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Articles from 2008 In March

April 1, 2008

Reader's Viewpoint

Portable Fence – Flexibility and Construction

Portable Fence – Flexibility and Construction

Sponsored Content by Gallagher Animal Management Systems

With a portable system, you can construct an effective barrier wherever you want for short term stock control. Portable fences are suitable for all types and sizes of animals and offers great flexibility and economy that is reusable year after year. This system can be used for creating additional pastures quickly and inexpensively. Portable fencing can also be used for rotational cell grazing.

The basics for a portable fence is reel, insulated hook, treadins, wire or tape, energizer and earth stake, or single reel lead connector.

Select your energizer after you’ve determined the distance and type of animals you want to control. Decide upon wire or tape. Tape is generally used where visibility is important, and Polywire or Turbo Wire is recommended where adverse weather conditions such as high winds exist.

For a single line fence, start by connecting the wire/tape to the insulated hook which is then attached to an anchor point. Carry the reel and sufficient treadins along the proposed fence line allowing the reel to unwind the wire/tape as you go.

Place a pigtail treadin or treadin post every 66 ft. and insert your wire/tape through the loop or lug. If the ground is undulating, place your treadins closer. Where several blocks are needed in one paddock or if the ground is too hard for treadins, Tumblewheels are an ideal solution. Tumblewheels are spaced across the paddock and held upright with the tension of the single line fence passing through the center. When one or both ends of the fence is moved, the wheels roll along.

At the end of the fence, hook the reel on to the anchor fence, locate the reel rachet and tighten the wire/tape making sure not to over-tighten.

Connect to the energizer using an earth stake or you can connect to an adjacent electric fence using a single reel lead connector.

Make sure when you remove the fence, untie the wire/tape from the insulated hook to avoid snagging objects as you reel the wire/tape in and and do not wind PolyWire through the treadin loops as this can damage the treadins and PolyWire.

Fall Calving Makes Sense In The Tall-Fescue Zone

Spring may not seem the right time to be thinking about the virtues of fall calving, but if you live in the tall-fescue zone of the U.S., you should be thinking about it right now. Spring and early summer is when endophyte-infected fescue is at its most toxic level, and when your cows are most likely bred for spring calving.

Let’s review what’s going on with the cows and the fescue in a spring-calving scenario. We’re going to be kind of hard on these cows and make them eat infected tall fescue hay all winter and then go to infected pastures in the spring. This is the worst-case scenario for a cow-calf producer in the fescue region.

Pregnant cows eating toxic hay over winter will lose body condition right up to calving time. The effect of a declining body condition score (BCS) on the ability of a cow to come back to estrous and rebreed for a 365-day calving interval is well documented. They won’t do it without extensive supplementation.

As the calves are dropped and pasture begins to grow, the poor girls are sent out on infected pastures. Bulls go in roughly 90 days after the first calf comes and the temperatures are starting to get a little warm, if not downright hot.

Tall-fescue pastures have probably gotten out of control; seedheads are exploding onto the scene by mid-spring. This is the most toxic stage of tall fescue and you’re asking your cows to regain weight, produce milk, come back into estrous, and get bred. You’re also asking bulls to maintain semen quality in face of rising heat stress and increasing nutritional stress. This is what we call a lose-lose situation.

Granted, most cattlemen in the southern and central U.S. understand endophyte-infected tall fescue a lot better than 20 years ago. We see a lot more legumes and crabgrass interseeded into pastures to dilute the fescue toxicity, we’ve seen some pastures reseeded to other grass species, we’ve learned strategic supplementation to keep cows in better condition, and maybe we’ve even selected for more fescue-tolerant bulls.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but the endophyte can still rear its ugly head in a spring-calving situation and knock the heck out of conception rates, calf gains and profitability. Bottom line with fescue and spring-calving cows is you’ve got the deck stacked against you.

So, why does fall calving make sense with tall fescue?

Location of the endophytic fungus and concentration of toxins in specific plant parts is one big reason. The greatest concentration of toxin is in the seedhead and stems, while the lowest concentration is in the leaf blade. Tall fescue basically only heads out in the spring so once that flush of stems and seedheads is gone, toxicity is greatly reduced. In a well-grown stockpiled pasture, the fall forage is mostly leaf blade and is much lower in ergovaline concentration than the spring forage.

Recent research by Rob Kallenbach at the University of Missouri (UM) shows the ergovaline concentration in stockpiled forage rapidly declines over winter with cold temperatures. Even pasture that starts the winter with fairly high toxicity levels becomes much safer to use by mid-January. In the summer time, the endophyte’s effects keeps getting compounded by rising heat and reduced forage availability.

Aggravated heat stress is a primary symptom of fescue toxicity. With spring-calving cows, breeding almost always occurs as temperatures and stress on the cattle are increasing. With fall-calving cows, breeding takes place in late autumn or early winter, thus minimizing possibility of heat stress. It’s a lot easier to maintain tight breeding and calving seasons in the fall than in the spring and summer.

Because tall fescue is such an excellent grass for stockpiling as standing winter pasture, we can actually feed fall-calving cows and calves very economically. If the stockpile is properly grown, it can meet the needs of a lactating cow throughout the winter.

While I was at the UM Forage Systems Research Center, we took fall-calving cows through the entire winter on stockpiled tall fescue-legume pastures with no supplementation other than salt and minerals. The cows bred at 92% in 45-day seasons and lost less than one BCS unit over winter. Our feed cost for carrying a pair through the winter was under $50.

If you’re caught up in summer slump and tough breeding conditions on fescue pastures with your spring-calving herd, take a look at shifting to a fall-calving program. It might be one of the best choices you can make to improve your bottom line.

This Is The Time When Investments Pay Off

If you’ve attended just about any industry meeting the last couple of years, likely someone talked about the value of building relationships and collecting and using information. The trouble is that while we all appreciate the wisdom in that advice, the marketplace made it easy to ignore.

Numbers were tight, demand was growing and the upper segments were burdened with over-capacity. Customers didn’t have much opportunity to differentiate on the basis of value or relationships.

In fact, for those with a commodity mindset, the opportunities to make money on poorer cattle and questionable management were extremely good. And the marketplace actually has been rewarding to some degree those who elect to take short cuts in management and genetics.

Things are changing, however, and the shift will be very dramatic. Rising input costs are going to squeeze margins. And with the overall economy slowing, it’s difficult to foresee a continuation of the demand we’ve been enjoying. The net effect is that the leverage in the marketplace over the next couple of years will likely shift toward the segments higher in the production chain.

Looking out at the situation today – what with feeders competing for tight supplies of feeder cattle, carcass specs widening instead of tightening, and with the Choice/Select spread retreating to non-existent levels – it might be hard to imagine that things are really shifting, but they are.

The analogy of the duck swimming across the lake is a good one. On the surface everything looks serene, calm and smooth, but the duck’s legs are actually paddling to beat the band just below the water’s surface. Outwardly in the industry today, there seems to be very little change in the marketplace. Internally, however, things are happening that will reshape not only cattle’s value but the way they’re marketed.

It’s not too late to start building relationships with customers and to begin to collect the information necessary to assess whether your cattle are working for them. But the window of opportunity is drawing narrower all the time.

Change occurs in this industry when profits are slipping, not when prices are solid. In just six short months, we’ll begin marketing the 2008 calf crop. The choice is simple: Will you fight it out in a brutal battle with the vast majority of your competitors? Or will you have built the relationships, accumulated the data and assembled your story to the point where you’ll be considered a leader with an advantage over most everyone else selling their calves?

DHS Publishes No-Match Proposal

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a supplemental proposed rulemaking for its no-match rule that was put on hold by a federal court in California last October.

According to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, “this supplement specifically addresses the three grounds on which the district court based its injunction. We have also filed an appeal and are pursuing these two paths simultaneously to get a resolution as quickly as possible.”

Last October, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued an injunction that stopped the federal government from using Social Security no-match letters as a way to force employers to identify and terminate illegal workers. A coalition of groups sued the federal government over its plan to use no-match letters and asked for an injunction until the case could be heard. That case is still pending.

According to DHS, the proposed supplemental rule does not create new legal obligations for businesses. It simply outlines clear steps an employer may take in response to receiving a letter from the Social Security Administration indicating that an employee’s name does not match the social security number on file.

The proposed supplemental rule was published in the March 26 Federal Register and DHS is requesting public comment on the supplemental proposed rulemaking for 30 days after its publication. After the 30-day comment period, DHS will consider the feedback and issue a final rule, according to Laura Keehner, a DHS spokesperson. At that point, Judge Breyer could lift the injunction if he’s satisfied the supplemental rule addresses his concerns or he could continue the injunction if he’s not satisfied with the rule, Keehner said.

To read the proposed supplemental rule, go to

Odds Plummet For Early Corn Planting

Intense rainfall that swept across much of the southern and eastern Corn Belt last week significantly reduces the odds that corn growers will be able to plant early in 2008, says Mike Palecki, regional climatologist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center.

“Areas from Oklahoma to southern Missouri and southern Illinois and on into Indiana and Ohio now have really saturated soil conditions,” says Palecki. “This region will need a lot of drying out before field preparations will be possible.”

The lowlands near rivers affected by flooding will be significantly delayed, points out Palecki. “Other well-drained areas will still have delays of several weeks compared to normal, which will substantially reduce the chances for early planting,” he says. “Over the weekend, even more fields near rivers have become inundated as the flood waters have moved downstream.”

Although last week’s rainfall missed more northern areas of the Corn Belt, that region also has saturated soils that will need a dry period to allow fieldwork to begin, says Palecki. “Parts of Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and on into Michigan have substantial snow packs that are still melting, and those areas are likely to have wet soils into mid-April,” he says. “Many of these areas already had saturated soil conditions in the fall. Combined with above-normal snowfall during winter, this means they will start out spring very wet.”

In northern areas, farmers are waiting for warmth, which has been slow in coming, says Palecki. “From Iowa northward, we’ll be fortunate to have normal temperatures during the next month,” he says. “If spring warmth doesn’t get there soon, even on well-drained soils there will be planting delays. Also, the latest Climate Prediction Center forecast for April indicates increased chances of above-normal precipitation in the eastern Dakotas and much of Minnesota.”

Yet, the rains that fell over the southern and eastern Corn Belt last week will be the region’s most serious precipitation for some time, predicts Palecki. “The eastern Corn Belt might have more rain events coming through again soon, but they will be of much less intensity than this major rain event that just passed through,” he says. “In comparison, the western Corn Belt will probably have more of a chance to dry in the next couple weeks.”

With La Niña weather patterns likely to continue into spring, the odds increase that drier conditions will eventually begin to affect the Corn Belt, he adds.

“However, the cooler-than-normal temperatures and all the wet weather that we’ve had recently adds uncertainty on how things will turn out for corn growers,” Palecki says. “The probabilities for early planting are lower than normal, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still happen, especially if you’re in an area that missed the most recent heavy precipitation event or the heavy snow pack that other areas have received.”

To learn more about current streamflow conditions and the potential for flooding, visit: To learn more about the potential for drought this summer, visit:

Prevention Is the Best Way To Deal With Grass Tetany

Rye, wheat and triticale are about ready to graze, and such fields can be a great resource. But they can cause health problems in cattle, among them grass tetany, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension forage specialist, in his recent “Hay & Forage Minute.”

Grass tetany is caused by low blood magnesium, which can be due to low levels of magnesium in lush spring grass. But it’s also caused by mineral imbalances, such as high potassium and nitrogen or low calcium in the diet, Anderson says.

The condition primarily affects older, heavy milking cows or sheep, but young stock also can be affected. And it occurs most frequently in spring during cool, cloudy, moist conditions when lush, immature grass starts growing rapidly.

Cattle or sheep affected by tetany often graze away from the herd, are irritable, show muscle twitching, awkwardness and staggering, and are somewhat wide-eyed and staring. When severe, the animal will collapse, thrash around, throw its head back, lapse into a coma, and possibly die.

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Anderson says. He advises to start by not grazing until grass is 4-6 in. tall, and feed or graze legumes like clover or alfalfa when you start on pasture since they have high magnesium levels.

In addition, adding about 10-20 grams/day of supplemental magnesium via commercial or homemade salt-mineral mixes is a good way to reduce tetany problems, but you should start as much as 30 days before grazing starts.

Magnesium oxide is one of the best and cheapest sources of magnesium, Anderson says. Mix equal parts of magnesium oxide with dical, salt and ground corn for a simple homemade supplement that provides adequate magnesium when cows eat about 1 lb./week of the mix.

Pfizer acquires two genomics companies

Pfizer Animal Health announced on March 19, 2008 that it will acquire two market-leading livestock genomics companies: Catapult Genetics, Pty., Ltd., focused on developing and commercializing innovative livestock DNA tests and gene markers to assist global food producers, processors and retailers in improving profitability and quality in the global food chain; and Bovigen, LLC, which markets DNA technology, including Catapult’s products in the U.S. and throughout Canada, Central America and South America.

Terms of the agreements were not disclosed. The acquisitions are expected to close by the end of March. The two companies will continue to market products and services to their own customers as well as Pfizer Animal Health customers.

“This is a strategic initiative that places Pfizer at the forefront of livestock gene marker R&D and enhances Pfizer’s ability to offer more complete solutions to global livestock producers,” said Juan Ramon Alaix, president, Pfizer Animal Health.
Current genetic tests are focused on productivity and carcass quality, while future genetic tests may one day allow producers to better predict disease in individual animals, thus helping veterinarians and producers target medicines to livestock that need it most, Alaix said.

“Catapult’s ongoing product R&D is based on core technology platforms developed in collaboration with research groups in Australia and New Zealand,” said Gerard Davis, chief executive officer, Catapult Genetics. “Now with Pfizer’s added resources and capabilities, we expect livestock producers will begin to see an enhanced range of genetic tools. For sheep and beef cattle producers in Australia and New Zealand there will be benefits from a continued focus on their needs as well as access to new and improved products,” Davis said.

As novel marker panels are discovered and developed, Pfizer plans to introduce new products and services to livestock producers. “In the U.S., Pfizer also will be able to enhance the development and uptake of new genetic markers identified through Bovigen’s participation in The Carcass Merit Project with Texas A&M University and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. This project, partially funded by the Beef Checkoff Program, is designed to generate new and important markers for U.S. cattle producers,” said Victor Castellon, chief executive officer, Bovigen.

“DNA markers allow beef producers to make better management decisions, to improve the quality of their herd by selecting animals with certain high-valued genetic traits, and to create a long-term, positive economic impact for their business,” said Nigel Evans, senior director of business innovation for Pfizer Animal Health, who will lead the Catapult and Bovigen businesses for Pfizer.

Genetic information also can help guarantee food quality – beef tenderness or well-marbled beef. Gene markers help beef producers to identify better breeding stock.

“Our move today expands Pfizer’s already strong commitment to promoting livestock health and safe, high-quality food around the world,” Evans said.

Catapult Genetics, Pty., Ltd., was formed in December 2006 with the merger of Catapult Systems, based in New Zealand, and Genetic Solutions, based in Australia. Catapult is a global innovator and leader in sheep and cattle DNA testing technologies for meat and carcass quality and production efficiency under the GeneSTAR® Quality Grade, Feed Efficiency, the SureTRAK® system, and the SireTRACETM product brands. In addition to co-founders Gerard Davis and Jay Hetzel, shareholders include AgResearch, CSIRO, Kestrel Capital’s Nanyang Innovation Fund, and Meat & Wool New Zealand. For more information on Catapult Genetics visit

Bovigen, LLC, based in Harahan, Louisiana, is a global genetic technology company founded by Vic Castellon in 2003. Bovigen will continue to market and service Catapult’s products throughout the Americas. For more information visit or in the U.S., call 877.BEEF.DNA

Be watchful of moldy forages for livestock

Hay growers should be aware of possible toxicity issues in legumes and grasses, reminds Mike Murphy, a University of Minnesota veterinarian.

Mold converts coumerol, a natural component in sweet clover, to dicumerol, which causes bleeding by reducing clotting factors in the blood, Murphy says. Cows that consume the moldy clover may bleed at calving and have weak calves. Horses can also have bleeding problems.

Hay containing sweet clover should be core-sampled to test for dicumerol. Testing can be done at a University Plant Diagnostic Lab.

Alfalfa and clovers infested with a mold called Cymodothea trifolii can cause sun sensitivity and liver damage in horses. When the plants are moldy, an unknown toxin causes the liver damage that results in swelling and blistering in light-colored horses exposed to the sun. While black horses may suffer from liver damage, they may not show the tell-tale blistering and swelling signs, Murphy says.

Animals fed clovers infested with the mold Rhizoctonia leguminicola can suffer from a condition known as "slobbers," which causes excessive salivation. The mold is characterized by a black patch on the plants. It normally occurs when the temperature is above 80o F. and the humidity exceeds 60%. The mold often runs its course in two to four weeks, depending on the weather, he says.

To learn more, contact the Minnesota Vet Diagnostic Lab at 612-625-8787.

Take extra care when transporting livestock

Those who have been involved in baseball, football or softball realize the importance of follow-through. For example, a pitcher throwing a curveball has to start with the correct grip, regulate arm speed and angle, choose the most appropriate point of release, and finish the pitch with a full follow-through.

These processes are not unlike managing stocker cattle. To optimize return on investment, stocker operators have to start with the correct cattle and receiving protocol, regulate health and performance, choose the most appropriate time to sell or ship, and finish by making sure the cattle reach their next destination without compromising profit (the follow-through).

Most managers who have been operating for several years realize that even transportation from one pasture to another impacts cattle performance. However, one of the most crucial events for stocker cattle is transportation to the next phase of beef production, the feedlot. This transport has more impact on performance because the trip is usually more than 500 miles from locations in the southeast. Furthermore, it includes “middlemen” and a period of time when your cattle are not under your direct management.

The most important concern with any type of livestock transportation is stress applied to the animals. It is well documented that transportation stress leads to decreased immunity and increased disease shedding resulting in an overall negative impact on health and performance. There are essentially three points associated with transportation where stress can be limited: 1) loading, 2) transport and 3) unloading.

First, handling immediately prior to and during loading sets the tone for the amount of stress these animals will encounter. Simply stated, handling stress for cattle comes from their fear of humans. To cattle, humans are predators and this initiates their “fight or flight” response. Conceptually, it is easy to reduce handling stress prior to transportation by being calm while sorting and loading, reducing loud noises and yelling, limiting hits with sorting sticks and prods and having solid sides on the load allies and ramps. As easy as it may seem, putting these principles into practice takes patience and planning.

Therefore, planning a day to sort and load cattle without other pressing appointments can make it easier to stick to low-stress handling and hauling principles. Make sure that a loading plan has been discussed with the driver. An effective loading plan will consider number and size of the animals to appropriately distribute weight in a manner that does not group large and small cattle together.

The second logical phase that presents an opportunity to limit stress is during the actual transport. One critical component within this phase is selection of a reputable hauler. As with any other management decisions, consult with neighbors and other producers that have used several different haulers and settled with one company or person they are comfortable using. Some of the things to look for while evaluating haulers include cleanliness of equipment, willingness to explain loading procedures, timeliness and cost.

Ask the hauler a few questions such as how and how often they clean their equipment, how long they have been operating, if they have an emergency plan, how they address bio-security and how they plan to load your specific group of cattle. Make sure to ask if the haulers are Master Cattle Transporter certified through the National Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. If the hauler is certified, they will likely follow guidelines for safe driving that reduces stress.

Guidelines such as checking weather and road conditions (for the entire route) prior to departure, making special plans for extreme hot or cold temperature; avoiding excessive starting, stopping and turning; and checking the cattle after the first two hours and every subsequent four hours.

Finally, the third step where stress can be limited is unloading. Cattle should be unloaded within no more than one hour after arrival but sooner in extreme weather conditions. Many of the low-stress handling procedures hold true for both loading and unloading. The trailer should be square with the ramp to prevent jumping or trapping legs and hooves. Again, loud noises, yelling, crowding and excessive striking should be minimized.

For many stocker operators and cow – calf producers in the southeast, unloading is less important as transfer of ownership has already taken place. However, the perceived reputation of a producer can be strengthened if the cattle arrive in good shape and require less treatment for poor health due to shipping stress. Furthermore, if ownership of the cattle is to be retained, unloading is equally as important as loading and transport. Even though sellers have less control over transport and unloading, they are essential parts of the follow-through that have a direct and critical impact on the end product and eventual profitability.