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Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, January 1997

Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences

As I write this column, winter on the calendar is only a few days away. We've had a cold, wet November and early December and now critical management for winter should be on every beef producers calendar. Management is critical in winter. Here are some thoughts:

1. MANAGEMENT OF REPLACEMENT HEIFERS - Practically all beef cow calf producers retain some or all of the heifers they need for replacement of their own herds. Management of these young heifers from weaning until the time they are bred and, indeed, until the time they calve their first time and are bred back for their second calf is extremely critical. Management and development of replacement heifers in many instances, does not get the attention deserved, resulting in low conception rates, low pregnancy rates and young females that never really get started right as cow herd replacements. Patsy Houghton, manager of Heartland Cattle Company at McCook, Nebraska, made an excellent presentation at the Virginia Beef Genetic Management Conference at Staunton on December 4 relative to management and development of heifers. Heartland Cattle Company runs a large professional heifer development and breeding program. She made a number of points that she claims are the keys to properly developing and breeding replacement heifers. Most heifers for replacement should be frame score 5 or 6, though this may vary with individual operations. Heifers should be fed at a controlled rate such that they will weigh from 715 to 815 pounds or 65% of their mature body weight when they are first bred. This means that heifers should gain at least 1.5 pounds per day from weaning to breeding. Body condition score at breeding time should be 5.5 to 6. Heifers should be synchronized to breed at 13 to 14 months of age. Heifers should be bred artificially to low birth weight, high accuracy bulls at least 21 days ahead of the mature cow herd. This gives the producer at least one extra heat cycle to re-breed heifers and still keep them on a timely calving schedule. Additionally, the producer can devote all of his attention to first calf heifers if they all calve before the mature cow herd. At least 75% of all heifers should conceive by artificial insemination on the first service to a high accuracy EPD multiple trait sire. Heifers should be pregnancy tested at 45 to 90 days post breeding so open heifers can be identified early and sold as feeders or fattened for slaughter. Heifers should be maintained on a nutritional development program so they will achieve 85% of their mature body weight by the time they calve the first time. Heifers should calve unassisted at 22 to 23 months of age. All of these suggestions are extremely practical. Now is the time to assess your heifer development and breeding program and needed management and nutritional changes should be made to insure success.

2. MINERALS ARE IMPORTANT IN WINTER - Cattle will eat less mineral and salt mix in the winter than in summer when they are grazing high moisture grass. The mineral requirement of cattle, however, is just the same in the winter as in summer. Remember that phosphorus and calcium are always two important minerals that need to be considered and made available to beef cattle. Cows, stocker cattle and other cattle receiving rations that are principally forage should receive a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio mineral mix. Feedlot cattle on a high grain ration need a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 4:1 or 5:1 since grains are a good source of phosphorus. Don't buy more phosphorus than you need because it is the expensive ingredient in a mineral mix. For cows that are calving or that have calved, you will want to add magnesium to the mineral mix to guard against grass tetnay or winter tetnay as it is often called. Commercial mixes should contain at least 12% magnesium. Over most of the state, particularly in the mountain areas, selenium should be added to the mineral mix with most mineral mixes containing 40 parts per million selenium. Minerals do cost money but they pay dividends. Use them in a well balanced beef cattle nutrition program.

3. WATER - THE ESSENTIAL NUTRIENT - Often the professor in animal science courses asks inexperienced students what is the number 1 essential nutrient. These students will generally come up with answers like protein, minerals or energy. The truth is, the number one essential nutrient is water. Many times water can be a problem in winter cattle feeding because of frozen streams, frozen waterers and the like. Remember that fresh, clean water must be provided on a daily basis and remember that 400 to 800 pound calves will consume 8 to 15 gallons in summer but 4 to 7 gallons in winter. Finishing cattle in a feedlot that will weigh 800 to 1200 pounds will consume 15 to 22 gallons in summer and 8 to 11 gallons in winter. Bred heifers in the 800 to 900 pound range will consume 15 gallons in summer and 7 gallons in winter. Cows 1000 to 1300 pounds will consume 18 to 25 gallons in summer and 9 to 13 gallons in winter. Mature bulls will consume 27 gallons in summer and 14 gallons in winter. All of these are guidelines. Remember that water weighs 8 pounds per gallon but keep in mind that most cattle will consume close to 10% of their body weight in water during winter and will consume 1.5% of their body weight in summer. Cattle health and digestion depends on an adequate water supply, the often overlooked nutrient that is absolutely the most critical.

4. JANUARY TO APRIL--BULL BUYING SEASON - At least 75% of beef calves born in Virginia are born from January to May. Therefore, most of the bulls go into breeding pastures in March, April or May. Most commercial producers will buy bulls just ahead of when they are needed. The best advice, however, is to buy bulls well in advance of the time they are needed to breed cows. As we look toward another year or so of lower prices, now is the time to retool and put excellent herd bulls to work as we prepare for tougher times and the better times that are sure to come in the years just ahead. The sale season at the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association Central Bull Test Stations has already begun. Culpeper senior bulls were sold December 14 and averaged $1,280. Also in December, the Staunton All Breed Performance Tested Bull Sale was held and averaged $1,491. The Blackstone All Breed Performance Tested Bull Sale was held and averaged $1,483. Prices have been realistic and, no doubt, will be through the winter and spring at sales or at private treaty. The first Saturday of the year, January 4, will see 95 excellent bulls sell at the Red House Bull Evaluation Center at 12:00 noon. On March 22, 145 bulls at the Southwest Bull Test Station at Wytheville will sell at 12:00 noon. They, too, are an excellent set of bulls. On Friday, April 4, 84 bulls will sell at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises that are the Culpeper junior group, currently on test at the Glenmary Farm at Rapidan. There will be a number of other consignment and private bull sales held in the state. In each of the sales at the test stations, bulls will have complete performance data and EPDs for birth weight, weaning weight, maternal milk and yearling weight. In addition, frame size, fat thickness, scrotal circumference and ultrasound data giving ribeye area, fat thickness and an indication for marbling will be available For catalogs on the Red House, Wytheville and Culpeper BCIA Central Bull Test Station Sales, contact sale manager Virginia Sale Services, Rt. 2, Box 446, Staunton, VA 24401-9432, (540) 337-3001. For other information contact Virginia BCIA, Dept. Of Animal & Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0306, (540) 231-9163. There are more quality bulls available than at any time I can recall in the last 30 or 40 years. Rely heavily on EPDs and other data in making selections.

5. VACCINATE COWS WHILE OPEN - As soon as the calving season ends and before cows are put back with the bulls for the next breeding season is the time to vaccinate the cow herd against all of the diseases they should be inoculated against on an annual basis. At this time, vaccinate against IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV, Lepto and Vibriosis. Some programs will also call for vaccination against Haemophilus Somnus. In most instances for herds that are on an annual program, it is best to use products in the respiratory complex that contain modified live materials. Don't forget to vaccinate virgin heifers that are to be bred for the first time as well as the mature cow herd. Consult your family veterinarian but remember that when cows are open is the best time to vaccinate. There are a number of pharmaceutical companies that make combination vaccines which will allow you to give all of these materials in one or two shots.

6. CREEP GRAZE FALL CALVES ON SMALL GRAIN - If you have fall born or early winter calves and have small grain available, creep grazing such calves on this material during the dead of winter and into the spring will definitely work for you. The nutritive value of small grain grazing is excellent for calves and will give them a cheap source of protein and energy. Creep gates or creep holes can be made in existing gateways or in fences to allow these young calves to leave their mothers for short periods of time and graze small grain. Creep holes should be 40 inches high and 18 inches wide.

7. TREAT FOR LICE IN JANUARY - My standard recommendation for beef cattle producers in terms of treating for lice is do it on New Year's Day. Obviously, it doesn't have to be done on New Year's Day but it helps us to remember that this management practice is very important on most cattle. Lice rob profits and are usually not seen as early as January, but by February and early March, a lot of the damage will already have been done. Lice reduce the efficiency of cattle and take a real toll that many times goes unnoticed. There are many excellent products on the market so take your pick. Pouron or spoton grubicide products, for the most part, should not be used unless similar products were used in the fall to kill grubs. However, after about February 15, these grubicide materials may be safely used once again.

8. USE PROVEN BULLS A.I. - Whether you are a purebred, seedstock breeder or a commercial cow/calf producer, the use of artificial insemination may well fit your program. If you are a seedstock breeder, A.I., in almost all cases, must be part of the breeding program. In selecting sires for A.I. use, the EPDs are extremely important, but equally important is the accuracy. If you're going to the trouble and expense of using artificial insemination, you should be using proven bulls, bulls with high accuracy. On growth traits, accuracy's should be above .85 On maternal traits, above .60. Roy Wallace, beef manager for Select Sires gave an excellent presentation at the Virginia Beef Genetic Management Conference in Staunton on December 4. He presented data on carcass traits and other production traits which prove that EPDs work. Accuracy of selection, however, requires that one use proven sires. Many young bulls will tempt you because they are sired by outstanding proven bulls and their dams may be sired by proven bulls as well. The EPDs on such a young bull probably look like exactly what you need. Don't believe it. Most of these young bulls will fall into the range of what they are supposed to be once they are proven, but a percentage of them will fall out of bed and be much poorer. A like percentage will be possibly better. If you want to make progress, use sires that have the EPDs you desire but also have the high accuracy's. Mark Gardiner from Gardiner Angus Ranch in Kansas was also on the Virginia Beef Genetic Management Conference program and he made this point very emphatically. They have developed one of the best seedstock Angus herds in the United States and have done it based on the use of proven bulls through artificial insemination.

9. BODY CONDITION IS THE KEY TO REPRODUCTION - In order for a high percentage of virgin heifers or cows to become pregnant early in the breeding season, it is imperative that these females be in average or above average body condition when the breeding season starts. Heifers should be grown out in such a way that at the start of the breeding season they should weigh a minimum of two-thirds of their expected mature weight and in addition should be in a body condition score of 5 to 7. Cows going into calving should be average or above average condition, in other words, 5, 6 or 7 on a body conditioning scoring system of 1 to 9. Then they should be fed to hold that condition until the breeding season starts. Most producers will not weigh heifers or cows but can assess body condition visually. Any producer can train himself or herself to body condition score females. For those females that are in thin body condition such as a body condition of 4 or below, they should be segregated from females in proper condition and fed a higher energy ration to correct the problem. Reproduction is the most important trait from an economic standpoint. Remember, reproduction is tied closely to proper body condition. Winter is the time when body condition is critical because most females are either bred in early winter to mid-winter or in spring or early summer.

10. GIVE NEWBORN CALVES PROPER ATTENTION - Winter calving gets in full swing in January and February with probably the largest numbers of calves being born in February and March. It is imperative that calves be born alive and kept alive until market time. On those cold winter nights, be sure you have a place out of the cold wind for cows that are going to calve. This may be a pine thicket on the lee side of a hill or maybe a calving barn. When you find a newborn calf that is chilled, bring him into a warm place and get him thawed out and some clostrium quickly. If a young calf becomes dehydrated from scours or from some other reason, use powdered electrolyte solution which is readily available and is designed to be mixed with warm water and put into the young calf, using an esophageal feeder. A calf with a digestive upset that has become dehydrated should not be given milk but should be given only electrolyte solution immediately. Dip navel cords in iodine if calves are in muddy or messy environments. Castrate bull calves and dehorn those that have horns at an early age. The time to do all of this with the least stress is when calves are in their first month or so of life. Newborn calves should be routinely given a shot of vitamin A, D & E and selenium. Many producers make it a practice to vaccinate with 7 Way Clostridial, knowing full well that calves will need another booster at 4 or 5 months of age. If you are a purebred breeder, birth weights should be taken during the first 24 hours. All calves in purebred or commercial herds should be identified and ear tagged at birth. In most herds it works extremely well to put the same number on the newborn calf as that of his mother, though other systems work equally well. Remember that feeding expectant cows or heifers at about dark will greatly reduce the number of them that will calve during the darkness hours and increase the number that will calve during daylight hours. In any event, work hard to save those youngsters.

10. BANGS VACCINATE HEIFERS - Just a reminder that all replacement heifers, purebred or commercial, should be vaccinated between the ages of 8 and 12 months for Brucellosis with strain 19 by a veterinarian. If you've got heifers that will one day be cows, be sure they get vaccinated against Bangs.

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