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Articles from 2015 In January


USDA Cattle Inventory report shows restocking is underway

USDA Cattle Inventory report shows restocking is underway

Just about everyone in the beef business expected the USDA Cattle Inventory report, released this afternoon, to show that restocking was well underway in 2014. The surprise may be in just how aggressive cattle producers have answered the bell to put more hooves in their pastures.

Thje report shows all cattle and calves in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2015 at 89.8 million, 1% higher than the 88.5 million reported a year ago. But the big numbers came from the breakdown showing trends in beef cattle.

There, the report pegs beef cows, at 29.7 million, up 2% from last January’s report. And perhaps the most compelling figure in the report is beef replacement heifers at 5.8 million, up 4% from last year atr this time.

However, Mother Nature still holds all the aces and whether or not it rains, how much it rains, where it rains and when it rains will ultimately determine how many of those heifers remain in the cow herd and have a calf and how many will make an early departure to the feedyard. There, only time will tell.

Here’s the complete breakdown:

  • All cattle and calves in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2015 totaled 89.8 million head, 1% above the 88.5 million on Jan. 1, 2014.
  • All cows and heifers that have calved, at 39.0 million, were up 2% from the 38.3 million on Jan. 1, 2014.
  • Beef cows, at 29.7 million, were up 2 percent from January 1, 2014.
  • Milk cows, at 9.3 million, were up 1% from Jan. 1, 2014.
  • The 2014 calf crop was estimated at 33.9 million head, up 1% from 2013. Calves born during the first half of 2014 were estimated at 24.6 million, up slightly from 2013.

Other class estimates on Jan. 1, 2015 and the change from Jan. 1, 2014, are as follows:

  • All heifers 500 pounds and over, 19.2 million, up 1%.
  • Beef replacement heifers, 5.8 million, up 4%.
  • Milk replacement heifers, 4.6 million, up 1%.
  • Other heifers, 8.8 million, down slightly.
  • Steers weighing 500 pounds and over, 15.8 million, up 1%.
  • Bulls weighing 500 pounds and over, 2.1 million, up 3%.
  • Calves under 500 pounds, 13.7 million, up 1%.
  • Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter in all feedlots, 13.1 million, up 1%.
  • The combined total of calves under 500 pounds, and other heifers and steers over 500 pounds outside of feedlots was 25.2 million, up 1%.

To read the entire report, go to http://www.nass.usda.gov/

 

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BEEF Seedstock 100 shows how genetics providers help their customers compete

Seedstock 100

“What are you doing today to prepare for when cattle prices are lower?” asks Lee Leachman, CEO of Leachman Cattle of Colorado, Wellington. “Some are using the current high prices to justify production systems that may not work when prices decline. Do you know your unit cost of production? Do you know your cost to produce a pound of weaned calf and what that pound is worth?”

That’s the kind of thinking that typifies the producers populating the inaugural BEEF Seedstock 100 list that ran in last month’s issue of BEEF.

Read the operational profiles and you’ll gain more understanding of how seedstock producers are helping their customers compete. You also get a sense of the overall business evolution.

seedstock 100

BEEF Seedstock 100
Looking for a new seedstock provider? Use our BEEF Seedstock 100 listing to find the largest bull sellers in the U.S. Browse the Seedstock 100 list here.

 

For my money, the top-drawer beef seedstock providers have always been those who understand the commercial cow-calf business inside and out. Often, it’s their success in the commercial business that leads them to seedstock production to start with. They know what’s economically important to their customers and their customers’ customers.

“We’ve had some high-selling bulls. We’ve also been fortunate that others have used our genetics and had success in the show ring, but none of that has ever been a focus of ours,” explains Brett DeBruycker of DeBruycker Charolais, Dutton, Mont. “We want cattle that breed early, calve easily and grow quickly on milk and grass. Those same genetics carry into the calf. Those calves will go to the feedlot and packer and do very well.”

John Burbank, CEO of Seedstock Plus, headquartered at St. Catharine, Mo., says the No. 1 customer need goes back to honesty, integrity and how customers are treated. “Customers want to be comfortable with the organization, the people they’re dealing with and how they’re treated,” he says.

Dan Dorn, business manager for Powerline Genetics, Holbrook, Neb., believes consolidation will continue. “The closer you can be to a vertically coordinated system, the better off you’re going to be. If you’re not part of a system, I don’t know how you can compete,” he adds.

Ironically, the unconsolidated nature of seedstock and commercial cattle production means that vertical and horizontal partnerships can help them compete in a world of heavily consolidated cattle feeding and beef packing.

If my math is in the ballpark, the industry needed 435,211 bulls entering production last year. The BEEF Seedstock 100 list represents about 10.2% of that annual need.

Here are the assumptions to arrive at that figure. There are 29.7 million beef cows (Jan. 1), minus 5% bred via artificial insemination. That equals 28.2 million cows for natural breeding. If one-third were bred to yearling bulls (17 cows per bull) and the rest to mature bulls (25 cows per bull), that’s 1.3 million bulls. If the average bull’s production life is three years, the annual need is 435,211 bulls.

Jarold Callahan, CEO of Express Ranches at Yukon, Okla., says bull customers expect their genetic supplier to provide “a good product, with their best interest at heart, and stand behind it. They want us to utilize all available tools to help us help them.”

That might entail testing bulls for residual feed intake, or using genomic tests and profiles. It might be creating selection indexes and genetic selection tools for their own genetics.

Seedstock producers are capturing more objective data than ever before in the name of building genetics, with increasing levels of predictability. These data also define differentiation. And the value of that differentiation is increasing.

“Even in these times of unprecedented prices, when fed cattle were bringing $172 per cwt, our customers were selling cattle for $11 to $13 per cwt more on the grid [U.S. Premium Beef], because of what the cattle are and how they performed,” says Mark Gardiner of Gardiner Angus Ranch, Ashland, Kan. “While the opportunity has always been there, I think the industry is doing a better job of differentiating the price for value-added genetics,” he says.

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What’s ahead for 2015 on the cow-calf side?

What’s ahead for 2015 on the cow-calf side?

What a great year 2014 was for the U.S. beef industry, as virtually all beef prices trended higher for the year. In general, all beef industry sectors posted profits — mostly record profits. Meanwhile, a decreasing supply of beef coupled with strong demand for beef led to increased slaughter-cattle prices throughout most of 2014.

The key to making a profit from feeder cattle when prices are trending up is to just own cattle. The longer you own feeder cattle, the higher the profits. Your costs of production aren’t that critical in such a situation. However, should cattle prices level off or even out, then the costs of production and buy/sell margins again become critical.

As I’m writing this, feedlots continue to make good money. My latest calculations indicate buying feeder cattle in July 2014 and harvesting them as finished cattle in mid-December 2014 generated a profit of $168 per head. While this figure is down from previous months, it’s still very favorable.

Generating a profit from finishing cattle in 2015, however, will be more difficult, thanks to the rapid increase in feeder-cattle prices during 2014.

Let’s look at slaughter-cattle prices. Year 2014 generated record-high feedlot margins due to the trend in rising cattle prices. When feedlots make money, they typically plow that money back into replacement feeders, thus driving up the price of feeder cattle. With feeder cattle currently in short supply, some feedlots will not have feeder cattle. 

Figure 1 presents the average annual live-cattle futures prices from 2006 to 2014, with projections for 2015. The 10-year trend was a positive $7.79 per year. The upward trend started in 2009, with the largest price increase occurring in 2014.

The current annual futures prices for 2015 indicate a slight increase over 2014. The main reason is that 2014 began lower and ended up strong at the end of the year. I don’t expect 2015 to duplicate 2014.

Can we maintain these record live-cattle harvest prices? I think the national economy is placing some brakes on increasing cattle prices.

The mid-December live-cattle futures in Figure 2 indicate a slight dip in the 2015 prices. This concerns me. Does it hint at a definite downturn or a short-term slump? I don’t know the answer, but I have noticed the price of beef servings rising at many restaurants. Will consumers continue to eat beef at these increased prices?

Decreasing oil prices imply that consumers will have more discretionary income in 2015. Nor have I seen any indication of falling demand for beef thus far. This is good, but the question is whether the situation will last.

A mid-December 2014 chart that raises some concern is the calculated price drop for live-cattle futures from mid-November to mid-December (Figure 3). These prices were obtained just as the national stock market was struggling and oil prices were trending down. I suspect there is some carryover from these markets to the beef market. I’m watching this closely, and it’s not a particularly favorable sign.

In regard to feeder-cattle prices, Figure 4 illustrates the upward trend in feeder-cattle futures. Meanwhile, Figure 5 provides a long-run picture of feeder-cattle futures from mid-2006 to 2014, with monthly projections through November 2015.

The 2006-2015 trend in feeder-cattle futures was a positive $1.13 per month over this 14-year period, with October 2014 being the highest in this chart. Figure 5 also illustrates that from May 2014 to November 2015, feeder-cattle futures prices were above the trend line — a positive indicator for the production and marketing of 2015 calves.

Figure 6 depicts a disturbing decrease in feeder-cattle futures prices from mid-November to mid-December 2014. This drop occurred along with a declining stock market and declining oil prices, so it’s difficult to know if there’s a significant correlation among these three markets. I’ll be watching this market closely, looking for any clues as to the market price direction for feeder cattle.

As a general rule, markets typically overreact on both the top side and the bottom side, which is illustrated by the corn market. Figure 7 presents a 17-year history of corn prices, which has been positive at the rate of 20¢ per year. Note the substantial corn-price increase due to ethanol demand from 2007 to 2013.

Corn prices decreased dramatically in 2013 and 2014, which helped fuel the increase in feeder-cattle prices in 2014. This chart suggests, however, that corn prices aren’t returning to the previous lows of the early 2000s, but may stabilize in the low $4-per-bushel range. Lower corn prices, coupled with the lower supply of feeder cattle and higher slaughter-cattle prices, are what drove feeder-cattle prices upward in 2014.

What does this mean for the ranch? Feeder-cattle futures prices at this writing (Figure 5) suggest that feeder cattle and weaned calves may well be approaching a market top for a while. But a powerful force that may keep feeder-cattle prices strong is the fact that feeder-cattle supplies will take three years or more to expand.

Of course, as herd expansion is initiated, it means fewer feeder calves, as more females are diverted from feeding to breeding. All this leads to my conclusion that feeder-cattle prices should stay strong for the next two years or more.

My current projection (as of mid-December 2014) for 550-pound weaned steer calves in October 2015 is $288/cwt. This compares to $309 per cwt in October 2014, and $198 in October 2013. Should this price be realized, I project my western Nebraska study herd will generate a $580 profit per cow by selling at weaning in the fall of 2015. This is down only slightly from the calculated $601 profit per cow in 2014. 

Harlan Hughes is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. He lives in Kuna, Idaho. Reach him at 701-238-9607 or [email protected]

 

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Attention, all cattle producers: your industry needs you!

Numerous articles in this monthly column have highlighted new information the authors have acquired at veterinary meetings. Many DVMs who work with cattle are members of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), which has more than 5,000 veterinarians as members, most of them from the U.S. and Canada.

AABP members are beef and dairy veterinarians who want to keep current on bovine veterinary medicine. In fact, an AABP seminar I attended when I was just five years into my career literally changed my life.

I knew I wanted to focus my career on production medicine (preventive care and consultation), but I didn’t know how to begin. A daylong seminar, “Beef Production Medicine,” allowed me to satisfy my dream and aided me in helping my clients have healthier, more profitable herds.

AABP is much more than one annual meeting, however. It also provides DVMs with monthly newsletters, access to a group email list that allows them to instantly consult with over 2,000 other veterinarians on “tough” cases, student scholarship opportunities (AABP donates hundreds of thousands of dollars for these scholarships), and a voice for cattle veterinarians and producers in numerous professional, industry and government situations.

seedstock 100

BEEF Seedstock 100
Looking for a new seedstock provider? Use our BEEF Seedstock 100 listing to find the largest bull sellers in the U.S. Browse the Seedstock 100 list here.

 

Another excellent cattle DVM group is the Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC). AVC is an organization for beef cattle veterinarians which provides outstanding continuing education focused on beef herd health and production medicine. AVC also offers a group email list and scholarships, and actively supports the beef industry. AVC and AABP leadership is very involved in providing government officials with the science behind such issues as antibiotic resistance, for instance.

Meanwhile, for beef producers, the work done on your behalf by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is without equal. I grew up on a small farm with livestock, and my parents were active members of local, state and national organizations.

I remember my dad once encouraging another beef producer to join the national beef organization. That farmer’s response was something like, “But I only have 50 cows. Why should I be a member?” My dad responded that our herd was also small and quickly listed the benefits of membership. The producer listened to my father, agreed with his statements and joined.

The work NCBA does for all of us in Washington is gigantic. Where would our industry be without NCBA educating legislators on such issues as the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed expansion of federal authority over water? Less than 0.3% (3 out of 1,000) of the U.S. population own beef cattle. NCBA lets our government know we’re still relevant.

I think all beef DVMs should also be members of NCBA. We can help producers guide intelligent animal health policy; it’s also a way to thank NCBA for all it does for DVMs. NCBA’s work on the antibiotic-ban legislation comes to mind.

One of my clients in my practice in Iowa was a leader in the state and national organizations and was famous for saying, “If you’re not a member, you have no voice, no influence, and you can’t complain when the government makes a rule that negatively impacts us.”

I’m also a strong supporter of state beef associations. We’ve all heard the phrase “all politics are local,” and your state or local association is your opportunity to support those who produce beef. Perhaps you’re a more seasoned producer, and your goal is to mentor the next generation of beef producers; someone helped you years ago and now may be the time to give back.

If you’re already a member of NCBA and your local and state cattle producer associations, good for you. If not, get involved. We need you. And the next time you see your DVM, ask if he or she is a member of AABP, AVC and NCBA. Tell them you think they should be. 

W. Mark Hilton, DVM, is a clinical professor of beef production medicine at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

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Meat Market Update | Huge increase in fresh beef imports

Ed Czerwien, USDA Market News reporter in Amarillo, TX, provides us with the latest outlook on boxed beef prices and the weekly cattle trade.

High beef prices and the higher value of the dollar are definitely attracting imports. This year we have seen an enormous increase in imports of fresh beef. The latest report of Imported Meat Passed for Entry into the U.S. for January 17 showed 24,230 metric tons of fresh beef  were important. That equates to over 53 million lbs. for that week alone.

Year-to-date for the first three weeks of this year is running 52% higher for fresh beef imports, and Australia is up 84 %, providing the biggest individual chunk of the imports. New Zealand is up 46%, but they are still behind Canada in total tonnage.

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I was listening; I just didn’t really hear what my wife said

I’m not sure if other husbands share my problem but, occasionally, what my wife says doesn’t register with me right away. I want to chalk it up to being busy or thinking about other things, but, in reality, I think I just may be a little slow.

Of course, I’ll admit that my wife has a way of not conveying the true impact of certain things by just dropping them in a conversation in such a way that they seem almost irrelevant. Generally, later, when I’m driving down the highway, the true importance will dawn on me.

Usually her tidbits have to do with a bull report or some industry trend she’s noticing, but the latest was about my daughter. I’m not blind; I’ve seen my little girl grow up. In those rare moments when a dad is truly rational when it comes to his daughter I can say I’m very proud of the young lady she’s becoming.

However, somebody forgot to tell me how fast my little girl is transforming into a young lady. My only excuse is that I thought girls were supposed to start slamming doors and screaming “I hate you” as a warning that things were changing. Of course, those days may yet be ahead of me, but that’s how I explain being so clueless. 

So, I’m driving down the road when it dawns on me that my wife had casually mentioned something about my daughter having a date, and I’m not talking about one on a calendar. Once the full realization hit me, I found myself thinking of ways to put the fear of God in this young man who had the temerity to ask out my daughter. For some reason, I now have a strong urge to start lifting weights, an idea I haven’t seriously entertained since college. 

I want to be angry, but my being unaware of this evolving situation is my own fault. In hindsight, there were quite a few utterances whose significance I failed to grasp. So I’m adopting a new strategy: after every phone call, conversation, or text I receive, I’m going to ask myself, “Okay, what did they really say?”

It isn’t like I can’t learn from my mistakes. And to anyone who I previously failed in this regard, I want to say that it isn’t that I wasn’t listening, but simply that I didn’t really hear you.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Penton Agriculture Group.
 

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4 shots at explaining an unexplainable cattle market

4 shots at explaining an unexplainable cattle market

The market crash of 2015 has been the dominant conversation of the year so far. A rally in CME cattle futures had the bulls resurfacing and the bears unimpressed. Everyone is searching for clarity, but mostly they just want an explanation. The explanations thus far are almost comical; unless, of course, you’ve been selling cattle the last 60 days.

1. Falling or uncertain demand is one explanation that keeps being put forth. Folks promoting this rationale point to the precipitous decline in boxed-beef prices. However, they totally ignore that boxed-beef prices set an all-time, record-high just several weeks ago. In fact, boxed-beef prices have followed future prices more than the inverse.

2. Oil prices are also being cited as an explanation – depending on whether you’re a bull or a bear. The bulls say declining oil prices saves the typical family $100/month at the pump, and much more in declining prices relative to lower shipping costs. Some folks estimate lower prices at the pump constitute a $100-billion stimulus to Americans – with no expense to taxpayers, by the way.

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Meanwhile, the bears argue that lower oil prices are more reflective of the declining global economy. They say that lower oil prices are a symptom of a weakening global economy, which will eventually shut down the tepid growth that the American economy has been experiencing. But can anyone really believe that beef demand has shifted in just four weeks, or that the beef economy is responding to falling oil prices to such a degree? 

3. Then there’s the cattle numbers game? Cattle-on-feed (COF) numbers were up 1% in the latest report. Meanwhile, rapid expansion of the cow herd must be occurring, as heifer numbers are down 2%.

But the fact is that the COF number has shifted only in a very minor way; meanwhile, the basic supply-and-demand construct remains intact.

Of course, expansion would decrease numbers in the short term. And cattle prices and forage conditions – with my apologies to those in the Southwest who are getting drier as predictions for more moisture and El Niño conditions continue – point to expansion. So, expansion is undoubtedly occurring, but the numbers defy those who are claiming that expansion is occurring at a surprising pace.

Trying to explain this market is like analyzing the loss of a favorite football team. Everyone is a pretty good Monday morning quarterback, and we find lots of reasons to justify why we should have – or could have – won. The tendency is to get too complicated in our analysis. Sometimes the other team was simply better; they executed better or the ball bounced their way.

4. The current market situation demands an explanation, but the toughest one to swallow might be the most accurate. That’s that the market exceeded virtually everyone’s expectations the last 18 months, and funds and speculators joined in on the hoopla. But record levels also make people nervous, and when the futures headed south, it was a mad race to the exits.

In the short term, the market is always dictated by fear and greed, and fear has ruled. The beautiful thing about fear is that it has a way of negating itself over time. The latest rally didn’t change the dynamics of the marketplace any more than the crash of 2015 did. However, it has probably done a lot for the market to search for some equilibrium. The good news is that both the bears and the bulls are a little unsure of themselves. 

Buyers have been incentivized to try and buy cattle lower, and they will. Sellers were willing participants, but then greed has a way of returning as well. I don’t have a good explanation for the crash of 2015, but that lack of explanation has more credibility than some of the explanations being offered.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Penton Agriculture Group.
 

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When you’re feeding a pregnant cow, you’re feeding for two

When you’re feeding a pregnant cow, you’re feeding for two

Cows have different nutritional needs at different stages of gestation. A cow’s nutrient requirements in early gestation aren’t much different from her maintenance requirements, but her needs increase as the fetus inside her grows. And if a cow is lactating, she needs a much higher level of protein and energy than during pregnancy.

While protein requirements for all pregnant cows increase in the later stages of gestation, they’re highest for young cows. This can be managed by separating the first- and second-calf heifers from the main herd, and supplementing the younger females with protein, or a higher level of protein. Mature cows, which aren’t growing, can be roughed through winter and early spring (as they approach calving) much more easily than younger cows.

Whether to supplement pregnant cows with protein depends on the protein levels of winter forage, as well as the performance expected from those cows. David Bohnert, Oregon State University Extension beef specialist and a ruminant nutritionist, advises using National Research Council guidelines to calculate protein requirements at various ages and stages of pregnancy, as well as lactation.

“More important is figuring out how we’re going to meet those requirements, and how close we can come to meeting our expected performance for those cattle. It may not be necessary to meet the cow’s exact protein needs, but we need to determine what we should provide in order to get an acceptable level of performance,” he says.

Ken Olson, South Dakota State University Extension beef specialist, stresses the need for protein supplementation, particularly for spring-calving herds using low-quality forage such as winter range, crop residues or baled straw.

“The first limiting nutrient is protein, simply because the ruminant needs protein to digest forage. If the cow doesn’t have enough protein to create a proper environment for rumen microbes, she can’t digest the fiber in low-quality forage to extract the energy value in it,” Olson says.

He says the goal is to meet the requirements of the gut bugs, so they can digest the feed and meet the requirements of the cow. “We feed the rumen bugs to grow more rumen bugs. After they digest the fiber and pass on into the small intestine, these microbes also become supplemental protein for the cow. It’s a very efficient system,” Olson says.

This not only meets the cow’s needs, but also helps her maintain body condition during pregnancy and post-calving. “We need her to be in good body condition in the spring so she can lactate, start cycling again and get pregnant at the beginning of the next breeding season,” Olson says.

Supplemental protein also sets up that cow to provide better colostrum, and more and better-quality milk, to help the newborn calf get off to a good start, he says. “We know if we feed the cow well, we reduce calving difficulty. The cow is healthier and stronger, and we have fewer weak calves at birth,” he says.

Fetal programming benefit

There are also positive effects on the growing fetus. “We’re finding that how we feed the pregnant cow affects development and the genetic potential of her fetus, changing how it performs after it is born — and apparently for the rest of that calf’s life,” Olson says.

Research data indicate proper nutrition of the fetus enhances the feedlot performance of the eventual calf, with boosts shown in improved immunity and even improved carcass composition, Olson points out. What’s needed is more data on how best to manage fetal programming for the best possible outcomes, he adds.

While there’s much to learn regarding the effects of various levels of nutrient restriction, Olson says it does appear to matter. “At some levels, we get one outcome; at other levels, we see something different. The stage of gestation at which the restriction occurs appears to have tremendous importance.”

Various organs, such as the heart and lungs, immune system and various body tissues, are formed at different points in fetal development. Olson says mid-gestation seems to be important for muscle-fiber development, while proper nutrition during other stages of gestation is important for development of fat cells. How the cow is fed may even affect yield and marbling in the ultimate carcass of her calf.

“People now realize a cow needs a reasonable plane of nutrition all the way through pregnancy, but recent data from my SDSU colleague, Amanda Blair, suggests a mild, mid-gestation energy restriction can actually increase the marbling score of that future calf. Perhaps we’re increasing marbling while decreasing muscle-fiber generation and changing the proportion of fat cells to muscle cells,” he says.

“So having the cow a little short on energy in mid-gestation may not be a bad thing, but this is based on just one experiment. Much more work remains to ensure this was not just a one-time outcome. We need to better understand how to manage cow nutrition to make this happen in a predictable fashion,” Olson explains. 

Cattle are versatile

Ruminants have a remarkable ability to manage under less-than-perfect feed conditions, Olson points out. Cows can lose weight in winter (early to mid-gestation), regain weight with green grass in the spring and give birth to healthy calves.

“Beef cattle can utilize low-quality forages and deal with nutrient shortages. But just because they can do it doesn’t mean it’s the most productive way to raise beef animals,” Olson says. What’s needed is the optimum type of management to tweak cows’ abilities to the best benefit.

He says research is underway across the country to address this topic. Some studies are investigating the effect of fetal programming on the resulting feeder calf and replacement heifer. For instance, University of Nebraska research by Rick Funston, a beef reproductive specialist, shows that nutrient restriction of the dam in winter can have negative effects on the fetus if it’s a heifer calf. Age of puberty and fertility seem to be most compromised.

seedstock 100

BEEF Seedstock 100
Looking for a new seedstock provider? Use our BEEF Seedstock 100 listing to find the largest bull sellers in the U.S. Browse the Seedstock 100 list here.

 

The bottom line, Olson says, is there’s much to be learned, and those results could change the way beef cows are fed in winter. “We need to find the best ways to supplement cows so they can continue to graze low-quality forages and not compromise their unborn calves,” Olson says.

That may entail being more strategic in the timing of supplementation, and how much supplement is fed.

“In the past, if cows were in good body condition in the fall, we felt we could under-supplement them in the winter, knowing they can utilize their excess body reserves. This may get her through the winter and she may still be fertile the next breeding season, but we don’t know what it means for the fetus. We must reconsider and figure out strategic supplementation that still minimizes the cost of doing it, but overcomes any negative issues in fetal programming,” Olson explains.

Assess your cows’ goals

Some cattle are more efficient than others because of selection over the years. Such cattle are well-adapted to a harsh range environment. Meanwhile, other cows placed in that same environment might fall apart and lose weight; they might raise a poor calf and fail to breed back.

“The question of ‘How much protein do I need for my cows?’ is not easily answered. The answer for one herd might not be the same for another,” Bohnert says.

He suggests each producer set performance goals for his cows and then determine whether they’re receiving what they need to achieve those goals. The goals may differ, depending on whether cattle are in small pastures on an eastern farm, or running on thousands of acres of public rangeland in Nevada during winter.

“If cattle are on desert range, you may have limited ability to do much about some of these things. But if you are five miles down the road from an ethanol plant and have easy access to distillers grains, your goals and options may be quite different,” Olson says.

Sometimes you can innovate, realizing there’s an option you haven’t considered. “Folks thinking outside the box, looking for ways to tweak their own system to make it better, are those who can make it work,” he says. A person might be able to use part of an idea that might work, even if it’s not a typical way to do it.

Learning more about the cow’s protein needs, and how supplementation fits into the whole picture of the way her calf will develop and perform, can help in formulating future management plans, Olson says.

Bohnert says flexibility is also important in a supplementation strategy that works with the available resources. “This goes beyond traditional thinking that a cow needs X amount of protein or 5 pounds of alfalfa per day. We try to find supplemental strategies for protein and energy that save money while maintaining acceptable performance,” he explains.

Heather Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, Idaho.

When should you call the vet on a difficult calving?

When should you call the vet on a difficult calving?

The crew at Ashland Veterinary Center is a lot busier this calving season. And that’s just fine with them.

It’s not because the veterinarians look forward to spending more time at the back end of a cow. It’s because they know they’re helping clients better manage their calving season and deliver more live, healthy calves.

Randall Spare, president of Ashland Veterinary Center in Ashland, Kan., and one of four vets at the operation, says the torrid cattle market is a big reason for their busy schedules. “We’ve assisted more people because they’ve said, ‘I don’t want to mess this up. That calf is too valuable.’ ”

But that’s true regardless of the current market. You can’t sell a calf that didn’t survive calving. To that end, Spare and his crew advise cattle producers to not be shy about calling their veterinarian when dealing with dystocia, or a difficult calving.

According to Dale Grotelueschen, a DVM and director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center at Clay Center, Neb., the calving process is divided into three stages.

  • In the first stage, the cow or heifer becomes restless. “She may get up and lie down more often and move around,” he says, and often will isolate herself from the herd.
  • Stage 2 begins when the water bag appears, and it includes the delivery process.
  • Stage 3 is expulsion of fetal membranes and involution of the uterus, he says.

Stage 1 can last 12 hours or it can be two hours, Spare says. “The challenge is not that every animal is different, but that we need to see progression,” he says. “If they’ve quit straining, then we need to intervene.”

In fact, Spare sums up his entire philosophy of when to help deliver a calf with one word: progression. “We need to see progression from the time calving starts. And that really means when they’re off by themselves.”

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Since calving difficulty is more often a problem in heifers, Spare suggests this timeline for progression: “When I see them off by themselves starting heavy labor, I want to see that water bag in about 30 to 45 minutes. Then in another 30 minutes, see the feet inside the water bag. Then in another 30 minutes, see the nose; and 30 minutes after that, we need to have a calf.”

Spare realizes that’s a finite timetable and cattle don’t pay attention to timetables, so it will vary. But his point is this: things need to keep moving at a reasonable clip. “I’d rather have people err on the side of caution,” he says, “so at any time when progression stops, intervene.”

Beyond watching the clock, there are some signs to look for that a cow and calf need some assistance, Grotelueschen says. “If the legs present normally and the calf’s nose is there, and the calf’s tongue or nose starts to swell, that’s an indication of delayed progress.”

What do you need to do? “We get that animal up and restrained properly in a clean area where we can safely assist her,” Spare says. By safe, he means the safety of the cow as well as the safety of the people.

That doesn’t mean a rope around her horns and snubbed up tight to a fence post. A squeeze chute will work, as will any sort of safe head catch with gates that open, in an area that’s cleanable. “It can be a dirt floor that we wipe clean and throw lime on. Or it can be concrete that we wash down between animals. But we need to have access to that animal to properly examine her.”

Dealing with a bad presentation

In the examination, you’re looking for a normal presentation, with the calf’s two front feet visible with the tips of the hooves pointing up, followed by the calf’s nose a few inches behind, Grotelueschen says. If a hoof or the head is back, or it’s a breech, the calf can be manipulated to get everything lined up. But a hoof or head out of position might be a symptom of another problem.

In a normal presentation, the calf’s front hooves are facing forward with the tips up, and the calf’s nose is an inch or two behind. A breech presentation can be a challenging dystocia presentation. But with training, producers can learn how to manipulate the fetus to make delivery easier. A calf can be delivered when in a posterior presentation, but may require assistance. If you see hooves but no head, don’t assume the calf is coming backward. The head may be back. An examination will help determine the problem. All illustrations courtesy of Oklahoma State University.

“Many times, with an abnormal presentation, particularly with a heifer, it means the birth canal isn’t big enough for the calf,” Spare says. Using a calf puller in that situation only makes things worse.

That’s a situation where having a good relationship with your vet is helpful. Food-animal vets are always willing to help their clients learn what they can do in the field, Spare says. And when your vet knows you and your abilities, it can save time and calves when assistance is needed. Spare has clients who, when they bring a dystocia case to the clinic, he knows they’ve done everything they can. “We don’t even try to pull the calf. We do a cesarean,” Spare says.

How to provide assistance

Begin by properly attaching obstetrical (OB) chains with handles and pulling manually, he says. “But it’s at this point we tell people, ‘Know your limitations and know your comfort level.’ There’s a short period of time where the survivability of both the cow and the calf is a lot better if the intervention hasn’t gone beyond their ability.”

And intervention not only helps assure a live calf, but a better cow. “We’re not only thinking about a live calf, but we’re thinking about a healthy, functioning animal that will breed back,” Spare says.

So when do you call the vet? “When you’ve gone to the limit of your ability to safely assist that calf,” Spare says.

If pulling manually doesn’t work, a calf puller often comes into play. While that’s a common tool, use it carefully, Grotelueschen says. “I think we’ve learned over many years and with experience that we need to approach this as assisting the delivery, and knowing that many calf pullers can exert far too much tension than is safe for the calf and the dam,” he cautions. “So we need to exercise caution and not get ourselves into positions where we exert too much force.”

Spare agrees. “When you start to pull a calf with a calf puller, know that you’re merely assisting uterine contractions to move [the calf along] the birth canal. And if there comes a point where progress has stopped because the calf appears to be too big in comparison with the birth canal, that’s probably the time to stop [using the calf puller] also.”

And he cautions to limit yourself to calf pullers you can control manually. That means no pickups, four-wheelers and tractors.

Birthweight genetics are better

While Spare and the other veterinarians at the clinic are assisting in more deliveries this year than in past years, they’re doing fewer cesareans. “We do 10% of the cesareans on beef cattle today than we did 25 years ago,” he says. He chalks that up to better genetics. “You can have growth genetics using top 10% birthweight bulls,” he says.

If you’re experiencing a high rate of calving difficulty, take a hard look at your bulls. With the genetic choices available today, Spare believes the accepted norm for dystocia incidence in beef heifers should be no more than 5%.

“Today, with the labor issues we have, more than ever, the last thing you need to do is be assisting a cow.” While you’ll never totally eliminate dystocia, using bulls in the top 10% of their breed for calving ease as heifer bulls will keep you between the guardrails, he says.

For clients who do that, Spare says their biggest challenge becomes helping the heifers be good mamas. And that’s a good challenge to have. 

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3 tips for reducing mud during the spring thaw

This week, much of the national media attention has been focused on Snowpocalypse 2015, or Snowmaggedon -- a massive blizzard that was predicted to hit New York City but didn't materialize, though Boston took a good beating. Meanwhile, back on the ranch in South Dakota, we’ve been enjoying balmy, spring-like weather with sunshine and 50-degree weather.

Typically in January, we in the Dakotas are battling freezing temperatures, snow, ice and wind, so it’s rare to have to worry about mud in the middle of winter in my neck of the woods. Nevertheless, these warm temperatures have thawed some of the frost in the ground, and our lots are looking a little sloppy these days.

“Mud causes lots of problems for cattle and cattle producers, including loss of feed nutrients from hay, calf scours, calving losses, etc. But, perhaps a bigger issue is the effect that winter feeding can have on your pastures,” says Roy Burris, University of Kentucky (UK) Beef Extension professor. “Isn't it time that you and your cattle quit slogging through the mud?”

 

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In a recent column in Ohio State University’s Beef Cattle Newsletter, Burris offers the following tips for managing mud during the winter months, using examples from UK’s Princeton cow-calf station.

1. Consider installing hay feeding pads.

Burris says hay feeding pads allow cattle from different pastures to access hay, and bales of hay can be added as needed. Plus, the pads can be scraped off and the manure and mud spread on pastures. He says it’s best to locate these facilities near all-weather roads for easy access and minimal pasture damage.

The benefits of using a hay-feeding pad or a rotational grazing structure include a reduction in environmental impact, and saving energy, labor and fuel. Plus, hay wasted can be decreased, pastures protected, and manure management improved.

READ: “Strategic winter feeding of cattle using a rotational grazing structure” by Steve Higgins and Sarah Wightman, UK Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and Jeff Lehmkuhler, UK Animal and Food Sciences

2. Cover areas around feedbunks with geotextile fabric and crushed rock.

At the Princeton facility, concrete feed troughs are used for silage and concentrate feeding. Burris says, “The concrete troughs are conveniently located by farm roads for minimal pasture damage and ease of delivery. Be sure to have adequate bunk space for the number of cattle that will utilize it, and an adequate area that is covered with geotextile fabric and rock around the bunks.”

3. Pour cement around waterers.

Pouring cement around electric waterers and stock tanks seems like common sense, but a common mistake is making the concrete pad only large enough for the cattle to stand on with their front feet. Doing so, doesn’t eliminate mud from building up where cattles' back legs stand, so the high-traffic area of the waterers still gets muddy.

Burris says, “Frost-free waterers will help control the problems with the water supply freezing up. However, mud can be a problem around the waterers, too. If you pour a concrete pad or prepare an area of filter fabric and rock, be sure the area is wide enough for the length of a cow and not just their front feet.”

Obviously, mud can’t be completely avoided, so I don’t plan to throw away my muck boots any time soon. However, there are many ways to reduce mud around the ranch, and that translates into less stress on cattle, people and equipment.

How do you manage for mud in your operation? Share your tips in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

 

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