Herd Health: Adding Value to Pregnancy Diagnosis

To hear more about adding value to pregnancy testing listen in with Dr. Bob Larson and Dr. Brad White to learn more.

View the discussed links visit here:
Evaluating Information Obtained from Diagnosis of Pregnancy Status of Beef Herds
Pregnancy Analytics App 

Diving into Diets: Methane

In this episode of Bovine Science with BCI, we are talking about methane. Join Dr. Phillip Lancaster and Dr. Brad White as they discuss statistics, recent research, and the role the beef industry plays in the methane cycle.

Animal Welfare 

Ensuring that your cattle are healthy, well-fed, and well cared for, especially during times of inclement weather, are the foundations for good animal welfare. Fortunately, these goals also aid in high productivity and reduced disease risk. From my viewpoint as a veterinarian, I believe that the most important management tools to protect cattle welfare are: nutrition, sanitation, parasite control, biosecurity, and vaccination.  

One of the “Five Freedoms” that is sometimes used as a gauge for animal welfare is “freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition”. While details such as how long cattle can be without access to food or water without being a welfare problem are a matter of differing opinions, the concept that cattle need an adequate diet is widely accepted. Poor forage growth due to drought or inadequate forage production for the grazing pressure in the case of over-stocking can cause inadequate energy intake and poor body condition of cow herds. Diets based on dormant forages and harvested forages may need supplemental protein or energy depending on the quality of the base-forage and the production status of the cattle. Monitoring body condition of mature cattle and rate of weight gain for growing animals are good measurements to indicate whether or not cattle are receiving an adequate diet. Periods of weather stress, including storms, droughts, and catastrophes, are critical times to evaluate body condition and weight to ensure that cattle are receiving enough energy and protein in their diets to maintain good health as well as good welfare. In addition, any time that cattle are consuming dormant or harvested forages, body condition and weight should be monitored because the base forage for these diets is less likely to provide all the needed nutrients compared to diets based on green, growing forage.  

A clean environment is usually not a problem for grazing adult bulls and cows, however housing calves in pastures, as well as housing any cattle in drylots can lead to levels of mud that contribute to disease risk. Calves are most susceptible to scours the first three weeks of their lives and being exposed to mud and excessive manure during this time of their lives can lead to serious outbreaks of scours. Adults are more resistant to scours, but wet, muddy conditions can contribute to many different types of disease.  Dispersing calves over a wide area on grass rather than dirt and use of age-segregation strategies such as the Sandhills Calving System will maintain a sanitary environment for young calves.  Use of mounds, frequent scraping, concrete, rock, and bedding when appropriate based on rainfall, animal density, and other factors will allow good sanitation for cattle housed on dirt-floor pens.  

An important animal welfare role for veterinarians on cattle operations is to develop herd-specific strategies to reduce the risk of disease due to viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Your veterinarian can help you reduce the risk of importing disease agents with herd replacements or from contact with neighboring cattle herds or wildlife by using disease testing and isolation of new cattle as well as vaccinations. Although we do not have effective vaccines for all the important cattle diseases, a well-designed program to increase herd immunity at specific times of the year will greatly reduce the risk of serious disease outbreaks. In order for vaccines to be the most effective, they must be handled properly and administered at the optimum times of the production cycle. Because vaccination alone is not able to complete protect cattle from disease, these products must be part of an overall strategy to provide adequate nutrition, good sanitation, and parasite control.  

Both internal parasites (worms) and external parasites such as flies and lice can carry disease agents as well as cause weight loss, animal discomfort, and welfare concerns. It is important to work with your veterinarian to develop a strategy to use de-worming and fly-control products, pasture management, and other tools to minimize the damage that these parasites can inflict on a herd. Because parasites can become resistant to chemical tools for control, these products must be used wisely and in conjunction with other management tools. 

Nearly all ranches and feedlots provide good animal comfort and well-being in most situations, but any cattle operation can find it difficult to maintain that high level of care when cattle are exposed to extreme or prolonged weather stress. It is important that every producer have a plan to provide adequate feed, water, shelter, and disease control when situations are tough. Heavy snow, prolonged rain, drought, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other weather events can lead to reduced animal welfare to the point of seriously affecting health and life. It is the responsibility of every cattle producer to reduce the effects of these challenges as much as possible.  

Excellent animal husbandry is important to all cattle producers because ensuring good nutrition, sanitation, and health for cattle results in job satisfaction from properly caring for the animals with which we enjoy working, supports optimum production of the herd, and confirms in consumers’ minds that cattle producers are caring stewards of our livestock.   

Transitioning calves to feed at weaning 

Weaning is one of the most stressful times during the calf’s life. Several factors contribute to the amount of stress endured by the calf – separation from the dam, new surroundings, new feed, and human handling. The stress negatively impacts the immune function of the calf at a time when it is needed the most. Additionally, stress reduces feed intake and the nutrients needed to mount an immune response. A weaning strategy to minimize stress is critical for the success of a preconditioning or backgrounding program, and a key part of that is transitioning the calf to new feed. 

In addition to a correctly formulated weaning diet, encouraging feed intake is a very important aspect. Palatable feedstuffs such as dried distillers grains, molasses, and cottonseed hulls can increase feed intake in young calves. These feedstuffs have good texture and smell that encourages feed intake. Also, using familiar feedstuffs can encourage calves to eat such as good quality grass hay rather than silages in the diet. Corn and grass silages have a different smell and taste that requires acclimating calves and should be avoided unless calves have exposure to these feedstuffs prior to weaning. 

One way to familiarize cattle with the weaning diet is to provide the concentrate portion of the diet as a creep feed 3-4 weeks prior to weaning. This allows the calves time to get familiar with the feed while other feedstuffs and milk are still available to provide necessary nutrients. Additionally, creep feeding allows the rumen bacteria time to acclimate to the weaning diet prior to weaning. By providing creep feed prior to weaning the transition to the weaning diet will be smoother. 

Feed intake can be hampered by poor water quality and inadequate access. One of the first signs of inadequate water availability is decreased feed intake. Water access is critical during the stressful time of weaning and should be made easy for calves to find and consume all the water necessary. Calves on pasture may have been drinking from streams or stock ponds and do not know how to drink from a fountain/waterer, especially a ball fountain. Water should be provided in open tanks in the fenceline where calves will find it while walking the fence. If calves are weaned in a large trap it may be helpful to let the water run over the tank so that calves are attracted to the sound of running water. 

Weaning in a drylot facility has convenience with being able to build tight fences and check calves daily, but weaning in a grass trap has several benefits for the calf. Calves weaned in a grass trap can spread out reducing the exposure to pathogens resulting in less morbidity than when weaned in a drylot. Additionally, calves know how to graze and even though there may only be enough forage for a few days, the grass is a familiar feedstuff for calves until they acclimate to the weaning diet. 

A properly formulated weaning diet is critical to providing the nutrients necessary for adequate immune function and growth. It is good practice to consult with your veterinarian or extension specialist on the weaning diet you plan to use. They can provide an assessment of whether the diet provides the necessary nutrients. Example diets are shown in Table 1 formulated to provide a rate of gain of 1.5 to 2.0 pounds per day for 500-lb calf.  

Table 1. Diets for growing calves to gain 2 lb/day 
Feedstuff Diet 1 Diet 2 Diet 3 
Cracked corn 51.0 30.5 22.0 
Soybean hulls 19.0 – 25.0 
Dried distillers grains – 53.0 – 
Wheat midds – – 25.0 
Cottonseed hulls 14.0 20.0 15.0 
Soybean meal 11.0 – 7.5 
Molasses 4.2 4.5 4.5 
Limestone 0.6 1.2 1.0 
Dicalcium phosphate 0.6 – – 
Vitamin/mineral mix Recommended rate Recommended rate Recommended rate 
Ionophore Recommended rate Recommended rate Recommended rate 
Chopped hay could be substituted for cottonseed hulls if delivering feed as totally mixed ration (TMR) or cottonseed hulls could be removed if free choice hay is provided to calves 

Nutrition For The Mid-Gestation Cow: Balancing Cost and Fetal Programming 

As we move into late summer, spring-calving cows are bred, hopefully, haying is complete, and our mind starts thinking about weaning and fall grazing of the cows. A non-lactating cow in mid-gestation has the lowest nutrient requirements at any time during the production cycle (Figure 1). This allows the cow to regain body condition after lactation if needed or maintain body condition with low-quality forages and feedstuffs. As the cow moves into late gestion, fetal growth increases and nutrient requirements increase. Thus, mid-gestation is the best time for the cow to regain condition and can be the most economically viable time if inexpensive forages and feedstuffs are available. 

Fall forages options vary considerably across the U.S. and many are cost effective for feeding dry cows in mid-gestation. Tallgrass prairie can be 40 to 50% TDN in the fall, but with protein supplementation digestibility is easily increased 5 to 10 percentage units. Mixed-grass prairie is typically 45 to 50% TDN in the fall but can occasionally be below 45% TDN. Stock-piled bermudagrass is usually 45 to 55% TDN between November and February. Cool-season forages such as smooth bromegrass and tall fescue are usually 55+% TDN due to regrowth with cooler temperatures. 

Additionally, crop residues are viable options to meet nutrient requirements of mid-gestation beef cows. Corn stalks can be 50 to 55% TDN, but decline rapidly with wet fall weather, and grain sorghum stalks and wheat straw are 40 to 45% TDN. Soybean stubble has a high concentration of lignin and thus low TDN (35-40%), and typically will not meet the TDN requirements of mid-gestation cows – supplemental energy would be required. 

Most of these fall forages are low in crude protein, less than 6%, except for the cool season forages. This level of protein will not meet the requirements of the cow and will not allow maximum digestion of the low-quality forage, and may hinder the development of the fetus. 

As the fetus develops, body tissues develop at different rates and stages of gestation (Figure 2). During early gestation, nutrient use is primarily for development of internal organs, but during mid-gestation muscle and fat tissue develop. Thus, maternal nutrition can affect the development of fetal tissues through supply of nutrients to the fetus.  

Research evaluating the effect of maternal nutrition during mid-gestation on fetal development indicates that protein deficiency of the dam can have negative consequences on development of muscle tissue and intramuscular fat. These changes affect the offspring later in life resulting in lesser growth pre- and post-weaning, lesser ribeye area and marbling at slaughter, and higher yield grades in carcasses. Protein appears to be the most important maternal nutrient affecting fetal development, although energy restriction and mineral deficiency have also affected fetal development. The fetus uses amino acids for both energy, along with glucose, and building of new tissue, and thus has a high protein requirement relative to body weight. 

Does this mean that low-quality forages should not be used for mid-gestation cows? The answer depends on the ability to supply adequate protein to cows grazing low-quality forages through fall and early winter. For most fall forage options, TDN is adequate for cows to meet energy requirements, especially with the increased digestibility that comes with protein supplementation. If protein can be supplemented in such a way for all cows to consume their protein requirement daily or every other day, then the use of these forages is a viable option. This generally means that the protein supplement needs to be hand-fed.  

Methionine is one of the key amino acids involved in achieving the changes to DNA that are necessary for optimum fetal development and future offspring performance. Methionine is one of the first limiting amino acids from microbial protein of cattle on forage diets. Thus, ensuring adequate maternal methionine supply is necessary to achieve optimum fetal development. However, supplementation of synthetic methionine is not necessary to meet methionine requirements, but using high protein feedstuffs with greater rumen bypass protein and methionine concentration are beneficial. This includes feedstuffs like dried distillers grains, fishmeal, porcine bloodmeal, and porcine/poultry meat and bone meal, but feedstuffs like soybean meal and cottonseed meal have lower concentrations of methionine and are highly degraded in the rumen. However, high rumen bypass protein might limit forage digestion; thus, a combination of low and high rumen bypass protein feedstuffs would work best in this situation. 

In conclusion, dry cows in mid-gestation have low nutrient requirements and many forages can be used as feedstuffs for these cows. Most fall forages will meet the TDN requirements of dry cows in mid-gestation, especially with protein supplementation. Protein, particularly the amino acid methionine, is a critical nutrient for fetal development and programming the offspring for optimal performance. Thus, protein supplements need to be formulated to meet the rumen degradable protein needs of the cow and supply enough rumen bypass methionine to meet the needs of the developing fetus. 

Figure 1. Total digestible nutrient (TDN) and crude protein (CP) requirements throughout the beef cow production cycle for 1200-lb cow producing 20 lb peak milk. The period between the red lines is the time where low-quality forages can meet the nutrient requirements of the cow. 

Figure 2. Changes in proportion of body tissues with fetal age illustrating the primary use of nutrients at that time. 

Capturing the Value of Sustainable Beef Management Practices 

There is a lot of action in the beef industry to capture value and/or carbon credits for management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester more carbon in the soil. Most of the impetus for this action is 2-fold; 1) many major companies have made climate pledges to reduce or eliminate their carbon emissions throughout their production chain, and 2) the US Securities and Exchange Commission now requires publicly traded companies to report greenhouse gas emissions. These two factors are driving major packers, distributors, and retailers to get more hands-on in the daily operations of farmers and ranchers. 

The goals of these companies have initiated their interest in financial investments in production agriculture including beef. Some companies are developing networks (block chain agreements) up and down the supply chain that will allow them to track the greenhouse gas emissions of their business. The objective of these relationships is to share data down the supply chain from rancher to feedlot to packer to retailer, which means there is value in this data that a rancher could get paid for. Additional value will be in data demonstrating management practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, producers that have better than average greenhouse gas emissions can capture value in these block chain agreements. 

Preconditioning programs are a good comparison to these networking arrangements. In preconditioning programs, the rancher weans, vaccinates, and transitions calves to feed ration on the ranch before the stress of shipping cattle to the feedlot, and in return the rancher is paid a premium for 2 things: the management practices that produce healthier feedlot calves and the information verifying that these practices have been implemented. Block chain agreements will work in a similar way except a specific agreement will need to be developed because currently there is not a free-market avenue like special preconditioning sales available to capture the value of sustainable practices and information verifying reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Another avenue that companies are using is to develop agreements only at the farm and ranch level where they will pay the producer for implementing sustainable management practices. Payments may be to help the producer overcome the initial cost of implementing sustainable management practices or some other cost, but the company then wants exclusive rights to the carbon credits to count toward their sustainability goal. The practice agreement will limit the ability of the producer to sell those carbon credits on the open market ensuring credits for the company, and the producer will have interest-free capital investment to enhance their operation. A practice agreement can be very beneficial for both parties if details are outlined appropriately. 

There is at least 1 significant issue with carbon credits. Carbon credits can only be counted from the initiation of the agreement going forward. Thus, producers that lag behind in innovation have the opportunity to be rewarded for improving their management, but producers that have been progressive in implementing the latest innovations have little opportunity to create carbon credits. The practice agreements to implement sustainable management practices could be very beneficial to those producers that have yet to implement new practices helping them to get over the initial hurdles, but the blockchain agreements would likely have little financial benefit because they have no greenhouse gas emissions reductions to document. In contrast, the blockchain agreements would have value to those producers that have been progressive in implementing sustainable management practices, but the direct practice agreements would provide little opportunity for capturing value. 

The last issue surrounding carbon credits and greenhouse gas emissions is the concept of carbon insets versus offsets. Carbon insets are reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within the supply chain. Carbon offsets are reductions in greenhouse gas emissions outside the supply chain. For example, a rancher enters a practice agreement with a beef retailer so that the retailer can count the greenhouse gas emissions reduction in their supply chain carbon emissions. This would be a carbon inset as the carbon credit is within the beef supply chain. In contrast, an airline company buys carbon credits from a rancher on the open carbon market to offset their carbon emissions from jet fuel. This would be a carbon offset. In both examples, the rancher will be compensated for the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but with the carbon offset, those carbon credits will no longer be counted toward the carbon neutral goal of the beef industry potentially damaging the industry. 

In conclusion, capturing the value of sustainable management practices is attainable, but different avenues will likely work better for different producers. there are many companies and groups interested in participating in capturing carbon credits, which means many opportunities for producers. But beware of accepting any offers. Spend considerable time gathering information and understanding the choices and thinking through the details and long-term ramifications before entering into any agreements.  

Tox Talk: Freezing Conditions and 20 Dead

What would cause only 30 out of 50 head to make it through the night after they were put in the barn, shielded from the winter storm? This case had everyone scratching their heads trying to figure out what had happened. Listen to this episode to hear toxicologist Scott Fritz and Dr. Brad White work through this bizarre case.

Herd Health: Front End Loading

Join Dr. Bob Larson and Dr. Brad White as they discuss what front end loading is, why it’s important, and how you can us this knowledge to help your producers.

Find links to discussed tables and calculators here: https://ksubci.org/tools/calculators/

Diving into Diets: Evaluating Forage Quality

How can understanding the nutritional quality of the forages being fed better help you serve your producers? Dr. Phillip Lancaster and Dr. Brad White answer this question, and more, on today’s episode of Diving into Diets.

Supporting Materials:

University of Arkansas PDF

AgriFood Lab in Canada PDF

Diving into Diets: Warm Season Grasses and Grazing

We’ve discussed cool season grasses and grazing. Now listen to Dr. Phillip Lancaster and Dr. Brad White discuss warm season grasses and grazing on the second episode of Diving into Diets!

BRD Webinars

Integrated Approach to Control BRD Webinar Series Part 1
Integrated Approach to Control BRD Webinar Series Part 2

Herd Health: Bull Preparation

Hear from Dr. Bob Larson and Dr. Brad White as they walk through bull selection and preparation research on this week’s episode of Bovine Science with BCI.

Article: Scrotal circumference at weaning in beef bulls and subsequent ability to pass a breeding soundness examination as a yearling

Article: Factors associated with yearling bulls passing subsequent breeding soundness evaluations after failing an initial evaluation

Mineral Nutrition for Grazing Beef Cows: Intake and Quality

When beef cows are grazing over the next few months, nutrient requirements for energy and protein are generally met by the forage, and thus vitamin and mineral supplementation is the primary nutritional concern. Most producers provide free choice mineral to cows during this time and assume that it is providing adequate amounts of the necessary minerals. However, there are some important factors to consider to ensure mineral requirements are met.

First, and most important is mineral intake. Cows do not consume free choice mineral consistently throughout the summer grazing season. Some believe that cows will consume what they need, but that is not the case. Salt intake is the driving factor affecting mineral intake. If cattle are consuming significant amounts of salt in the forage, then they will decrease intake of high salt mineral and vice versa if they are consuming small amounts of salt in the forage. Adjusting the amount of salt in the mineral is the best way to regulate intake, and if plain white salt is provided mix it with the mineral otherwise cattle will consume the salt instead of the mineral.

Availability and location of clean water can also impact mineral intake. Mineral supplements generally have a high salt content, and cattle will want a drink after consuming mineral. And may stop consuming mineral sooner if water is not readily available. Placing mineral feeders relatively close to water sources can help if mineral intake is less than desired, but having mineral feeders too close to loafing areas can result in overconsumption of mineral.

The form mineral is provided can also affect intake. Cows will generally consume less mineral per day when in block form than in loose form just for the simple fact that the amount of mineral consumed per minute is lower with blocks. It is important to provide several blocks at once so multiple animals can consume mineral at the same time. Also, lower intake of mineral blocks means that the mineral concentration in the block should be increased accordingly. Blocks may be a good option during times of the year when cattle want to overconsume loose mineral. Mineral tubs on the other hand are consumed in greater amounts than loose mineral by cows, generally by design as tubs usually provided added protein and sugars to aid in digestion of more mature forages. However, the high palatability of tubs can easily result in overconsumption.

Individual cows also do not consume the same amount of mineral with some cows consuming less and some cows consuming more than desired. In a recent study at the USDA-ARS For Keogh Livestock & Range Research Laboratory, there was a 3-fold difference in mineral intake among cows in the herd. Currently, very little is known about the variability in mineral intake among cows and the reasons this variability exists. In this study there was no statistical difference in calf weaning weight or postpartum interval between cows consuming the most versus the least amount of mineral, but there appeared to be a linear trend that as cows consumed more mineral, calf weaning weight decreased. There could be several reasons for this that need to be explored before management strategies can be developed.

The most important aspect of mineral intake is to monitor intake. Adjustments to salt content or mineral form cannot be made accurately if the current level of mineral intake is not known. The date mineral is delivered, amount of mineral delivered, and the number of cows in the herd should recorded to compute the average daily mineral consumption. Mineral intake can then be managed accordingly.

The second factor of mineral supplementation is the quality of the mineral, which includes concentration of individual minerals in the supplement, bioavailability of the mineral sources and mineral deficiencies of the forage, all of which affect the ability of the mineral supplement to meet the mineral requirements of the cow herd. Soil mineral content and plant availability, forage species, and forage maturity affect the mineral content of the forage consumed by the cow. Different regions of the US differ in mineral content of soils resulting in different mineral content of forages grown in that region. Other characteristics of the soil, such as clay content and pH, also affect the availability of soil minerals for uptake by the forage plant. Thus, mineral supplements should be formulated for the region of the country where they will be used.

Forage species also differ in mineral content even when grown in the same soil. In broad terms, legumes are different than grasses, and cool-season grasses are different than warm-season grasses. For all forage species, mineral content is generally greater in lush growing plants than more mature plants. Additionally, more mineral is associated with the plant cell wall, which is the less digestible fraction, as the forage plant matures. The proportion of individual minerals also changes as the forage plant matures. Thus, the concentration of individual minerals in the supplement should change in different times of the year.

There are several sources of minerals that can be used in manufacturing a mineral supplement: oxide, sulfate, chloride, and organic. These sources differ in bioavailability, which is the ability of the mineral to be absorbed and function in the body. Generally, organic sources are the most bioavailable, but the increase in bioavailability compared to the other sources is not equal among mineral elements. For example, organic selenium is 40% more bioavailable than selenite, but organic manganese is only 25% more bioavailable than manganese sulfate. Sulfate and chloride sources have similar bioavailability, and oxide sources have very low bioavailability with the exception of magnesium oxide, which is similar to magnesium sulfate or magnesium chloride. Knowledge of the source of the mineral element in the mineral supplement can be important, especially in areas where mineral antagonists are prevalent in forage plants.

There are several factors to consider and manage when it comes to mineral supplementation of grazing beef cows. Make sure that the mineral supplement is formulated for the soils and forages in the appropriate region of the US. Monitoring mineral intake is the most important aspect because even the best formulated mineral cannot meet cow requirements if the mineral is not consumed in the proper amount.

AI Programs Expectations, Heifer and Cow Synch Programs, Sexed Semen in Beef Cattle

Welcome to BCI Cattle Chat!  Please click on any links below to be taken to sources mentioned in the podcast. Keep an eye out for news regarding the podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

3:13 AI programs expectations

11:04 Heifer and cow synch programs

16:44 Sexed semen in beef cattle

Guest: Sandy Johnson, extension beef specialist

For more on BCI Cattle Chat, follow us on Twitter at @The_BCIFacebook, and Instagram at @ksubci. Check out our website, ksubci.org. If you have any comments/questions/topic ideas, please send them to bci@ksu.edu. You can also email us to sign up for our weekly news blast! Don’t forget if you enjoy the show, please go give us a rating!

Role of Research for the Future of Beef Production

Known cattle production efficiency and health problems, new challenges and opportunities, changing economic and societal situations, and human curiosity all drive the need for beef cattle research. Recognizing the need for research means that cattle producers, scientists, and many other stake-holders agree that there are opportunities to improve diverse areas of cattle health and well-being, production, and economics. From a veterinary perspective, investigations of management, genetic selection, and technology interventions to increase reproductive efficiency, improve forage utilization, avoid disease, and enhance disease treatment effectiveness are exciting areas of research. Because of ongoing research, veterinarians and beef cattle producers can look forward to having more information and new tools to improve cattle health and well-being, production efficiency, and long-term sustainability.

Careful and accurate observation of cattle and their environments plays an essential role in scientific research, but observation alone will not lead to new understanding about how to improve cattle production. Research combines careful observation with specific strategies to account for the natural variation that occurs when different individual cattle are treated identically, and with methods to limit unintended biases from interfering with a true interpretation of how cattle behave and respond to different environments and treatments.

 The reason that cattle research must be carefully planned is that cattle health and well-being and production efficiency are influenced by a complex interaction of many biologic and economic factors. The biologic factors include: cattle genetics, forage quality and availability, the presence and types of different disease risks, the varying impact of temperature, humidity, and other environmental features on different cattle, how cattle respond to the stresses they encounter, and many other factors. Observations of relatively few animals or observations taken over a short period of time often fail to allow a person to accurately understand the many factors that interact to cause an outcome.

Because of these challenges, even well-planned research projects can only answer one or two fairly limited questions at a time. But a long-term approach to solving the important questions facing cattle veterinarians and producers through a series of studies carried out on a variety of cattle types, ages, and environments, slowly allows researchers to build an understanding of the interacting factors that can be managed to improve cattle production.

Some of the interesting areas being researched now include: investigations into the role that genetics plays on which cattle are most likely to be resistant to various diseases, research comparing the ability of diagnostic tests to more accurately identify cattle that can spread disease to other animals, and comparisons between different methods of preventing or treating diseases that commonly affect cattle. In addition, there are very interesting investigations of how cattle management can enhance utilization of available forages, and how nutrition at one stage of life affect other stages of life. There are also exciting areas of research to improve reproductive efficiency of cattle by investigating more accurate ways to sort bulls into high- and low-reproductively sound classifications, to enhance the fertility of cows, and to reduce the risk of abortion in pregnant cows. Many studies are looking for ways to utilize new technologies such as computers, genetic testing, GPS tracking, and miniature robots to improve cattle production. Other areas of study include investigations of cattle behavior, grazing patterns, rumen function, growth efficiency, response to vaccinations, and resistance to disease based on time-tested production methods.

Regardless of the area being studied, research is a slow, step-by-step process with very few leaps in new knowledge. But the results of multiple well-planned research studies evaluated over time and across different production situations gradually adds to our understanding of the factors that impact cattle health and well-being and production efficiency. Current cattle producers and veterinarians benefit from many decades of research that has provided valuable strategies and tools that are used daily. The research that is being conducted today will provide additional breakthroughs in the coming years.

Food Animal Veterinary Certificate/ Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas, Should You Perform a BSE on a Mature Bull, Veterinary School Advice

Welcome to BCI Cattle Chat!  Please click on any links below to be taken to sources mentioned in the podcast. Keep an eye out for news regarding the podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

4:37 Food Animal Veterinary Certificate/ Veterinary Training Program for Rural Kansas

9:20 Should you perform a BSE on a mature bull?

17:10 Veterinary school advice

For more on BCI Cattle Chat, follow us on Twitter at @The_BCIFacebook, and Instagram at @ksubci. Check out our website, ksubci.org. If you have any comments/questions/topic ideas, please send them to bci@ksu.edu. You can also email us to sign up for our weekly news blast! Don’t forget if you enjoy the show, please go give us a rating!

After the Chat: Bacterial Vaccine Efficacy

In After the Chat, the BCI experts go in deeper about topics from this week’s episode, but also other ideas:

This episode contains a follow on bacterial vaccine efficacy.

For more on BCI Cattle Chat, follow us on Twitter at @The_BCIFacebook, and Instagram at @ksubci. Check out our website, ksubci.org. If you have any comments/questions/topic ideas, please send them to bci@ksu.edu. You can also email us to sign up for our weekly news blast! Don’t forget if you enjoy the show, please go give us a rating!

Small Calves, Peak Nutritional Needs, Clean-Up Bull Planning, Manheimmia on Environmental Surfaces

Welcome to BCI Cattle Chat!  Please click on any links below to be taken to sources mentioned in the podcast. Keep an eye out for news regarding the podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

2:21 Small calves

7:38 Peak nutritional needs

13:56 Clean-up bull planning

21:08 Manheimmia on environmental surfaces
Read the article here

For more on BCI Cattle Chat, follow us on Twitter at @The_BCIFacebook, and Instagram at @ksubci. Check out our website, ksubci.org. If you have any comments/questions/topic ideas, please send them to bci@ksu.edu. You can also email us to sign up for our weekly news blast! Don’t forget if you enjoy the show, please go give us a rating!

Limit Feeding Cows in Drylots

Dry weather across most of the central plains since last fall is creating signals, that a major drought may be on the horizon for this grazing season. The reliance on pasture of most cow herds means that some hard decisions will likely need to be made. The primary decision revolves around feed sources to replace hay or pasture or stretch hay or pasture. Several commodities can be used to replace or stretch hay and pasture; mostly by-products from grain milling.

Two key nutrients are total digestible nutrients (TDN) and crude protein (CP). TDN is the measure of energy used with beef cows, and is the nutrient needed in greatest quantities to maintain performance. CP is the next nutrient needed as far as quantity. Feeds have different concentrations of TDN and CP, and have different costs. Figure 1 illustrates the cost per unit of nutrient of common commodities, which is an effective way to compare feed cost. Hay at $100/ton has the lowest cost per unit of TDN and CP. However, when hay reaches $200/ton, which may happen in severe drought situations especially if trucking long distances, it has the greatest cost per unit of TDN and second greatest cost per unit of CP. Additionally, hay supplies may be limited even if hay is the cheapest source of nutrients.

Currently, corn at $6.50/bu is the least expensive source of TDN followed by soybean hulls at $210/ton and dried distiller’s grains at $280/ton. Dried distiller’s grains is also the least expensive source of CP making it a valuable feed. Therefore, a mixture of corn, soybean hulls, and dried distiller’s grains would be an economically and nutritionally viable option to replace or stretch hay or pasture.

A 1300-lb cow in late lactation requires about 14 lb of TDN and 2.10 lb of CP per day. A mixture of 15% dried distiller’s grains, 20% corn, 35% soybean hulls, and 30% hay fed at 20 lb/day (80% of ad libitum intake) would meet the TDN and CP requirements of the cow. The calf will consume about 4 lb/day of hay or pasture for a total of 24 lb/day. If calves are weaned early at 4 months, 15 lb/day will meet the TDN and CP requirements of an early gestation, dry cow, but then the calf will eat 7 lb/day of mixed ration to gain 2 lb/day for a total of 22 lb/day.

If the price of hay is $100/ton, it is more economical to feed the lactating cow with a nursing calf at $2.11/day, but if the price of hay is $200/ton, it is more economical to wean the calf early and feed a dry cow plus calf at $2.49/day. If the price of hay is $150/ton, then both management options cost the same. This economic calculation is based on the prices of feeds used, and the tipping point will depend upon local hay and commodity prices.

Even though feeding commodities to beef cows and calves can be an economically viable option, it requires the correct management. Feeding large amounts of commodities to beef cows who have full access to pasture or hay will not save much hay and result in greater feed costs. The cost savings is in the fact that less total feed (reduction in hay intake) can be fed to maintain cow performance, which requires limiting access to pasture or hay. It does not require a fenceline feedbunk and mixer wagon. Use the resources you have such as labor, hay intake can be limited by restricting access to the round bale feeder by moving cows in and out of the pen with hay feeders. Early-weaned calves also require more managerial skills in that they are more susceptible to disease and require daily feeding and observation. The rumen of these young calves is not developed enough to effectively digest long-stem hay, and they require moderate energy diet based on grains and commodities to perform well.

Finding alternative feed sources during a drought can be challenging especially if the drought is widespread and hay has to be hauled long distances. Grains and byproduct commodities are viable alternatives that can be used to maintain performance of the cow herd, but feed costs are going to be greater. Additionally, limit feeding moderate concentrate diets to beef cows and managing early-weaned calves requires the correct facilities and managerial skills.

Figure 1. Cost per unit of total digestible nutrients (TDN) and crude protein (CP), and cost per day to maintain 1300-lb cow for common feedstuffs.

Assessing the Sustainability of Beef Cattle Ranching

A recent paper synthesized ranch sustainability indicators from multiple assessments to develop an overall set of indicators. The indicators include environmental, ecological and socioeconomic aspects of sustainability. The environmental indicators include things like soil carbon and stability, plant productivity, water quality and retention and condition of riparian systems. These indicators are highly influenced by grazing management. Several forms of grazing management exist that can improve these indicators; most involve some form of rotation so that land is not overgrazed leading to bare soil and that plants have rest to recover and develop strong root systems.

The ecological indicators include plant, animal and bird diversity. Again, these indicators are influenced by grazing management, where a diversity of plant species, plant densities and plant heights provide habitat for a diversity of animal and bird species. Also, fire regime is important in controlling the diversity of plant species, again providing habitat for different animal and bird species.

Finally, the socioeconomic indicators include rancher connection with the community, rancher satisfaction, livestock and non-livestock income, forage utilization and capacity to experiment. Many facets of ranch management affect these indicators such as size of the ranching operation, rancher ability to participate in community organizations and geographic location of the ranch. These indicators are the least thought about aspects of ranch sustainability, but are some of the most important because most of all ranching is a livelihood and way of life for people that brings meaning to their lives.

Collectively, these indicators provide a well rounded means of assessing ranch sustainability and communicating all the important aspects of sustainability to the public; not just the environmental aspect.

Cold Weather Concerns

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

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 that 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 condition 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 that 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. And, protecting the cowherd (and bulls) from winter wind and providing bedding if on concrete or mud/dirt will minimize the effects of severe weather.

Listener Question: Post-Drought Management, Eliminating Pregnancy Loss, Internal Parasite Treatment

Welcome to BCI Cattle Chat!  Please click on any links below to be taken to sources mentioned in the podcast. Keep an eye out for news regarding the podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

3:54 Listener question: post-drought management

9:42 Eliminating pregnancy loss

17:13 Internal parasite treatment: topical vs. injectable vs. oral

Special Guests: Jeba Chelladurai and Brian Herrin, Parasitology at K-State College of Veterinary Medicine

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