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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, March 1997

Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences

As I write this column in early February, there is talk, and for that matter, evidence, that feeder cattle prices are a bit stronger. The winter has not been too harsh up to now but just because the groundhog did not see his shadow on February 2, may not mean an early spring. Late winter is a challenging time for cattle management. Here are some thoughts:

1. JANUARY 1 CATTLE NUMBERS DOWN AND UP - When the January 1, 1996 USDA cattle numbers report became available on February 1, it was obvious that Virginia cattle producers may not be in step with those at a national level. In the US, all cattle and calves stood at 102 million, down 2% from last year. In Virginia, total cattle numbers are 1.83 million, up 2% from a year earlier. All cows, beef and dairy in the US stood at 43.6 million, down 2% from a year earlier and in Virginia, at 865,000, up 1%. Beef cows in the US numbered 34.3 million, down 3% and in Virginia, 740,000, up 1%. Milk cows in the US were at 9.28 million, down 1% and in Virginia at 125,000, down 2% from last year. All heifers over 500 pounds stood at 20.3 million in the US, slightly up from last year. Beef replacements in the US number 6.05 million, down 2% from last year, and 7% from 2 years ago. In Virginia, beef replacements are at 130,000, up 4% over last year. Milk replacements in the US stand at 4.04 million, down 2% and in Virginia, at 60,000, down 14% from a year ago. Other heifers in the US number 10.2 million, up 3% for last year and up 10% over 2 years ago. In Virginia, other heifers stand at 85,000, up 13% from a year ago. In the US, steers 500 pounds and over number 17.3 million, down 2% and in Virginia, 210,000, up 8%. Calves under 500 pounds in the US stand at 17.7 million, down 4%, but in Virginia at 435,000, up 1%. Cattle and calves on feed in the US were reported at 13.2 million, up 2% from one year ago and up 6% from two years ago. In Virginia, feedlot numbers are 30,000, down 14% from a year ago. The USDA report shows that there are 32,000 cattle operations in Virginia with 26,000 of these owning beef cows. Looking at herd size and percent of inventory on beef cows in Virginia, there are 22,000 operations with herd size 1 thru 49 head, accounting for 46% of the total inventory. 2,800 operations have herd size 50 to 99 head, accounting for 26% of the inventory. 1,170 operations have herds of 100 to 499 head, accounting for 24% of the inventory; and there are only 30 operations with more than 500 cows which account for 4% of the inventory. The calf crop in Virginia is reported at 790,000 head, no change from 1 year ago.

2. MARCH--LAST CHANCE TO SEED OVER/ALFALFA - If you plan to overseed clover or alfalfa on hayfields or pasture, remember, it can be done in March but should be done as early as possible and before significant growth of grass occurs. If you overseed in March, the best results will be obtained if you use a no-till drill. Next best is to be sure that seed is scratched in to get good soil contact using a chain harrow. There is no question but what a healthy stand of legumes in orchard grass or fescue fields will produce not only more feed, but a much higher quality feed and the bonus nitrogen which is fixed, saves on fertilizer dollars.

3. PREPARE FOR GRASS TETANY SEASON - There is always concern for the prevention of grass tetany, particularly in early spring and late fall when lush pastures are available. Grass tetany is a condition brought about by an imbalance of electrolytes and lack of magnesium in the animals system. Animals do not store magnesium in bones as they do other minerals. Magnesium is stored in the soft tissues and must be ingested on a daily basis. Cattle more apt to be affected with grass tetany are older cows after they have calved. To guard against grass tetany problems, utilize a mineral mix containing magnesium. If you use a commercial mineral mix, be sure it contains at least 12% magnesium. For a homemade mix, use equal parts by weight of trace mineralized salt, dicalcium phosphate, magnesium oxide and soybean meal or another feed such as dried molasses or finely ground shelled corn to make the mix palatable. Many producers keep cow herds on magnesium containing supplements throughout the year. Check your minerals and be sure your herd is protected during late winter and spring.

4. PREPARE FOR THE BREEDING SEASON - The breeding season for most late winter and spring calving programs will begin in April or May. Remember that optimum cycling and thus conception rate will occur when cows are carrying average or above average flesh condition. If cows or heifers are thin, the lacking ingredient in their rations is, no doubt, energy. In other words, calories. It may be money well spent to add grains such as corn or barley or another high energy source to bring females up to average flesh condition. Both cows and heifers should be vaccinated against IBR, PI3, BVD, Lepto and Vibriosis when they are open after calves are born and before breeding season starts. Most programs will call for the use of modified live respiratory disease materials but killed products may be called for in some programs, realizing that the killed products will require two doses rather than one. Bulls should be thoroughly checked by a qualified veterinarian and should be given a thorough breeding soundness examination including a semen check. At the same time, check bulls for soundness of eyes, feet and legs. Bulls that don't measure up and those that are questionable should be culled and replaced before the breeding season. Many commercial producers have found that artificial insemination is a useful strategy, particularly for breeding virgin heifers. Selecting low birth weight calving ease bulls based on EPDs with high accuracy's can vastly reduce calving difficulty and at the same time, produce a set of calves from first calf heifers that have the desired traits to make female replacements. Select the estrus synchronization program for use that best fits your situation. The MGA-Prostaglandin Program works extremely well on heifers. Feed .5 milligrams of MGA per day for 14 days and then remove the MGA from the supplement feed. 17 days later, heifers are injected with prostaglandin such as Lutalyse or Estrusmate. Most will come in heat 2 to 4 days later and should be bred 12 hours after observing them in standing heat. Synchromate B has also been a good synchronization program for heifers. Heifers are implanted and injected and then 9 days later the implants come out and heifers are bred on appointment 48 to 52 hours later or 12 hours after being detected in standing heat. Representative from A.I. organizations are available to assist with synchronization and A.I. programs. A good extension publication on Estrus Synchronization and Artificial Insemination is available from your local extension office.

5. NEW PROGRAM FOR SYNCHRONIZING ESTRUS IN SUCKLING BEEF COWS - A new estrus synchronization system for suckling beef cows known as "Select Synch" has been developed through research and field testing and appears to have some real merit. The system involves an injection of GnRH (trade names Cystorelin, Factrel or Fertagyl, all prescription drugs) to all animals, followed 7 days later with an injection of prostaglandin (trade names Lutalyse or Estrumate). Estrus detection should begin 24 to 36 hours after the prostaglandin injection and continue for the next 3 to 4 days. All animals detected in standing estrus are inseminated 10 to 12 hours later. Most animals will display standing estrus in day 2 through 4 following prostaglandin injection. This system does not lend itself to breeding on appointment and does require heat detection, though the synchrony of estrus is relatively tight. Estrus response and conception rates will vary considerably from herd to herd, depending on the number of animals cycling at initiation of treatment and numerous management factors. In test herds involving over 500 animals, the select synch system has averaged a 70% estrus response rate and about 60 to 65% conception rate. This results in a synchronized pregnancy rate of about 45%. To maximize success with this system, make sure that a high percentage of animals are cycling prior to initiation of the synchronization program. Nutrition is a primary factor influencing cyclicity. Use body condition scoring to monitor your nutrition program. First calf heifers, late calving cows, difficult births and retained placentas are all associated with reduced fertility. Group these high risk animals separately so maximum nutrition, veterinary care and the like can be provided. Drugs will have to be procured from your veterinarian. The per head cost for the GnRH and Prostaglandin should total in the realm or $7 to $8 per animal. This select synch system, used on nursing beef cows, appears to have some advantage over using 1 or 2 shots of Prostaglandin (Lutalyse or Estromate) or Synchromate B, in terms of increasing the percentage of cows settled to a single artificial insemination.

6. 228 BULLS TO BE SOLD AT BCIA TEST STATIONS - Two excellent sets of bulls of several breeds will be sold in the upcoming weeks. On Saturday, March 22, 145 bulls will be sold at the Virginia BCIA Southwest Bull Test Station at Wytheville at the Danny Umberger farm. These bulls represent the top performing two-thirds of 59 senior bulls and 156 junior bulls on test. There are 143 Angus bulls, 7 Polled Hereford, 19 Charolais, 43 Simmental and 7 Gelbvieh. On Friday, April 4 at 2:00 pm, 83 junior bulls will sell at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises. They represent the top two-thirds of 125 bulls on test at Glenmary Farm made up of 82 Angus, 27 Polled Hereford, 5 Charolais, 5 Simmental, 4 Gelbvieh and 2 Salers. For information, contact VA BCIA, Department of Animal & Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061-0306. 540/231-9163. For catalogs, contact sale manager VA Sale Services, Rt. 2, Box 446, Staunton, VA, 24401. 540/337-3001. Catalogs for each sale will be available about 2 weeks ahead of the sale. Make requests for catalogs now.

7. VIRGINIA BEEF EXPO SALES COMING UP - The Virginia Beef Expo will be held at Harrisonburg at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds April 25, 26 & 27. A full lineup of cattle sales is on tap for this year's Expo as follows: Friday, April 25 - Simmental, 10:30 am. Limousin, 11:00 am. Angus, 1:00 pm. Red Angus, 2:00 pm. Polled Hereford, 5:00 pm. Saturday, April 26, Shorthorn, 10:00 am. Charolais, 11:00 am. Salers, 1:30 pm. Commercial Bred and Open Heifers, 2:00 pm. Texas Longhorn, 3:00 pm. Most of the animals in these sales will be females, but several sales do contain bulls. The Commercial Replacement Heifer Sale will include 150 to 200 excellent replacement heifers. Some will be fall calving bred heifers but the bulk will be exposed fall calvers or open heifers. There will be a Private Treaty Pen Bull Sale with 20 to 30 bulls offered at private treaty including several breeds. For additional information, contact Expo manager, Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, Daleville, VA, 540/992-1009. Contact individual sale managers for catalogs on the breed sales.

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