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Information key in designing supplemental feeding program

Lack of forage (quantity and quality) is the cause of many cattle being in less-than-desirable body condition going into the winter. The months ahead are critical, regardless of whether your cows calve in the fall or spring, to ensure that cows breed back. So what can be done to cushion the wrath of Mother Nature? Well, in some form, we must intervene.

This intervention can come in many way, but one of the easiest, note I did not say most economical, is to implement a supplemental feeding program intended to meet a set of objectives. This does not mean feeding your cows 3 to 6 pounds of 20 percent breeder cubes because that’s what you did last year. What I mean is collecting the necessary information to implement a program designed to meet actual nutrient deficiencies and targeted performance criteria. So what is that information and who do you get it?

1) Start with your forage base. In order to strategically design a supplemental feeding program, you must have an understanding of forage type and its stage of production, due to their influence on forage quality.

It’s important to send in a forage (hay or clipping) sample for a nutrient analysis if you really want to be accurate. Once you have this information, estimate whether forage quantity is limiting.

2) Determine the cattle’s nutrient requirements. These requirements will be affected by many factors such as breed type, body size, etc. However, the most important points to consider are current body condition score (BCS), and physiological stage of production.

3) Consider other management “issues” and/or constraints such as the ability to buy in bulk, if you are limited to feeding on the ground, and whether you need feed additives (antibiotics or ionophores) incorporated.

4) Gather information regarding feeds nearest you, taking into consideration the answers to the above questions. Make sure to ask about the total digestible nutrients (TDN) and the cost and whether the feed can be delivered.

5) Calculate how much feed is needed to meet a defined nutrient deficiency based on the cost per pound of this nutrient. This step is the easiest to accomplish if the input variables are relatively black and white. But very few things in agriculture are without some gray areas, so you may want to contact a livestock professional for help.

Ag’s Heritage: Pass It On

Anyone who grew up on a farm or ranch likely has fond childhood memories of life on the land. From newborn calves to climbing on freshly stacked hay bales. But, fewer of today’s youth have the opportunity to grow up on farms and ranches – and have less of a connection with agriculture as a result. The Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom believes one way to build that bond with agriculture – and help youth understand the importance of ag – is through books.

After reviewing hundreds of books, Minnesota Ag in the Classroom has selected 22 titles and are offering them in a special “book bundle.” These selected titles provide a wonderful variety of fact and fiction, covering the wide spectrum of topics and content that represents plants, animals, agriculture, and the food and fiber system.

Minnesota Ag in the Classroom suggests purchasing the books and donating them to a local school or library to help spread ag education among today’s youth. Or, buy the bundle for yourself and read to local school children. Among the titles in the 22 book bundle include:

  • Dirt: The Scoop on Soil, which discusses the nature, uses, and importance of soil and the many forms of life that it supports.
  • Extra Cheese Please, From a cow named Annabelle to pizza, this colorful book illustrates the fascinating process by which milk is processed into mozzarella cheese.
  • From Plant to Blue Jeans, Describes the process of making blue jeans from the harvesting of cotton through the weaving of cloth and sewing the finished product.
  • If It Weren’t for Farmers, Colorful, fact-filled book describes for very young readers the food that comes from farms and how it is grown.

These bundles are available from Hobar Publications at the special price of $285 for the bundle (about $13 per book). To order call 952-938-9330 or for more information visit and click on “Book Bundle.”

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of these bundles will be donated to Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom to further advance the program’s mission and goals of serving and advancing K-16 education about agriculture.

Author’s Note: I contacted our local Soil Conservation District and suggested they consider donating a book bundle to our local elementary school. They did! So, consider approaching 4-H clubs, FFA chapters, banks or conservation districts in your local area and they just might be interested in buying and donating a book bundle to your local school.

Temple’s Top Animal Handling Tips

Animal behaviorist and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin has built a career on sensing how livestock react when being handled. Here’s her quick list of do’s and don’ts for you and your crew when you are rounding up the herd:

Do calm down. Temple advocates that her number one rule around livestock is to remain quiet. She reports that research has shown loud voices and yelling scares animals more than clanging gates and chains. Along with that, cattle that become agitated have been shown to have lower weight gains and marbling scores – because they end up putting energy into recovering instead of into performance.
Grandin says, “Animals are sensory thinkers. They have great memories, but they don’t store words. They store sounds and pictures.” Thus, she suggests when handling livestock, crews need to get away from language and make it a quiet and calm experience for the cattle.
Along with this she advocates low stress handling practices like fenceline weaning, which allows cattle to get on feed faster because they’ve experienced minimal stress.

Do make first experiences pleasant. Temple advocates that an important livestock handling principle is to make animals’ first experiences with a new place, piece of equipment or person a favorable one. “They don’t forget,” she say, and adds, “An initial experience that is averse can create a permanent fear memory in that animal.”
Temple explains that new things are both scary and attractive to an animal. The experience is scary if it is forced or suddenly introduced. But the experience can be made attractive, if the animal is allowed to investigate it on its own.
Therefore, she suggests introducing new steps gradually. For instance a guy on a horse and a guy on the ground are two different things to an animal. So if cattle are used to seeing a horse and rider, slowly introduce them to a person walking through the herd on the ground, and vice versa. Don’t introduce that person on the ground the very day you try to move the animals.
Likewise, show animals should be habituated to flags, strange people, noise, etc before they go to an event.

Don’t keep animals penned alone. “One of the most dangerous animals is the lone animal,” says Temple. Being alone is highly stressful, so bring some other animals in with it, she suggests.

Don’t select for temperament only. Temple cautions that single trait selection is never a good idea. As an example, she says if you select only for calm cattle, you’ll likely get cows who aren’t good mothers in caring for their calf. That said, wild animals don’t habituate,but just get more scared and probably need to be culled, says Temple. So seek some middle ground in selecting for disposition.

Do move animals at a walk or trot. Getting animals too excited and moving too fast can again negate health and performance.

Don’t use a hot shot. A flag can drive cattle effectively, says Temple.

Don’t fill the crowd pen too full. When working animals through a chute. Temple suggests filling the crowd pen only half full and leaving the tub gate on the first notch. “Don’t squish them in there. Animals have to be able to move freely and see where they are going,” she says. To get a firsthand experience, she also suggests walking through the crowd pen and chute yourself when it’s empty and pretend you are the animal. See what details you notice at their eye level. “They’ve got to be able to see the entrance, so sometimes switching the side you work from in the pen makes a difference,” she suggests. Also note any items on the ground –such as a pipe or board in the alley- that cattle may balk at. Either remove it, or cover it dirt so they don’t notice it. If the open sides along the alley or chute bother them, consider covering those with plywood as well.
For more about Grandin’s books and livestock handling techniques visit
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