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Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, October 1996

Ike Eller, Animal & Poultry Sciences

As I write this column in early September, tropical Hurricane Fran is passing over Blacksburg. We hope the water and wind has not done an immense damage to Virginia livestock and crop producers. No doubt, there will be some damage to corn and other crops in certain areas and flooding most certainly has, and will produce some damage in certain areas. Fall is a busy time and October, the very busiest month with cattle marketing, cattle buying, crop harvesting and the like. Here are some thoughts.

1. BARLEY OR CORN - Quite often, we get questions about the comparative feeding value of barley or corn. In most cattle programs, barley may be substituted for corn almost on a one to one basis, though nutritionally, barley is 90% the value of corn. In terms of value of barley per bushel compared to corn, barley is a better buy than corn for most cattle feeding programs if it can be purchased for less than 80% the value of corn per bushel. This would mean that if corn is $4.50 per bushel, barley is a good buy up to $3.60 per bushel, for example. On a pound or ton basis, barley is worth 90% the value of corn. If a ton of corn, for example, is $150, then barley is a better buy up to $135 per ton. There are many other by-product and substituted feeds that can be considered as alternatives to corn. Most county extension agents have a computer program which is handy in making such comparisons.

2. FALL--COW CULLING TIME - Total US cattle inventory numbers, no doubt, have peaked. Total cattle herd is expected to decline 1 to 1.5 million head by January 1, 1997. Cow slaughter is up about 17% year to date compared to a year earlier. Cow slaughter is expected to increase further during the 4th quarter of 1996. All this means that cull cow price will probably further decline as the fall wears on. Even so, most beef cow herds should be culled closely this fall to purge poor producers, old cows, unsound cows and open cows. Over the past several years, many cow herds have become quite old on the average which means there are probably lots of cows that are candidates for culling. Weaning time is an excellent time to put cows down the chute, get them preg checked, get teeth looked at, examine feet, legs and udders and bob the switch of a tail on culls. This makes them easy to pick out when the day comes for them to go to slaughter. On cull cows, do everything possible to get top dollar. They are going to be cheap this fall, but some livestock markets are running special cull-cow days. Some packers buying cows direct may pay more for them at some times then others and if feed is abundant, cows that are thin may make money to put weight on them and sell them after January 1. Cull cow price is usually higher at that time of year.

3. MAKE HERDS YOUNGER AND BETTER - Nobody quite knows when prices will drastically improve for calves but all the experts agree that better days are ahead. This means that herds should be made as productive as possible, looking toward better times. Culling old cows and poor producing cows and replacing them with purchased bred heifers or bred cows or with the top end of this year's heifer calf crop looks like the prudent thing to do. Weaned heifer calves will be worth less again this fall which is the signal to keep those heifer calves, breed them and add them to the herd. When they get into full production, prices will, do doubt, be better for several years, allowing for a good profit situation on these young cows.

4. KEEP NEWLY BOUGHT CALVES ALIVE - Lots of producers backgrounding calves will be purchasing calves in October and November. The biggest single cause of sickness and death in newly purchased calves is respiratory disorders, usually termed "shipping fever", or "bovine respiratory disease" and can strike anytime in the first three weeks after purchase. Be prepared. Own a rectal thermometer, have a supply of effective antibiotics and talk to your veterinarian as to the best treatment or series of treatments for sick calves. Purchased calves should be hauled on clean bedded trucks or trailers that are free from draft. Don't over crowd them. Once they get home, fill them up with good quality hay and let them go to clean, fresh water. Work them into a hay and grain ration or special receiving ration gradually over several days, or turn them to high quality pasture in small paddocks. It is a good idea to keep them closely confined until they are over their bawling process, which will usually take about 5 days. Most folks will agree that calves should be worked when they first arrive at the farm, or certainly within 24 hours. In most cases, these calves should get inoculations for 7-Way Clostridial, IBR, PI3, BRSV, Vitamin A & D and perhaps BVD. If they don't get worked immediately when they arrive, it may be well to wait three weeks before giving this battery of shots. Do not mix newly bought calves with calves that came in a week or two earlier. Go through groups of calves at least twice a day, thoroughly checking them and when a calf shows symptoms of illness, move him quickly to the chute, take his temperature and if it is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, begin treating with appropriate drugs and follow through until the calf is well.

5. HERD BULL BUYING TIME - For cow/calf producers who are calving in the fall of the year and even for those who calve in the spring, the time to start lining up new herd bulls is this fall. There are several decisions to be made in the commercial herd before setting out to find the bulls that are right for the herd. Breed is a decision that should be made well in advance, making sure that the breeds utilized fit the production and marketing program. Performance records and EPDs are extremely useful and should be relied on. If virgin heifers are to be bred, a low birth weight "heifer bull" of a breed known for relative calving ease is a must. For bulls used to breed mature cows, birth weight may not be nearly so important but EPDs on weaning weight and yearling weight are extremely important. If heifers are to be kept, milk is another consideration. Milk EPDs for British breeds of bulls should generally be at least breed average or above, but for dual purpose European breeds, milk at breed average or even slightly below may be adequate. Bulls of frame size 5, 6 & 7 will fit best in most programs. Cattle prices are low but this is not a time to scrimp on quality of herd sires and is not the place to cut costs if quality must be sacrificed. The big question that people ask is what will bulls cost this year and what should they cost. A pretty good rule of thumb is to take the current value of choice slaughter steers or yearling feeder steers in terms of dollars per hundred weight and multiply times the number of cows to be bred annually by the bull. With a $65 market, a producer breeding 25 cows per bull would expect to pay $1,625 based on this formula. If 30 cows are to be bred, as much as $1,950. This guideline has proved to be useful over a period of time. Virginia is blessed with performance oriented purebred breeders. Most have excellent performance records and EPDs available. Ask for them as you look for bulls. Look at the records and then go out and visually appraise the bulls in question.

6. DECEMBER BULL SALES - There are a number of performance tested bull sales scheduled in the early part of December this year. On Monday, December 2, at 6:30 pm, the Southside All Breed PT Bull Sale and Commercial Bred Heifer Sale will be held at the Southside Livestock Market in Blackstone, selling 40 bulls. On Wednesday, December 4 at 6:00 pm, the Virginia's Finest Angus Bull Sale will be held at Abingdon. There will be about 60 bulls. On Saturday, December 7 at 12:00 noon, the Virginia Breeders All Breed Performance Tested Bull Sale and Commercial Bred Heifer Sale will be held at the Augusta Expoland facility near Staunton. There will be 65 service age bulls in this sale. On Saturday, December 14 at 12:00 noon, the Virginia BCIA Culpeper Senior Bull Sale will be held at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises in Culpeper, selling 80 bulls. The Blackstone and Staunton sales are managed by Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, P O Box 176, Daleville, VA, 24083, 540/992-1009. The Culpeper Senior Bull Sale will be managed by Mike Gothard, VA Sale Services, Rt. 2, Box 446, Staunton, VA, 24401-9432. 540/337-3001. The Abingdon Angus sale will be managed by Virginia Angus Association at the same address. Contact these sale managers for information and catalogs. On the Culpeper senior bulls, additional information can be obtained from VA BCIA, Dept. Of Animal & Poultry Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061-0306, 540/231-9163.

7. COMMERCIAL REPLACEMENT HEIFER SALES - There will, no doubt be more sales scheduled, but the 2 we know about at press time--On Monday, December 2, 50 to 75 commercial replacement females will be sold along with the All Breed Performance Tested Bull Sale which will be held at the Southside Livestock Market, Blackstone, at 6:30 pm. In addition to 40 performance tested bulls of several breeds, both spring calving bred and open commercial replacement females will be found in this sale. On Saturday, December 7 along with 65 all breed performance tested service age bulls, there will be 100 spring calving bred heifers sold. This sale is scheduled for 12:00 noon at the Augusta Expoland facility near Staunton. The predominance of the bred heifers in both sales will be sired by low birth weight bulls found in A.I. studs. Heifers from these sales have done an excellent job for commercial producers who have bought them over the past 20 years.

8. GENETIC MANAGEMENT CONFERENCE DECEMBER 9 - Mark your calendars for Monday, December 9 and plan to be at the Ingleside Hotel in Staunton for an excellent Genetic Management Conference on beef cattle. This one-day educational meeting will feature a bevy of nationally known speakers and will be an excellent conference for both purebred seedstock breeders and commercial cow/calf producers, as well as professional agricultural workers and Agri industry representatives. Along with the conference will be a trade show. Programs for the conference will be out in November and will be available through all county extension offices and copies of the program will be found also in the VA Cattleman in the November issue.

9. VA TECH ULTRASOUND PROGRAM - This program has been in place for about a year and offers the service of collecting ultrasound data in purebred breeders herds on yearling heifers and bulls. This program is sponsored by the Virginia Cattle Industry Board and is managed by Dr. Bill Beal at the VA Tech Animal & Poultry Science Department headquartered in Blacksburg. A new technician will be doing the work. He is Mr. Mark Davis, a Georgia native who was trained at the University of Tennessee. Mark is an excellent young man and can be contacted at the VA Tech Dept. Of Animal & Poultry Science, Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061-0306, 540/231-8750.

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