Beef Management Tips
Livestock Update, October 1997
Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech
Virginia farmers and beef cattle managers, in particular, and facing unexpected challenges this fall and winter due to drought conditions which have a tight grip on most areas of Virginia as I write this column in early September. Planning and management will be the keys to success, though prices for feeder cattle help some when compared to a year ago. Here are some thoughts:
1. IS THERE NOTHING REALLY NEW? - I recently read in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. The writer, Solomon, continues by saying that if you think something is new, rest assured it has been done before. I am inclined to agree after taking a fairly extensive trip around Europe in the month of August with my wife. We had an interesting stop at the ancient city of Pompeii in southern Italy. The city dates back to 900 BC and Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and covered the entire city with ash and lava, killing all inhabitants. When the city was unearthed some 200 years ago, it was learned that these people had a sewage system, piped running water, using lead and clay pipes, steam baths and saunas, restaurants serving hot food from heated earthen pots (maybe the first fast food establishments) and well preserved paintings, indicating a very advanced society. In the old city of Rome, one must conclude that the Roman Empire was way ahead of it's time. Roads built in the BC and early AD periods are still in use. Roadmaps and markers in marble are as good as new. The Coliseum stands as the model by which modern ones are built. Gladiators performed for the entertainment of the emperor and the public. Today, we watch a different kind of gladiators perform in stadiums every Saturday and Sunday and we call it football. The architecture viewed in many places is astounding. How did people a thousand years ago build five and six hundred foot high spires on churches that still stand. We can build skyscrapers today but will they be here and be functional 1000 years from now? In the livestock business, it was very evident from the window of a bus, that European livestock managers are producing red meat. The sheep we saw in the Netherlands were thick-topped and heavier muscled than most of ours. I never thought I would see so many Charolais cattle as we saw in central France in one-half day trip. Not only the Charolais cattle, but the other breeds have volume and thickness. Our entire US beef industry today is clamoring for more muscle in our cattle. We forget that it is impossible to "get it all," muscle, marbling and doing ability in a single breed. Crossbreeding is still our best bet. You may say, sure we have lots of new things. There are new things under the sun. In the communications field we have wireless telephone, satellite technology, fiber optics, computer compatible cameras and on and on. Not to mention fax machines and e-mail. In transportation, jet airplanes can get us around the globe in a matter of hours. In the livestock business, we have embryo transfer, artificial insemination, antibiotics, implants, growth stimulants and on and on. Agriculturally speaking, the one thing that has not changed is the ability of humans to manage their enterprises and affairs. There may not be anything new under the sun but there are lots of new ways to do things and lots of new tools to use. Management is the key and knowledge is the key ingredient. We are in a very competitive world. New technologies have brought speed and have brought new tools but not innate management skills. The computer that sits between our ears is the same machine used by people of all generations.
2. FALL BCIA BULL SALES - Fall is the time of year when most cow/calf producers begin to think in terms of purchasing herd bulls that will add profit to their operations. There are a number of these sales coming up this fall. The Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association will sponsor two all breed service age performance tested bull and commercial bred heifer sales. The sale at the Southside Livestock Market at Blackstone will be held Friday, November 21st at 6:30 pm. About 35 bulls and 50 to 100 bred and open heifers will be offered. The Virginia Breeders All Breed Performance Tested Bull Sale and Spring Calving Commercial Bred Heifer Sale will be held Augusta Expoland near Staunton on Saturday, December 6th a 12:00 noon. There will be some 65 bulls and 100 spring calving bred commercial heifers. The Culpeper senior bull sale will offer 85 bulls on Saturday, December 13th at 12:00 noon at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises. These bulls will represent the top performing two-thirds of the 126 senior bulls on test at Glenmary Farm operated by Tom Nixon at Rapidan, Virgina. Bulls on test include 111 Angus, 9 Simmental, 4 Polled Hereford and 2 Gelbvieh. For information on these sales contact VA BCIA, Department of Animal & Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061-0306, 540/231-9163. The sale manager for the Staunton and Blackstone sales is Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, P O Box 176, Daleville, VA, 24083, 540/992-1009. The sale manager for the Culpeper senior bull sale is VA Sale Services, Mike Gothard manager, Rt. 2, Box 446, Staunton, VA, 24401, 540/337-3001.
3. REPLACEMENT HEIFER SALES - There will be a number of spring calving bred commercial heifer sales held in Virginia this fall. The first of these will be at Dublin, November 5th at 7:00 pm. Contact Joe Meek at the Pulaski Livestock Market at Dublin for additional information, 540/674-5311. Spring calving bred and open commercial heifers will be offered along with performance tested bulls at Blackstone on Friday, November 21st. Some 100 heifers are expected. About 100 spring calving commercial bred heifers will be offered along with performance tested bulls at Augusta Expoland near Staunton on Saturday, December 6th at 12:00 noon. The Blackstone and Staunton sales are sponsored by Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association and the sale manager is Virginia Cattlemen's Association, Jim Johnson, 540/992-1009.
4. VIRGINIA COW/CALF CONFERENCE DECEMBER 8TH - The 1997 Virginia Beef Cow/Calf Conference scheduled to be held at the Ingleside Resort and Conference Center just north of Staunton on Monday, December 8th from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm. An outstanding set of nationally known speakers are being put together for this important one-day educational event that should be of interest to commercial cow/calf producers, backgrounders and purebred breeders. Programs for this conference will be available through county extension offices by November 1. Watch this publication for a full program and pre-registration information in the next issue.
5. ADJUST MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES DUE TO DROUGHT CONDITIONS - Drought conditions are more or less severe throughout the state of Virginia. While a near normal early hay cutting was made in most places, second and third cutting hay crops are short or nonexistent. The Virginia corn crop has been severely damaged also by drought conditions. Now is the time to make plans for winter feeding and think about management strategies to combat a reduced feed supply. Some suggestions are as follows: Cull cows - Cull all open, unsound or unproductive cows. This will not be a winter to take "boarders" through the winter. Graze small grains - Assuming small grains get planted and fall rains produce growth, small grains can be grazed in early winter and again in late winter and early spring. Small grains are particularly good for young cattle and for creep grazing calves. Substitute grain for hay - Corn, barley and cotton seeds are considerations for use to supply energy as a trade-off for hay. These grains can be fed to supply the major portion of energy, making sure that animals get a roughage equivalent of about 1 pound of roughage for every 100 pounds of body weight. It may be cheaper to buy grain than hay, due primarily to the high cost of transporting hay. Utilize broiler litter - Broiler litter is not for every producer but may be used as a protein source and to provide some energy. Use a mix of 80% litter and 20% corn for cows or 50% litter and 50% corn for stocker cattle. Make sure that cows or stockers, though, have at least a minimum amount of roughage. A silage mix utilizing 400 pounds of broiler litter and 1600 pounds of silage and a ton mix also works well for cows or young cattle. Use peanut hulls or other low quality roughages - These won't provide protein and the level of energy is fairly low so they will need to be supplemented with a protein and an energy source such as grain. Use crop residues - Make maximum use of corn stalks, straws, vines and other crop residues. These should be used early in the winter and remember they need to be supplemented properly with minerals. Balance rations - Be sure that rations are properly balanced so that animals get the appropriate amount of energy, protein and minerals.
6. TIME FOR FALL POURON - There are a number of excellent spot-on or pour-on materials to be utilized for grub and lice treatment in the fall. Remember that grubicides should be used prior to November 1.
7. SIZE AND MILK PRODUCTION DETERMINE FEED REQUIREMENTS FOR BEEF COWS - Mature size and milking ability of beef brood cows are two major factors affecting their feed requirement. As size and milk production increase, energy (TDN) requirement will progressively increase. Research trials have indicated that energy requirements for maintenance increase from 14 to 15% as cow size increases from 1000 to 1200 pounds. This means that an extra 1.3 pounds of TDN per day are needed to maintain the 1200 pound cow compared to the 1000 pound cow. This would be equivalent to 2.5 to 2.7 pounds of extra hay per day. Over a year this would total 986 pounds more hay equivalent to maintain the 1200 pound cow. Cows of the same size that have the genetic ability to produce more milk will also require more feed than cows with lower genetic potential for milk. For example, a 1000 pound cow with an average milk producing ability (10 pounds of milk per day) will require 11.5 to 12 pounds of TDN per day whereas on a 1000 pound cow with superior milking ability (20 pounds of milk per day) will need 13.5 to 14 pounds of TDN per day. A superior milking cow of the same size will need 17% more energy than the average milking cow. If, over time, breeding and selecting decisions resulted in an increase in average size of the brood cow and an increase superior milk producing ability outlined in the above illustration, the TDN requirement of the larger, heavier, milking cow would increase by 32%. Not only does the TDN need increase, but the quality of the feed needed by the larger, higher milking cow also increases. She needs "high octane fuel" while the smaller, average milking cow can perform well on "regular fuel." On farms where the quality of available feed is "low octane" placing the larger, heavier milking cow in this environment will result in reduced performance, and particularly, lower reproductive rate. The bottom line is, make plans to feed cows during the winter based on their size and milk production potential.
8. COW CONDITION THE KEY TO REPRODUCTIVE EFFICIENCY - Beef cows, whether they be young or old, should be fed to maintain average or slightly better condition if future productivity and reproduction is expected to be normal. The time to assess condition on most cows is at the time their calves are weaned. If they are in thinner than average condition, they need to have extra energy prior to calving time, while on the other hand, if they are over-conditioned and fatter than they need to be, they can be coasted and actually lose some weight prior to the date they are expected to calve. Condition scoring cows utilizing the condition scoring system of 1 to 9 where 1 is very, very thin and 9 is extremely fat is a good system. Average condition is in the area of condition score 5 and is the place to start with a condition scoring program. Body condition scoring at the time calves are weaned can be a very useful tool. Cows scoring 1, 2 or 3 are in thin condition. Cows scoring 4 may be called borderline. Cows in the 5, 6 and 7 condition score are moderate and generally considered to be optimum. If cows and first calf heifers are given a body condition score at the time their calves are weaned the ones to be worried about and given extra feed and energy are the ones that are in boderline and thin condition. They need to be brought up to a condition score of 5 or 6 by calving time.