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Articles from 2007 In October


Low-Stress Weaning

Weaning is the process of separating a calf from its mother. It typically takes place in the fall of the year. It can be a very traumatic time for both the cow and her calf.

The key to success is to minimize stress. Calves that are stressed will go off feed, which causes them to be much more susceptible to sickness. Contented calves with a full belly will seldom, if ever, get sick.

Cows that are stressed will lose weight and valuable body condition, which is needed to get them through the winter with minimum feed supplementation.

I’ve also heard that ranchers who are stressed can become very difficult to live with.

Across-the-Fence weaning is a method we have successfully used for the last 14 years. Properly done, it is a very low-stress method of weaning for both the cow and her calf. Once the cows and calves have been separated, they are allowed to have some contact with one another across the fence for a few days. Most good fences will work. We use a very simple electric two-wire fence.

I have heard of several variations of across-the-fence weaning, but my favorite involves leaving both the cows and the calves out on grass or other forages. If you can keep your cows and calves out of dusty or muddy lots there will be much fewer health and other stress related problems. It’s not natural for cattle to be confined in lots, eating harvested and/or processed feed. You will also discover that calves are much less likely to spook and stampede if they are not shut up. In fact, we have never had our calves spook and try to run through a fence since we quit shutting them up.

We like to move our pairs into the pasture the calves will be weaned in, a day or two prior to weaning so the calves will remain in familiar surroundings. This should be one of your better pastures.

The calves will be able to locate all the water sources and perimeter fences while they are still with their mothers. For best results the primary water source for the calves should be located near the fence line.

You should also avoid having corners in the dividing fence where animals on either side of the fence will tend to bunch up.

On weaning day we no longer ride out to gather pairs at daybreak. We relax after breakfast with a hot cup of coffee and allow the cows and calves to finish their early morning grazing routine. Around mid to late morning we slowly bring the pairs in to our sorting corral. Once the herd has been gathered, we go back to the house for another cup of coffee while the calves find their mothers for one last drink of milk. When we return, the herd will be quietly loafing. There won’t be any bawling or signs of stress.

Keep in mind, cows do not understand the concept of time. They may have some regular routines and habits, but time means nothing to them. Ranchers would do a much better job of handling their livestock if they threw away their watches. Why does anything have to be completed by a certain time?

The sorting facilities do not have to be fancy or expensive. All you really need is a big corral with two gates. One gate that lets the cows out to their pasture and another to let the calves back out to theirs.

If you have allowed the herd sufficient loafing time, many of the cows will be ready to file out when you open their gate, especially if they think they are going to fresh pasture. This is no place for loud, whip swinging cowboys. If you are patient, the herd will essentially sort itself. Calves are less likely to go past you so they aren’t hard to hold back. After the first jag of cows have left the corral you can let a few calves out the other gate. Before you know it, the sorting will be done and nobody will be stressed or upset.

A word of caution: If your cattle are not familiar with this type of handling, they won’t handle exactly as I have described. Don’t become discouraged, though. Throw away your watch, be very patient and work them as slowly and as quietly as you possibly can. The next time the herd is worked it will be much easier to handle. I’ve found that most cowherds are easier to train than most cowboys.

If possible, we like to leave two or three older animals with the calves to provide some reassurance and leadership. On their own, a herd of freshly weaned calves has absolutely no sense of leadership or direction. Since the calves are returning to the same pasture they came from, they usually won’t be the least bit bothered by the day’s activities. It will usually take at least two or three hours before they realize something is amiss. After a couple of hours of grazing in their new pasture, some of the cows will realize their calves are not close by, and will go in search of them.

Most people will say, “You can’t wean a calf across the fence from its mother. It will never work. They will tear down the fence. It will create even more stress for the calf and the cow.” Over the years I have spent considerable time watching individual cows and calves. Both will leave the fence to eat, but after a while the cow will return to check on her calf. When summoned by his mother the calf will come back to the fence. As soon as they get across the fence from one another most of their anxiety will disappear.

Often, you’ll see a cow and her calf lying down on opposite sides of the fence, both contentedly chewing their cud. The next time you notice them they will probably be out grazing.

What if a couple of calves slip through the fence? Relax, it’s not the end of the world. Whenever it is convenient just walk the pairs back to your sorting corral and separate them again. In fourteen years, we have had only one calf and one cow that refused to stay where they belonged. After the second escape, we shut the fence-crawling calf up until the cows were moved. The fence-jumping cow was loaded up and hauled to the sale barn.

After three days, fewer and fewer cows will come back to the fence. They know where their calves are, but they are becoming less and less concerned about them. Likewise, the calves are beginning to realize they don’t really need their mothers any more. It’s as though you have allowed them the opportunity to gradually break the bond that has held them together for the last six months.

We always wait at least four days before we move the cows away from the calves. By this time they are usually so excited about going to fresh pasture that all we have to do is open the gates ahead of them. Very few, if any, will consider turning back for their calves. In just four or five days, weaning is over. The cows are happy and storing up fat for the winter.

The calves are healthy and adjusting well to life without mom. There is no shrink or weight loss. Some friends and customers of Pharo Cattle Company, Don and John Palmer, weighed their steer calves one year at weaning and again ten days later. Those steer calves gained a remarkable 1.5 pounds per day while being weaned on native grass across the fence from their mothers. This is something most of the so-called experts with degrees in animal health and nutrition will never be able to achieve.

Don Palmer suggests that you avoid riding or driving through the calves for the first few days of weaning. Whenever the cows see you out there they will all come running to the fence. Don says, “Go back to the house and drink a cup of coffee while you observe the weaning process through a pair of binoculars.” What are you going to do out there anyway? The calves don’t need fed, don’t need doctored and don’t need you.

Weaning doesn’t have to be as difficult or as stressful as we have been led to believe.

About the Author: Kit Pharo is a no-nonsense seedstock producer in eastern Colorado. He shares his philosophies and opinions in a bimonthly newsletter that is mailed out to over 24,000 ranchers. To receive this free and very opinionated newsletter, call 1-800-311-0995 or send an email to [email protected].

New BVD test available

A highly sensitive test used throughout parts of Europe to accurately detect bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) is now available in the United States. The Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is the first to offer the BoVir® test.

The newly available BVDV test identifies and differentiates both persistent infection and transient infection, the two types of BVDV infection in cattle. Persistently infected cattle pose a considerable herd management problem in the U.S. cattle, with persistent infection remaining for life, often without the appearance or clinical signs of the disease, shedding large amounts of the virus and introducing the disease to other cattle.

“BoVir® reagents and the lysis buffer are highly sensitive and can detect viruses even within the first days of birth when maternal antibodies can mask the infection for up to 120 days,” says AnDiaTec developmental geneticist and company owner, Dr. Johannes Kehle.

The sensitivity and effectiveness of BoVir® reagents and the proprietary lysis buffer is further validated by European governmental reference labs for an ability to detect all 68 referenced strains of BVDV, including atypical European and American strains, such as HOBI and the H138 strains. The test also gives U.S. herd managers another key advantage in its ability to detect the virus even in newborn calves, something other BVDV testing methods currently cannot do.

“We’re very excited to be the first U.S. laboratory to provide the AnDiaTec reagents to veterinarians and producers of Kansas and the surrounding states,” said Dr. Gary Anderson, Director of the KSVDL. “In the past, PCR technology was viewed as too difficult, unreliable, or too costly to run in a high throughput environment. However, now the KSVDL staff will effectively and efficiently use the simplified AnDiaTec reagents and automation to provide superior results and service for our clients.”

Both of AnDiaTec’s innovations—the BoVir® reagents and the proprietary lysis buffer—are being distributed in the U.S. and worldwide by Enfer Diagnostics. The two BVDV test components have also been submitted to the USDA by Agriculture Professional Services for sale and distribution approval. The BoVir® reagents and innovative lysis buffer were developed by AnDiaTec of Germany, and are currently under national government contract use by the countries of Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and German states.

Rethink feeding hay

“Whatever place you are at now, if you can cut 30 days off feeding hay, you’ll increase profits,” says University of Missouri Extension specialist Wesley Tucker, who is a beef producer himself.

Tucker says the most common question he is asked by producers is how to get better calf prices. However, he says that’s the wrong focus. “We tend to focus on how can we get paid more, but we can’t influence that as much as feed cost. There we can have a huge impact,” Tucker says.

From his analysis of SPA data, Tucker reports there are large differences in profitability between cow-calf operations with some making up to $128/cow/year while others are losing as much as $145/cow/year. Those dollar differences are impacted by numerous variables, but Tucker says 52% of that variation in profitability is due to feed cost alone.

Tucker estimates it costs about double to feed hay vs. have livestock graze in the pasture. And feeding grains costs about three times as much as grazing.

Not to mention the nutrients that are removed from the soil when forage is put up as hay. Tucker says, “When you are haying you’re removing nitrogen, phosporus and potassium. Every time I feed a 1,000 lb. round bale of hay I’m feeding about $6 of potassium and phosphorus. Whereas, with grazing livestock are returning some of those nutrients to the soil through manure.

Thus, Tucker advocates that producers find ways to graze as much as possible. As an example, he suggests stockpiling forages and using them into the fall instead of feeding hay. He estimates grazing stockpiled forage costs 40-50 cents/cow/day while feeding hay is closer to $1/cow/day.

He concludes, “If you can graze, manure helps leave the nutrients on there.”

Taking it one step further, he suggests hay should be fed on the field it was baled on to minimize loss of nutrients and soil fertility.

Next Tip: Temple’s Top Animal Handling Tips

The Farm Bill Debate Continues To Heat Up

Critics on one side are complaining that the farm bill is simply looking like more of the same. They argue that farm income is at record levels, yet the farm-subsidy system has largely been left untouched. We're missing a great opportunity to institute substantive reform to the farm bill, they say.

There's also a side arguing that the industry hasn't received enough protection from competition. R-CALF Region II director Randy Stevenson penned an editorial this week asking the question -- "Will there be open, accessible and competitive markets without government oversight?"

Let's set aside the obvious fact that our industry's market system is already one of the most highly regulated of any in the U.S. Perhaps the question should be: "Can we ever have a competitive market with excessive government oversight?"

I admit I've never met a producer, or an average citizen for that matter, who doesn't recoil at words like "large meatpacker control." And, admittedly, the issues of market transparency, price discovery and even captive supplies aren't without some merit.

Still, the solutions being proposed are simply irresponsible. In order to protect an industry from a possible future negative income at some point down the road, these folks are proposing to strip producers of their rights to market their product in their chosen manner. Futures contracts, selling on grids, participating in alliances, branded programs and the like are all deemed unacceptable because such cattle aren't priced in the manner acceptable to those who prefer a commodity system over a value-based system.

Still, at some point, someone besides the U.S. Justice Department, USDA, the courts and the like need to call some of this rhetoric exactly what it is. We in the media abdicate our responsibility toward the truth when we merely print such letters without a response.

The vast majority of producers understand that the improving economic dynamics of this industry are due to improved beef demand, which was created by improving the quality and consistency of our product, as well as our competitiveness relative to the other protein sources. They understand that the branded revolution, grid marketing, the various alliances and the like have enabled producers to increase efficiencies, minimize price risk and improve the eating experience of consumers.

Someone needs to stand up and say that competition isn't ensuring that everyone receives the exact same price for their product. It's having the freedom as independent cattlemen to make our own choices in pursuing the goal of providing a better eating experience for our customers.

When someone says they can't compete because they don't have access to the market in an open, fair, competitive and transparent manner, it's code for legislating away the changes that the marketplace has driven over the last 20 years. We should stand up and challenge those assertions.

There used to be a time when government oversight and intervention were seen as conditions to avoid. There was a time when capitalism and competition were seen as superior to socialism and protection. But times seem to be changing. (see "Peddling Fear Has Always Been Easier Than Selling Hope.")

Peddling Fear Has Always Been Easier Than Selling Hope

In the latest issue of Newsweek, there's a thought-provoking article called "The End of Exceptionalism." The author Fareed Zakaria begins by stating -- "The U.S. has always thought of itself as exceptional, but nowadays we are standing apart for the wrong things."

If that gets your patriotic fervor going, then perhaps this article will be a little more than just mildly discomforting. He goes on to talk about the amazing trends sweeping the globe. The following is my synopsis of his article:

Despite all the rhetoric about how everyone in the world hates America, it seems the world is embracing some of our most fundamental concepts. According to the recently released Pew Global Attitude Study, we're seeing a sea change in global views. Large majorities across most countries and cultures now favor democracy, free markets, trade and cultural exchange.

Surprisingly, America is becoming the notable exception. When asked about growing trade ties between countries, 91% of people in China considered the trend very good or somewhat good, while 85% of respondents in Germany said so, 88% in Bulgaria, 87% in South Africa, 93% in Kenya, and the list goes on. The U.S. was dead last in support, at 59%.

One could dismiss this by saying that America has been the leading economic power for so long that it feels threatened by trade. But the only country in the survey even within 10% of the U.S. was Egypt, and no one would consider that nation to be a source of economic growth for the future.

When asked if foreign companies had a positive impact, again the world agreed. That's good because U.S. multinational companies are by far the biggest player in the global market. Of respondents by nation, 73% in India, 70% in Brazil, 75% in Bangladesh, 82% in Nigeria, etc., favor these companies. Again, the U.S. was in the bottom five of all countries with only 45% favoring them.

It seems more than a little ironic that we expect to sell our cars, computers, movies, pharmaceuticals, ag products, expertise, clothes, etc., all over the world and be met with open arms, yet somehow feel we shouldn't have to return the favor.

With trade, everyone benefits and lifestyles improve. It would obviously be economic disaster to not engage in free and open trade.

Our new exceptionalism even extends toward immigration. Everyone rightly should be opposed to "illegal" immigration, but Americans are more opposed to immigration than even the Germans and the French. We're a nation of immigrants seeking protection and maintenance of the status quo.

It also was surprising to learn that U.S. sentiment is in step with the world regarding the notion that military force is sometimes required to maintain order in the world. Seventy-seven percent of Americans agree, but that's well below India and not much above the Swedes and Italians. I was amazed that roughly the same number of Germans and French (65%) feel the government has too much power as do Americans.

An interesting side note to all of these key principles is people's attitudes toward the environment; about 2/3 of people in the U.S. believe in protecting the environment, even if it means slower economic growth.

From an economic standpoint, these trends, as they relate to trade, immigration and the like, are disturbing. It's nearly impossible to find an informed economist or business person who doesn't believe that expanding trade, travel and markets, will be a defining characteristic of the 21st century. Still, not only are we at the bottom of the list in terms of support, but we exhibit the biggest drop in acceptance of these concepts among the countries surveyed. Who would have thought the country least supportive of capitalism and democracy could be the U.S.? If current trends continue, we could actually be there.

A large part of this attitudinal change is the result of the politicizing of such issues as immigration, as well as pandering populist politicians who inexplicably prefer winning a certain block of voters over the greater good of their constituents.

History is replete with examples of countries that shunned competition in favor of blaming others and turning inward, and our own industry is a microcosm of these very trends -- where fear mongering and emotional appeals have consistently been advanced in recent times despite strong empirical evidence to the contrary.

Despite a virtual 100% consensus among industry economists, a large number of producers still believe trade has negatively influenced the price they have received for their cattle. If this country and this industry continue to demonize trade and the global economy, we may find ourselves poorly equipped for the world we are entering.

However, maybe it's just capitalism at work. After all, peddling fear has always been easier than selling hope. Ironically, the result of selling hope and fear are also well known.

Fire Preparedness Tips

It's not just Southern California -- conditions throughout much of the Southwest are ripe for wildfires like those seen in 2006. And experts are passing on life- and property-saving advice.

"It's setting up to be that kind of year again," says Wayne Hanselka, Extension range specialist in Corpus Christi, TX. "We've had so much rain, a lot of moisture, and have grown a lot of grass." This combination of conditions has led to increased fire concerns across Oklahoma and portions of Texas, as well as eastern New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

Texas Forest Service officials offer the following tips to lessen the threat of wildfire damage to your house and buildings:

  • Propane tanks should be far enough away from buildings for valves to be shut off in case of fire. Keep area around the tank clear of flammable vegetation.
  • Store gasoline in an approved safety can away from occupied buildings.
  • Clear roof surfaces and gutters regularly to avoid buildup of leaves, debris and other flammable materials.
  • In rural areas, clear a fire break of at least three times the fuel length around all structures.
  • Have fire tools handy such as: 2 ladders long enough to reach the roof, shovel, rake and a bucket or two for water.
  • Place connected garden hoses at all sides of the home for emergency use.
  • Know all emergency exits from the home and neighborhood.
  • Create a defensible space of at least 30 ft. around your house and outbuildings, closely mow lawns, and trees should be pruned and spaced widely apart.
  • Establish fuel breaks along roadways and between buildings and fields or woodlands.
  • Keep mufflers and spark arresters on ag equipment in proper working order and watch out for rocks and metal when bush hogging or mowing.
  • Monitor hay-baling operations closely; dry hay can ignite within the baler.
  • Watch out for sparks when using welding equipment to build fences or repair equipment.
  • Avoid driving or parking vehicles in grassy areas where tall, dry grass comes into contact with hot pollution-control equipment under vehicles.
  • When debris burning is allowed, establish wide control lines down to bare mineral soil prior to lighting your fire.
  • Burn trash in a burn barrel or other fire-safe receptacle covered with a wire mesh or grid that will help contain burning debris. Stay with the fire until it is out.
  • Make onsite arrangements for removal of livestock and protection for feeders, pens, fences, oil and gas structures, wells, windmills, stored hay, barns and other structures.
  • Refresh or implement firebreaks.
Find more info and tips at: -- Texas A&M University release

Livestock Title Included In Senate Ag Committee Bill

The Senate Ag Committee's farm bill includes a Livestock Title addressing a number of issues including animal health, livestock markets, and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA). Among the provisions are:

  • Creates a Special Counsel on Ag Competition at USDA for enforcement of the PSA and the Ag Fair Practices Act (AFPA). Activities relating to investigations and prosecutions will be combined into one office.
  • Bans packer ownership of livestock 14 days prior to slaughter. The bill prohibits packers to "own or feed livestock directly, through a subsidiary, or through an arrangement that gives the packer operational, managerial or supervisory control over the livestock, or over the farming operation that produces the livestock."
  • Includes the House compromise on mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) with minor changes, and adds macadamia nuts as a covered commodity.
  • Expands provisions of the AFPA to producer members of associations or cooperatives.
  • Allows for the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat.
  • Makes arbitration in livestock and poultry contracts voluntary under the PSA.
  • With some exceptions, requires 90-day notice for contract termination when the producer has made a capital investment of $100,000 or more for the sole purposes of securing the contract.
  • Provides USDA enforcement authority over live poultry dealers under PSA.
  • Requires the USDA Secretary to conduct a study of wholesale pork reporting under the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act.
  • Amends the Animal Health Protection Act to make unauthorized use of information obtained through an animal ID system unlawful. Also establishes parameters on the use of such data by the USDA Secretary.
  • Reauthorizes the National Sheep and Goat Industry Improvement Center, which provides assistance to sheep and goat producers for infrastructure development, business development, production, resource development, and market and environmental research. Provides $1 million in mandatory funds.
  • Includes a Sense of Congress outlining the threat that feral swine pose to the domestic swine population.
  • Authorizes a voluntary national certification program for trichinae testing.
The House-passed farm bill doesn't include a Livestock/Competition Title. The packer ban, Special Counsel and arbitration will be major issues during the farm bill conference committee.

Some Knowledge Nuggets On Feeding Waste

Canada's Foragebeef.ca offers these tips for minimizing feed waste during winter feeding periods:

  • Livestock trample, over-consume, foul, and use for bedding 25-45% of hay that is fed free-choice.
  • Feed daily to reduce wastage. Provide only enough for a daily feeding, which will force livestock to eat feed that might otherwise be refused or trampled.
  • Over-consumption of feed is a form of wastage. A dry, pregnant cow will eat 20-30% more hay than is required to meet nutritional requirements. Over a 200-day feeding period, a 1,300-lb. cow can consume an extra 1,560 lbs. of feed.
  • Proper feeder design reduces waste. A round bale feeder with a sloped entry bar design saves feed when cows back away from the feeder. A solid lower section in the feeder prevents feed from being pulled out of the bottom.
  • When feeding large round bales, ensure adequate numbers of cattle are present to clean up the feed on a daily basis. All cattle should have space at the feeder at the same time. Too much or too little competition for feed increases waste.
  • Feed outside-stored hay first. Hay stored outside usually has more spoilage during storage and reduced palatability than covered feed. Cattle will waste a greater percentage of poor-quality hay than of good-quality hay.
  • Feed using an electric fence to minimize access and trampling. This is particularly important during times when the ground is soft or wet. By exposing only a portion of the daily feed, cattle will reach under the electric wire and gather the hay by the mouthful. Wastage by trampling and soiling only occurs on hay that they pull out from under the wire.
  • When feeding on the ground, select clean areas daily to improve palatability of feed that's been trampled on.
  • During winter months, select feeding sites that are separate from the cows' resting area. Purposely select areas somewhat exposed to limit the amount of time cows loiter in the feeding area. Cattle typically will come to feed and then return to more protected areas for resting.
  • Depending on the feed's market value, the use of a tub grinder or hay processor may be feasible to reduce wastage and increase consumption of an otherwise unpalatable feed.
Learn more at: www1.foragebeef.ca/$foragebeef/frgebeef.nsf/all/ccf12
-- Foragebeef.ca