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Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, August 1996

Ike Eller, Animal & Poultry Sciences

August is here and Dog Days are upon us. Summer cattle management is critical and fall is just around the corner. Here are some thoughts for your consideration.

  1. HERD DOWNSIZING WELL UNDERWAY - According to recent information from Cattle-Fax, it would appear that accelerated cow slaughter is underway. Beef cow slaughter is running 23.5% above previous year levels. A significant portion of the increase is in drought affected areas, although herd downsizing is occurring in nearly all regions of the country. Dairy cow slaughter makes up about half of the total cow slaughter and has increased only 3% so far this year. Total cow slaughter through May was 13.4% above comparable 1995 levels. At the current rate, total cow slaughter could exceed 7 million head during 1996 which would be the highest since 1986. The number and percentage of heifers moving into feedlots have been record-large in most months during the past 12 months. These heifers have been placed in feedlots instead of going back into the cow herd. This trend will prove to be very important and eventually, positive for the market in the next few years, according to Cattle-Fax experts. Year to date, nearly 36% of feedlot placements have been heifers. This is the highest percentage in the history of Cattle-Fax data. With such a high percentage of heifers going into feedlots and not back into the cow herd, fewer cows will be slaughtered in the long term. Cow slaughter won't slow down anytime soon, but it will not be as large as would have been seen if these additional heifers had been added to the cow herd. Aggressive cow slaughter is likely to continue for the next two years.

    The data on cow slaughter and feedlot placements of heifers suggests that downsizing of the industry is definitely underway. Total cattle inventory numbers are expected to be down about 1 million head January 1, 1997. If this trends continues, smaller numbers may be expected on through the end of this century.

  2. MAKE COW HERDS YOUNGER THIS YEAR - Cow/calf producers who are staying in the business, should think down the road two to three years and beyond as they manage their current cow herds. Cow herds have become rather old on the average during the good years, and now that prices are low and probably won't improve much for the next year or so, it appears that producers should plan ahead for the better years that are sure to come. This is the year to cull old cows, unsound cows, open cows and poor producing cows. It is the year to hold on to young cows and if this is like every other cattle cycle, it is a year to keep heifers for replacement. They will be in production in two years and will have a long life ahead of them. This year is also an excellent year to consider purchasing young, productive bred cows or bred heifers. The bottom line--this fall is a time to think young and plan for the future.

  3. MARKET HEAVY FEEDERS EARLY - Heavy feeders should generally be moved to market in August or early September. Even though there may be a glimmer of better prices in later fall, if in fact we have a huge corn crop, heavy feeders should be marketed in an orderly fashion. If pasture availability would encourage keeping heavier feeders longer, doing so is usually an unwise practice from an economic standpoint. Study the market closely. Make plans to market the heavier kinds early and replace them early with light weight cattle. Timely and orderly marketing this fall will be more critical than in some years in the past.

  4. DEWORM SPRING CALVES IN EARLY AUGUST - If you failed to get spring born nursing calves dewormed in July, early August will do. Such calves should be dewormed some 70 or so days prior to weaning. The weight gain advantage to these calves has been proven, and particularly where first calves heifers or young cows are running with the entire herd. There is usually no need to deworm cows at this time, only calves.

  5. TEST HAY AND SILAGE AND PLAN WINTER FEEDING - Most beef cattle producers fail to have hay and silage analyzed for nutrient content. Fine tuning the nutrition of animals to be fed can save money and reduce production costs. After hay has been harvested and when it is being stored, or after it has been stored, is a very good time to pull samples of various hays and send to a laboratory for analysis. The time to test silage is when it goes into the silo. Corn silage should be made in a range of 35 to 40% dry matter. Much corn silage each year, however, is made either wetter or dryer, and particularly, wetter. Grab samples as silage is being put in the silo for analysis. Another good practice is to take a spray can of paint and mark bales in storage as to which cutting they came from and what fields, particularly segregating the rougher, courser, overripe or rained on hay from the better quality hay. This will help tremendously at feeding time and will tend to help get the rougher hays used early in the season, saving the better hays to be fed to cows that are lactating or to younger cattle. Take a complete inventory of hay, silage and other feeds and plot supply against needs for the cattle you plan to winter.

  6. AUGUST--TIME TO STOCKPILE FESCUE - Stockpiling fescue for late fall and winter grazing is a time-proven method for producing economical grazing to save on storing and feeding hay. For best results, stands of fescue should be grazed or cut for hay in early August. Fifty to one hundred pounds of nitrogen fertilizer should be applied with other needed plant food nutrients. Cattle should be shut out of meadows or pastures by August 15 to let the stockpiled growth accumulate. Grazing of stockpiled fescue should begin after frost and cool weather and continue till the stockpiled growth is completely utilized.

  7. PLAN NOW TO STRIP-GRAZE PASTURES THIS FALL - Strip-grazing accumulated and stockpiled growth in hay meadows will extend the grazing period and will increase utilization of the grazing material up to 50%. A single electric wire or tape can be utilized to limit grazing and move across the field. Make plans now to make maximum utilization of aftermath growth this fall through the use of strip grazing.

  8. PRUSSIC ACID DANGER - Prussic acid is a nice term for the real culprit, Hydrocyanimic Acid. Prussic acid is found in both cultivated and native forages. Practically all prussic acid containing plants are quite palatable. There are a number of feed plants that may have toxic amounts of prussic acid under the right conditions, but major ones of concern are Sorghum-Sudan crosses and Johnson grass. Plants of the sorghum family may have toxic levels of prussic acid in growth that follows either frost, a severe period of drought or a period of heavy trampling or physical damage. Heavy nitrate fertilization of the soil, followed by abundant rainfall may increase the prussic acid poisoning potential of these crops as well. Under normal circumstances, prussic acid should not be a problem, but under severe drought conditions or around the time of the first killing frost, you may need to be careful. Poisoned animals show signs of nervousness, abnormal breathing, trembling or jerking muscles, blue coloration of the lining of the mouth, spasms or convulsions and respiratory failure, followed by death. Prussic acid poisoning can be very rapid. Often, the first sign of a problem is that some of the animals are found dying or dead. Animals which have not shown much evidence of toxicity may be injected intravenously with a mixture of Sodium Thiosulphate. Prussic acid poisoning is not culminative and therefore, upon removal from a forage source, animals not showing evidence of being poisoned will not likely be affected adversely. The main point is to know what you're dealing with and prevent problems from prussic acid by managing plants of the sorghum family. After growth has been thoroughly killed by frost, it will again be safe to graze. Any variety of millet is not affected by prussic acid potential problems.

  9. ACORN POISONING ALERT - Acorn poisoning generally deals it's most severe blow in the months of September and very early October. It seems that cattle like newly fallen acorns best. If you are grazing cattle in pastures with oak trees and thus, where acorns will be present on the ground, take proper precautions. Medical signs are loss of appetite, listlessness, weakness, constipation followed by diarrhea that may be dark colored or bloody and animals will appear bowed in the back. Animals get weaker and eventually go down. Affected animals may show yellow color, bloody urine and dehydration. There are no specific treatments for this condition other than rumen stimulation (mineral oil and the like) and fluids for dehydration. Treatment of down animals is rarely successful, while early treatment of cases is helpful. If possible, the removal of animals from the source of poisoning will greatly reduce the loss and increase the success rate of treatment. A prevention ration of 10 to 15% calcium hydroxide in a high protein feed is helpful. It may take about 4 pounds of this mix per cow per day and 2 pounds per day for younger animals. If acorn poisoning is a threat, cattle should, perhaps, be removed from the pasture with oak trees producing acorns or be fenced from these wooded areas when acorns begin to fall. Again, acorn poisoning won't occur until acorns start falling, but prior to that time, the acorn crop should be assessed and a plan devised to prevent death losses.

  10. OCTOBER 1--DEADLINE TO CONSIGN PT BULLS AND COMMERCIAL BRED HEIFERS - The BCIA sponsored Staunton All Breed Performance Tested Bull Sale and Commercial Bred Heifer Sale is scheduled for Saturday, December 7 at Augusta Expoland. The Blackstone Performance Tested Bull and Bred and Open Commercial Heifer Sale is scheduled for Friday evening, December 2. Performance tested bulls eligible for these sales must be calved between September 1, 1994 and September 30, 1995. Commercial bred heifers must be bred to calve between January 1 and April 15, 1997. Consignments should be sent to Sale Manager, Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, P O Box 176, Daleville, VA, 24083 by the deadline date, October 1, 1996. Rules & Regulations and consignment forms may be obtained by contacting Jim Johnson or VA BCIA, Dept. Of Animal & Poultry Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061-0306.

  11. GET HERDS BANGS CERTIFIED AND TB ACCREDITED - Virginia is Brucellosis free but not Tuberculosis free. Breeders, and particularly those selling seedstock cattle that are not currently Bangs certified and TB Accredited, should consider making a move to attain this health status. For the breeder who ships cattle across state lines, certification and accreditation is definitely an advantage. The requirements for attaining Bangs Certification and TB Accreditation is that the entire herd be tested and found negative twice within a 12 month period, and then tested and found negative annually thereafter. Some commercial herds will also profit from certification and accreditation but purebred herds, in most instances, definitely will.

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