want to do business with, trade ideas with and eventually trust.

Recently at the Gordon Food Service (GFS) show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was evident that the company’s food service customers are looking for suppliers they can trust, including those who provide beef.

GFS took a big step to demonstrate they value their customers and suppliers by providing an attempt at product transparency with a new program called “Clear Choice.”  Each of their vendors, including beef suppliers, were asked if the items they provide meet the criteria for one or all of six attributes. If their customer wants to find products that have one or more of these attributes, they can now locate them with a quick sort of the GFS product catalog.

Attributes and descriptions:

  • Cleaner Ingredients, meaning one, several or all of the following “no’s” are met:
    • No artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, thickeners or emulsifiers, color from artificial sources, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, trans fats or GMOs
  • Specialty Agriculture:
    • Certifications are in place for USDA Organic, Food Alliance or Biodynamic
  • Animal Care:
    • Certifications for one or more: American Humane Association, Animal Welfare Approved, Cage Free, Crate Free, Free Range, Global Animal Partnership, Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Raised without Added Hormones, Raised without Antibiotics
  • Sustainable Seafood:
    • Certifications in place for one or more: Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices, Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
  • Ethically Sourced:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Fair Trade, International Farmer Direct Sourced, Rainforest Alliance
  • Environmentally Friendly:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Biodegradable Products Institute Compostable, Compostable and Biodegradable, EcoLogo, Green Seal, Made from Recycled Materials, Made from Renewable Resources, SaferChoice

Beef fits in five of those six “Clear Choice” boxes. (Sorry, we cannot make the grade for Sustainable Seafood!) No doubt, the descriptions of the GFS attributes will mature and continue to be reviewed.  Transparency is a journey we are on together. How timely it is for the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) to be working on six similar attributes, and put compliance targets in place to help our beef industry continue to improve. See more from USRSB here: Kudos to GFS for showcasing what their vendors are already doing, as well as setting targets for the future. Learn more about GFS’s Clear Choice program here:

Educational sessions were held in conjunction with the show. The BCI presented “What’s the ‘Beef’ about Beef, Health and Sustainability?” for healthcare, and college and university food service leaders as well as distributor salespeople. Participants noted they learned new information about the beef industry. Normally the message they receive is to reduce beef consumption. It was refreshing to have an engaged audience who learned something new as a result of the information.

Relationships –– what a pleasure to reconnect with industry food service professionals that I had worked with since 1995 and trust. This food business gets in your blood just like raising cattle. More than 20 years later, my colleagues are still asking their distribution partners to find quality products at a reasonable price, but now we also want to feel good about our purchases and what we choose to eat.

Food service customers are asking for more transparency. Beef producers know the answers. Let’s figure out how to translate them to the people who want to enjoy eating beef.


Clinical Update: Dedicate a new tank for hauling water

Plastic tanks used to haul fertilizer, non-protein nitrogen or similar substances are difficult, if not impossible, to clean out, Dr. Steve Ensley stressed.

No matter how well you clean it, a tank used to store or haul chemical shouldn’t be used to haul water to thirsty cattle.

Hot, dry summers often mean hauling water for cattlemen across the country. Whether the windmill quit or the pond went dry, it’s the time of year when producers roll out plastic tanks to ensure their cattle have access to water.

Every year, Dr. Steve Ensley, veterinary toxicologist with the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Kansas State University, gets the same call: A producer hauled water, and now he’s got dead cattle. After a particularly devastating loss in western Kansas earlier this year, Dr. Ensley stressed the importance of delivering clean, chemical-free water to cattle.

Use a new tank
His bottom line? Use a brand new tank. Often, producers use the same polypropylene tank to haul water that is used for hauling fertilizer, herbicide or other farm-use chemicals.

“If those tanks have ever been used to haul fertilizer, non-protein nitrogen or similar substances, they’re difficult, if not impossible, to clean out,” he stressed. “You need to have a dedicated tank, and all you use it for is animal drinking water.”

Any fertilizer or herbicide chemicals can leach into the plastic fibers and can contaminate any water with which the tank is filled. There’s no way to scrub, steam or clean it out, Dr. Ensley said.

One of his latest cases involved a tank previously used for nitrogen and urea. After 18 hours without water, cattle drank excessively from the contaminated water, resulting in several deaths.

“It’s very common,” Dr. Ensley said. “I see it every year. It’s worth the investment to get a tank dedicated to only hauling water.”

Symptoms of toxicity
Nitrates cause an interference with an animal’s ability to oxygenate.

“You see varying degrees of oxygen deprivation from just ataxic or wobbly, to down cattle and serious respiratory issues,” he said.

Urea compounds cause hyper-ammonia issues. Dr. Ensley said the compounds can cause symptoms similar to grass tetany toxicity. Cattle may seem agitated or easily provoked, and can die within 30 minutes of ingesting water contaminated with urea compounds.

Hauling water to cattle in a tank previously used to store or haul herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers “is probably not a good idea.”

“If that’s the only source of water the animals have and it’s contaminated, it’s not a good idea,” Dr. Ensley said. “We want to try to provide them with the best quality water we can. Hauling water in a tank that’s been used for something else on the farm is just not a good idea. I continually see this and in most all cases, the animals lost would have purchased at least one new tank. It’s just not worth the risk.”

Contact the Lab
If you have questions or suspect chemical toxicity due to a contaminated water tank, call the K-State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at 785-532-5650 or toll free at 866-512-5650. Less urgent inquiries can be directed to Producers with animals requiring immediate services should contact their local veterinarian, or may call the Veterinary Health Center Emergency Desk at 785-532-4100. Visit the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab’s website at

Dr. Steve Ensley is a clinical veterinary toxicologist with the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab (KSVDL) and College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Ensley’s interests are in clinical veterinary toxicology and applied toxicology research. Food animal veterinary toxicology is his passion.

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Vet Call: Nutritional aspects of cattle health

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

Meeting the nutritional needs of cattle is the foundation of a healthy herd. Nutritional needs differ between bulls, dry cows, lactating cows, growing replacement heifers and post-weaning calves, and the nutrient composition of forages change throughout the year. Because of the interaction between changing animal needs and changing forage conditions, herd managers must be informed and prepared to provide appropriate supplements when needed. In almost all situations when cattle have the opportunity to graze green growing forages that are high-quality and readily digestible, the only supplement needed is salt (and based on local soil and plant characteristics, possibly other minerals). However, even green growing grass has the potential to cause health problems if the concentration of the mineral magnesium is low in the lush leaves at the same time that cows grazing the forage have high magnesium requirements due to being in early lactation or late pregnancy.

While green growing forage is an excellent feed source for cattle, because of weather factors and growth characteristics of grass, for many weeks of the year cattle only have access to mature or dormant forage that has reduced quality and digestibility. Standing dormant forage and moderate-quality hay can meet most, if not all, energy and protein needs of cattle with relatively low nutritional demands, such as mature cows that are not lactating and bulls that are not active. If cattle are growing or lactating, dormant forage or hay may be deficient in energy and/or protein and these nutrients must be supplemented to avoid inadequate growth or even weight loss. The maturity and quality of forage when it is cut for hay as well as the conditions in which the hay dries before baling have tremendous impact on the nutrients present. Waiting to cut hay until the forage is very mature may increase the tonnage available, but the quality may be so low that either the cattle will not be provided needed nutrients or the needed supplementation drives up the total diet cost. Because growing replacement heifers, growing bulls and cows in late stages of pregnancy or early lactation have high nutrient needs, these classes of cattle require higher quality forages or more supplementation of poor-quality forage than adult, non-lactating cattle.

Because forages, and readily available energy and protein supplements vary greatly across North America, knowledge of local forages and feeds is essential when planning the most cost-efficient diets for cow herds. The types of predominant forage plants and the growth patterns of the different plants in diverse areas of the country greatly impact the quality of the diet for grazing cattle. Many forages and feeds have specific characteristics that affect not only the diet quality but can also cause potential negative effects. Knowledge and experience is needed to avoid health and production problems. Use of some supplemental feeds has to be limited due to adverse effects when fed at higher levels. For example, the high starch content of corn and other grains limits their use in forage-based diets; the potentially high levels of sulfur in corn gluten feed, distillers grain and some other by-product feeds requires that they be used in moderation; and gossypol in cottonseed meal can cause reduced fertility in bulls, which requires that this feed be fed for a limited time or in limited amounts in the weeks ahead of the breeding season.

Cattle that are not receiving adequate amounts of water, energy, protein, salt, and required vitamins and minerals can exhibit a wide range of problems that include poor growth, weight loss, failure to become pregnant, hair and skin lesions, bone and joint problems, and susceptibility to sicknesses such as pneumonia, scours and nervous system disease. Unless underlying nutritional problems are identified and corrected, use of vaccines, antibiotics and other interventions will not improve herd health. In many situations, outright disease is not detected, but nutrient deficiencies are negatively impacting body weight and fertility of the herd.

Fortunately, cattle will thrive on many different types of forages and feeds. The rumen has the ability to convert moderate- and even low-quality feeds into needed nutrients. Because cattle can eat a wide variety of feeds, locally available products that could not be easily shipped to other parts of the country or could not be used in other animal diets can serve as excellent cattle feeds. Knowledge of the nutrient needs of different classes of cattle as well as experience with local forages and feeds will allow cattle producers and their advisors to develop cost-effective diets that meet the needs of cattle to maintain good health and productivity.

Dr. Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. He specializes in the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal.

BCI Explains: What’s Cattle Chat?

By Shelby Mettlen, communications and marketing specialist

Because veterinarians and beef producers are often on the road, the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University has launched BCI Cattle Chat, a weekly podcast to provide current industry information to its on-the go audience.

Dr. Bob Larson, DVM and professor of production medicine; Dr. Brad White, DVM and director of the BCI; Dr. Dustin Pendell, professor of agricultural economics; and Dr. Bob Weaber, professor and beef extension specialist, make up the podcast team.

“A lot of valuable research takes place at K-State and other land-grant universities, and busy producers need convenient ways to receive information about the latest developments in beef production and marketing,” Dr. Larson said. “By having professors from animal science, agricultural economics and veterinary medicine addressing timely topics, and important management and marketing issues, producers receive more well-rounded answers that cross several disciplines.”

Short, conversational updates are recorded each Tuesday and distributed to iTunes, Google Play and Castbox the following Friday for download. Topics range from production and management tips, to updates on industry news and practice management.

“The goal is to allow us to share information in a new format that is accessible by those people who are busy and on the go,” Dr. White explained. “It benefits the industry by providing updates to producers who can transfer this information into actionable strategies to fit their operations and practices.”

BCI Cattle Chat is also an interactive tool, and the team has received and addressed questions from listeners across the country. Listeners can submit questions and suggested topics to

Podcast episodes can be downloaded directly to your mobile device or accessed from a desktop for easy listening on iTunes, Google Play and Castbox. More information on downloading the podcast can be found at

Drs. Brad White (left) and Bob Larson discuss managing cattle in extreme heat during a June recording.

Kansas Announces Cattle Trace Pilot Program for Disease Traceability

For more information:
Heather Lansdowne

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Governor Jeff Colyer and Secretary Jackie McClaskey joined leaders from the Kansas livestock industry on Saturday, June 30, at Barton County Feeders in Ellinwood to announce the Cattle Trace pilot project. Cattle Trace is a public-private partnership which will develop and test a purpose-built cattle disease traceability infrastructure in Kansas that will guide discussion and development of traceability on a national scale.

“Kansas is home to the finest beef producers and operations in the nation,” said Colyer. “We are proud that the Kansas beef industry has taken the lead in this important project that will enhance our ability to protect cattle health here and across the nation.”

Cattle disease traceability is an important component in the overall biosecurity of the U.S. beef cattle industry, playing a significant role in resuming and maintaining commerce in the event of a disease outbreak. The development of a viable end-to-end cattle disease traceability system is a top priority in the beef industry in Kansas and nationwide.

“KLA members have long recognized the importance of traceability for animal disease purposes to help protect their livelihoods and the industry,” said Kansas Livestock Association Chief Executive Officer Matt Teagarden. “We are excited to be part of this effort to move traceability forward for Kansas producers and ultimately the entire U.S. livestock sector.” KLA members amended policy in December 2017 to support mandatory cattle disease traceability for all ages of cattle. This policy shift provided momentum across Kansas to take action.

From end-to-end, each step of the beef cattle supply chain exists in Kansas, positioning the state well to test an expanded system capable of informing and guiding development of an enhanced traceability system on a national level.

“We have the opportunity to develop a cattle disease traceability system on our terms. The capabilities of Cattle Trace will enable us to do the right thing for animal health and biosecurity, and for the entire U.S. beef cattle industry,” said Brandon Depenbusch, vice president of cattle operations for Innovative Livestock Services, a member of the Cattle Trace steering committee. ILS will be one of at least ten feed yards that will participate in the pilot project in addition to livestock markets, cow-calf ranches and beef processors.

In early 2018, the Cattle Trace collaborators began working to develop a purpose-built infrastructure to track cattle movement through the supply chain. Cattle Trace will utilize ultra-high frequency technologies to collect the minimal data necessary, including an individual animal identification number, a GPS location, and date and time, in order to track animals in the event of a disease outbreak. Tag readers will be located at livestock markets, feed yards and beef processors. Movement data collection will begin in fall 2018, and the project will continue for approximately two years.

“We know for a traceability system to be effective, it needs to be simple, fast, and affordable to make its adoption within the industry as seamless as possible,” said Brad White, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University. “We are working to build a system to test today and one that will serve the U.S. beef cattle industry in the future.”

Cattle Trace is a collaborative partnership between Kansas State University, the Kansas Livestock Association, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, USDA, and individual producer stakeholders. It is being jointly funded by public and private resources.

“The development of Cattle Trace is a direct result of proactive leaders in the Kansas beef industry recognizing an opportunity to develop a traceability system that works for producers,” said Secretary McClaskey. “We have seen tremendous leadership from industry partners ready to step up and take an active role on this critical issue.”

For more information about the Cattle Trace project, go to or contact the program coordinator, Cassie Kniebel, at or 785-564-7446.

This news release was prepared by Heather Lansdowne for the Kansas Department of Agriculture. For more information, contact 785-564-6707 or Photos by the Beef Cattle Institute.

Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer attended the event at Barton County Feeders near Ellinwood, Kansas, on Saturday, June 30.
“Kansas is home to the finest beef producers and operations in the nation,” said Colyer. “We are proud that the Kansas beef industry has taken the lead in this important project that will enhance our ability to protect cattle health here and across the nation.”