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Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, February 1997

Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences

As I write this column in mid-January the ground is snow covered and we're in the icebox. In no way does this compare to the big blizzard of 1996 nor blizzards in the upper midwest. Nevertheless, we're in the middle of winter and surviving it and the economic conditions are on the minds of every beef producer. Here are some thoughts:

1. CATTLE AND CALVES RANK THIRD - Income to Virginia farmers from the sale of cattle and calves ranked third among all agricultural commodities for the year 1995, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture publication entitled "Virginia Agricultural Statistics Bulletin 1995." Receipts from the sale of cattle and calves for the first time in my recollection, ranked third among Virginia agricultural commodities with farm gate receipts of $252.4 million dollars. Virginia's production amounted to 1.25% of the US total. The ranking of the top ten Virginia agricultural commodities is as follows: 1. Broilers, $408 million; 2. Milk, $266.3 million; 3. Cattle & Calves, $252.4 million; 4. Turkeys, $198.8 million; 5. Tobacco, $174.9 million; 6. Soybeans, $79.6 million; 7. Eggs, $68.3 million; 8. Wheat, $66.4 million; 9. Corn, $66.3 million; and 10. Hogs, $63.3 million. In terms of total Virginia cash receipts, Poultry and Eggs accounted for 31%; Fieldcrops, 25%; Meat Animals , 14%; Dairy, 12%; Greenhouse and Nursery, 8%; Vegetables, 4%; Fruits & Nuts, 2%; and Other commodities, 5%.

2. DEWORM AND DELICE - A treatment for the control of lice on most beef cattle should have taken place in January but February is not too late. Most of the rubbing activity in cattle will be noticed in February and March. There are a number of excellent pouron materials specifically for lice and systemics that kill lice and grubs which may be used safely after February 15 on cattle that were not treated for grubs last fall. Young cattle that have been wintered on pasture, though they may have been dewormed last fall, will probably need a deworming in mid-winter. February is a good time. The brown stomach worm which lives in the lining of the stomach of cattle in late fall and early winter may emerge in late January through February and cattle may become parasitized in a very short period of time. For February deworming utilize any of the good deworming materials on the market. All are affective and should be selected on the basis of price and convenience. Mature cows will generally not need to be dewormed at this time. Worms primarily damage young, growing cattle. Older animals have a natural immunity.

3. PLAN TO OVERSEED CLOVER OR ALFALFA IN FEBRUARY OR MARCH - February and March are the two months of the year to get overseeding of clover or alfalfa in meadows and pastureland done for best results. If you're going to broadcast seed, February is the best month. When broadcasting or putting seed in with a drill, be sure that grass is grazed right down to the ground before seeding. Especially if the seed is broadcast, running a chain harrow over the field after seeding will incorporate the seed into the ground and is a good practice. If you have fed cattle on fields during the winter, you will spread manure as you scratch clover or alfalfa seed in. Be sure you are using medium red clover, probably 4 to 5 pounds per acre and you may want to add a couple of pounds of ladino clover per acre. Many producers have experienced success in the past few years adding alfalfa to hay fields that are being used for hay and grazing. The variety Alfagraze looks good, but adapted hay varieties work well also. Seed 4 to 6 pounds per acre in most instances. It is best to drill alfalfa seed in with a no-till drill. To get a good stand of alfalfa or clover, the management of the grass and legume mixture in early spring is particularly critical. You should be in a position to force graze newly seeded fields a couple of times early in the grazing season when the grass is 6 to 10 inches tall. Cattle should be turned in to graze it down quickly and give young legume seedlings a chance to grow. It may be necessary to graze down grass growth twice to get the job done. Decide on the management for your farm but remember that controlled grazing will help get and maintain a good stand of alfalfa or red clover and can be very helpful where these legumes are in mixtures with orchard grass or fescue. Be sure to test the soil and make sure that pH is 6.0 or above and that fertility levels of phosphorus and potash are adequate. Fertilize and lime according to soil test.

4. FERTILIZE PASTURES - Failure to fertilize permanent pastures according to soil tests may not be the way to cut cost in a beef cattle operation. Phosphorus and potash are usually the nutrients that will be short, but a soil test is the only way to be sure. If you did not take soil tests last fall, get out as quickly as possible and do so and fertilize pastures that show the most need. Whether you use nitrogen fertilizer along with other ingredients will depend upon how much immediate spring growth is desirable. You can't afford to waste money on fertilizer or lime so utilize the soil test as your guide. There are lots of good labs that will run soil tests including the VA Tech Soil Test Lab. Contact your county extension agent for assistance and recommendations.

5. PT BULL SALES IN MARCH AND APRIL - Two bull sales at Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association Central Bull Test Stations are scheduled for March and April. 145 bulls will be sold at the Southwest Bull Test Station at Wytheville on Saturday, March 22. These bulls will represent the top two-thirds of the 219 bulls on test including; 61 senior bulls and 158 junior bulls. Of the 219 bulls on test at the Southwest Bull Test Station, 143 are Angus, 7 are Polled Hereford, 19 are Charolais, 43 are Simmental and 7 are Gelbvieh. The Southwest Bull Test Station is located 3 miles north of Wytheville, just off Interstate 81 at Exit 77. Call Jack Poole for information, 540/637-3550. There will be an Open House at the station Sunday afternoon, March 9.

On Friday, April 4, 83 bulls will sell at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises at 2:00 pm. These will represent the top two-thirds of the 125 junior bulls on test at Glenmary Farm, operated by Tom Nixon at nearby Rapidan. Bulls on test include 82 Angus, 27 Polled Hereford, 5 Charolais, 5 Simmental, 4 Gelbvieh and 2 Salers. For additional information on the bull tests and sales, contact VA BCIA, Dept. Of Animal & Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, 24061-0306, 540/231-9163. For catalogs, contact sale manager VA Sale Services, Rt. 2, Box 446, Staunton, VA, 24401-9432. 540/337-3001.

6. BEEF GRADE CHANGE IN EFFECT - A slight change in USDA Beef Quality Grading of Carcasses went into effect at the end of January, 1997. This grade change is designed to improve the eating quality and consistency of beef. It is a change recommended by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and involves a change for B maturity cattle. Under the new grading standards, carcasses with combined lean and skeletal maturity scores of "B", cattle usually 30 to 42 months old and/or with small or slight degrees of marbling, will be excluded from the choice and select grades. Instead, these carcasses will be downgraded to standard. In a recent study based on carcass data collected by USDA personnel from late October to early December in 16 states and 40 fed beef plants, only 1.58% of all fed cattle would be affected. This study was accomplished by scientists at Colorado State University and involved 97,210 carcasses, amounting to roughly 1 day's fed cattle production in the United States. This grade change will have it's largest affect on heifers and a much lesser affect on steers. The major reason is that 2 year old heifers that have calved and, perhaps, lost calves, can be fattened and when slaughtered, may be "B" maturity. Before the grade change, these older cattle with slight or small degrees of marbling were included in the choice and select grades. With the change, only those "B" maturity cattle with adequate marbling to grade in the upper two-thirds of the choice or prime grades will qualify for those grades.

7. GELBVIEH ASSOCIATION HAS NEW CEO - The American Gelbvieh Association has been searching for an executive director during the last several months since Dr. Jim Gibb went to work for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. The association recently announced that Tom Brink was appointed to that position in December. Brink comes to Gelbvieh from the Colorado based cattle marketing information service Cattle-Fax, where he worked for 8 years, first as a research analyst and most recently as director or marketing research. He grew up on a cow/calf operation in east central Kansas and attended Kansas State University. He has a BS from Kansas State and 2 Master's degrees from the same institution. Virginia breeders welcome Tom Brink at the helm of the American Gelbvieh Association.

8. SIRE SUMMARIES - For the serious purebred breeder, the data contained in breed sire summaries is very essential to his cattle breeding operation. For the serious commercial cow/calf operator, sire summary data is equally important. Sire summaries contain proven bulls in large numbers of the breed in question. Every sire summary has expected progeny difference data for birth weight, weaning weight, maternal milk, maternal weaning weight, and yearling weight. In addition, most have added EPDs for scrotal circumference, mature weight, hip height, maternal calving ease and others. Sire summaries are available to anyone who requests them. Listed here are the addresses of several of the major breed associations who will mail sire summaries for the asking. American Angus Association, 3201 Frederick Blvd., St. Joseph, MO, 64506. American Gelbvieh Association, 10900 Dover St., Westminster, CO, 80021. American Hereford Association, P O Box 014059, Kansas City, MO, 64101. American International Charolais Association, P O Box 20247, Kansas City, MO, 64195. American Salers Association, 5600 S. Quebec, Suite 220A, Inglewood, CO, 80111. American Shorthorn Association, 8288 Hascall St., Omaha, NE, 68124. American Simmental Association, 1 Simmental Way, Bozeman, MT, 59715-9990. American Tarentaise Association, P O Box 34705, 1912 Clay St., North Kansas City, MO, 64116. Beefmaster Breeders Universal, 6800 Park 10 Blvd., Suite 290 W, San Antonio, TX, 78213. International Brangus Breeders Association, P O Box 696020, San Antonio, TX, 78269-6020. North American Limousin Foundation, P O Box 4467, Inglewood, CO, 80155. Red Angus Association of America, 4201 I-35 North, Denton, TX, 76207-3415.

Remember that all EPDs are complete with accuracy's. The higher the accuracy the more data is involved in the computation of an EPD and the more reliable it is. For those who want to select bulls for AI use that will do what the EPDs indicate, should be selecting bulls with high accuracy. Sire summaries and EPDs are a super tool. Use them.

9. PLANNED BREEDING SEASON MANAGEMENT - Cow/calf producers who calve in late winter and spring should do some serious planning as time draws closer for the next breeding season which will start in April or May. The goal should be to get a high percentage of cows and heifers pregnant within the first 21 days of the breeding season and to get 100% of them pregnant in a short 60 to 90 day breeding season. There are a number of key points. A. Control diseases - The best time to annually vaccinate the cow herd and to vaccinate virgin heifers is when they are open, ahead of breeding season. Most programs will call for an annual vaccination of IBR, PI3, BVD, BRSV, Lepto, Vibriosis and perhaps, Haemophilus Somnus. It is generally best to use combination vaccines with modified live materials for IBR, PI3, BVD and BRSV. Consult your veterinarian for advice in this area. B. Cow condition - Cows should be in average or better condition at calving if they are expected to breed back quickly at the start of the breeding season. After cows have calved, they should be kept in a strong, average or better condition, remembering that cows that are nursing calves require 50% more nutrients in terms of energy and protein so they will need to be fed better after they have calved. If some cows in the herd are thin, they should be pulled out and fed separately to bring their body condition up rapidly. It is often a good practice to put thin mature cows and first calf heifers together because both require more energy in their ration. It is a good idea to go through the herd and condition score cows on a 1 to 9 scale with 1 being extremely thin and 9 very obese. The comfort range is 4 to 7 with preference for 5 to 6. C. Heifer development - On virgin heifers, it is not necessary to weigh them, but they should weigh at breeding time at least two-thirds of their expected mature weight. Condition score on virgin heifers should be 5 to 7 at breeding time. D. Bull power - If you're breeding naturally as most commercial producers do, be sure they bulls you plan to use are sound and fertile. Get a qualified veterinarian to check herd bulls and do a thorough breeding soundness examination on them prior to the breeding season. If they are questionable or sterile, replace them. Yearling bulls can handle 15 to 20 cows. Two year old bulls and mature bulls can handle 25 to 40 cows under most conditions. E. Breeding season length - Virgin heifers should be bred to calve as two year olds in most programs and the breeding season should be 45 to 60 days. Mature cows should be bred 60 to 90 days. It is a good idea to breed virgin heifers so they will calve the first time 3 to 4 weeks ahead of the main cow herd. This allows those young heifers who are growing and milking to raise a calf a little extra time to get re-bred with the cow herd for their second calves.

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