Beef Management Tips
Livestock Update, April 1997
Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech
As I write this column in mid March, spring is way ahead of schedule. The grass is green and cattle have gone crazy because of the green color to the ground. We hope we have an early spring in the making and with an improved cattle market at the moment, enthusiasm is better than we've seen in several springs. Spring is a critical time for cattle management. Here are some thoughts:
1. SPRING DEWORMING OF STOCKERS AND REPLACEMENTS - April is the time when most young, grazing beef animals, whether stocker, steer or heifer, or replacement heifers should be properly dewormed. Strategically deworming appears to be the very best method for reducing buildup of the brown stomach worm larvae on pasture that will occur in early to mid-summer if parasitized cattle are grazing on it. Cattle should be dewormed at turnout time or at the time when they are making their living from pasture. This generally will occur between April 10th and 25th, on most farms. There are a number of excellent deworming materials on the market that can be utilized in a strategic deworming program. When using most of them, cattle should be dewormed on the 0, 3, 6 schedule. Deworm them the first time, again three weeks later and again six weeks later. If using one of the longer acting materials like Ivomec, they may be dewormed and then re-dewormed 5 weeks later, again with Ivomec or another product. The other alternative is to deworm cattle at turnout and then at mid season, around early July. There are a couple of new kids on the block in terms of deworming materials. Dectomax which is a product of Pfizer Animal Health is an injectable which has most of the same properties of Ivomec and is the same basic chemical. The other new dewormer is the Ivomec SR Bolus which should be put in cattle at turnout time and will slowly release the active ingredient over 135 to 150 day period. The Merck Company advertises an increase in weight gain for the pasture of 40 to 110 pounds, compared to un-dewormed controls. The bolus looks like an excellent product that is selling in the neighborhood of $12 each. We'll have considerably more field data on the SR Bolus after this grazing season.
2. IMPLANT STOCKERS AT TURNOUT - For stockers, steers and heifers that are definitely going to the feedlot, be sure to implant these cattle as they go to grass. There are several approved implant products on the market including Ralgro that may be used on heifers or steers, Component E-H for heifers and Component E-S for steers, Synovex-H for heifers for Synovex-S for steers and Compudose. If using Ralgro, most cattle should be reimplanted after 90 days or generally during the month of July. The other products are good for about 150 days and may need to be reimplanted for full season programs but not reimplanted for grazing season length of shorter duration. Implants can give an additional 20 to 40 pounds of gain, making their use an excellent pay back and profit situation.
3. VACCINATE COWS WHILE OPEN - Prior to the breeding season, cows and heifers that are to be bred should be vaccinated annually against IBR, PI3, BVD, 5 Strain of Lepto and Vibriosis. There are a number of good combination materials on the market containing all of these. Some contain modified live and others killed virus material. Either is satisfactory, though those containing killed products will be slightly more expensive and may need to be followed up with a second vaccination, particularly on virgin heifers that have not been vaccinated before. Select the materials that best suit your program and if you need further counsel contact your local veterinarian.
4. PREPARE BULLS FOR THE BREEDING SEASON - Before bulls are turned out to breed cows, they should be evaluated to be sure that they can breed and settle cows in a rapid fashion. They should, first of all, be check for physical problems that would include eyes, feet and legs, testicles and general health. It is always a good practice to have your veterinarian go over these bulls and pull a semen sample to be sure bulls are fertile and ready to go. There is nothing more disconcerting than to find out in the middle of the breeding season or even later that a bull or bulls are either not serving cows or are not settling cows. Where young bulls are being used for the first time, be sure that you observe them closely for the first 30 days. Make sure you see them breeding cows, write down the cow numbers and then be sure that they are not repeats by checking them closely, 18 to 21 days later. Remember, too, that when using yearling bulls in the same pasture with mature bulls, the mature bull will normally be dominant. This means that the old bull will do most of the breeding. It is better to rotate older and younger bulls with the same group of cows, or run young bulls together in the same breeding pasture where possible.
5. SYNCHRONIZE AND AI REPLACEMENT HEIFERS - When breeding virgin heifers, there are two goals to be obtained. One of them is to get the heifers bred as quickly as possible and the other is to breed those heifers to bulls that will produce easy calving on that first calf. Breeding virgin heifers by artificial insemination allows one to utilize proven calving ease bulls. Artificially breeding virgin heifers is, usually, fairly easy and most producers will synchronize and breed AI one time and then turn out a low birth weight EPD clean-up bull. Synchromate B has been used very successfully on virgin heifers to synchronize estrus. On day zero, heifers are given an implant and an injection, nine days later the implant is removed and 48 to 52 hours, heifers may be bred on appointment, or better yet, for the first three days after the implant is removed, on standing heat. Another good program for synchronizing heifers is to use MGA and prostaglandin. This requires planning over a month in advance. Heifers need to be fed a grain ration so that they will get .5 milligrams of MGA per day for 14 days. The MGA is removed and 18 days later, heifers are injected with a prostaglandin such as Lutalyse or Estrumate. When using the MGA and prostaglandin, do not breed on appointment, but rather, breed heifers on standing heat. Remember, when breeding on standing heat, regardless of the program, inseminate 12 hours after heifers are observed in standing heat. Several of the AI companies are in a position to give you help in getting the synchronization and AI job done on large groups of virgin heifers.
6. SELECT FOR GROWTH AND IMPROVE FEEDLOT GAIN AND FEED EFFICIENCY - I you think back over the last 15 years, beef cattle breeders have followed several fads. The one that we probably remember the most is the big frame fad, Selecting single trait for large frame got folks into a little trouble. Cattle finished too heavy weights, mature size of breeding stock was too large and calving difficulty increased. When that fad wore off, the next one was low birth weight, to improve calving ease. To get low birth weight, growth weight was sacrificed to an extent and after a generation or two of selection for lots and lots of low birth weight bulls, we are now at a point to consider what folks are doing and what should be done. In the seedstock industry, I see some shift back to growth rate, but not large frame size. This is appropriate, I believe. Bulls that are going to be used heavily will, no doubt, be balanced in their EPDs for the various important traits. A measure of calving ease is still essential, enough milk, such that replacements will milk well is a need, and then adding an extra dimension of growth rate is called for. Cattle that have superior growth rate also have superior appetites, so part of the selection for growth rate is selection for appetite. Most research that has been done over years, tells us that cattle that gain more rapidly are on the average, more efficient with feed utilization in the feedlot. Cattle feeders are looking for cattle with genetics for growth and at the same time, cattle that will finish before they reach 1,300 pounds. What is all of this telling the commercial cattle producer? In selecting bulls, it appears to me that frame size 5, 6 & 7 bulls are in the ballpark. The most popular frame size will be frame score 6 bulls. On birth weight EPDs for British breeds, it appears that when breeding mature cows, EPDs for birth weight ranging from 3 to 6 pounds are in the ballpark. For maternal milk on British breeds, it looks like 10 to 20 pounds is about the right range. On yearling weight EPDs, which tell us the most about growth, British breed bulls should be 50 to 75 pounds. When we look at the larger continental breeds, EPDs will be somewhat different. For birth weight, these bulls need to be -2 to +2 pounds. For maternal milk, this will be variable, but 0 to 8 pounds will be in the ballpark for most of them. For yearling weight EPDs, +15 to 35 pounds will hit the mark. Now there are many variables, there are many differences among types of cows that are to be bred that need to be factored in when selecting bulls and picking birth weight, weaning weight, maternal milk and yearling weight EPD ranges. Growth rate and feed efficiency are extremely important for the feedlot operator. Birth weight and milk are factors that the cow/calf men must keep in mind. What about carcass? The commercial producer who has the opportunity to select bulls, either through AI or through the use of AI sired sons that have carcass desirability, should be utilized. British breed bulls that have marbling EPDs of +2 or higher will definitely improve marbling. There will be much more carcass data available in the future but now is the time to begin to use bulls where possible that will help carcass traits.
7. PLAN SPRING GRAZING AND HAYING - At this point, it appears we have enough moisture and will go into the spring in good shape. We never know, however, whether the summer will bring drought conditions or not. In any event, it will behoove the cattle producer to make quality hay and make as near maximum utilization of pasture as possible. Plan now to make one cutting of hay on much of the acres that will be grazed for the rest of the season. Constrict cattle to a smaller acreage in early season when grass and other legumes are growing rapidly. Make hay in May or early June on a portion of the grazing area and then turn cattle to it and graze the balance of the grazing season. If you're using rotational grazing, this will be a natural. Leave the best hay land to be grazed after that early cutting of hay is made. The use of temporary electric fencing can help you do a much better job of early season grazing and making a cutting of hay on part of your pastureland. Get hay making equipment prepared, greased up and ready to roll. Lots of hay should be made in May, but if this year is like most, that hay will be made between showers, so be prepared.
8. VIRGINIA BEEF EXPO APRIL 25, 26 & 27 - The 8th Annual Virginia Beef Expo will be held at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds Friday, Saturday and Sunday April 25, 26 & 27. For information and programs, contact Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, P.O. Box 176 Daleville, VA, 24083. On Friday, April 25, many activities are planned including breed cattle sales for the breeds of Limousin, Angus, Simmental, Red Angus and Polled Hereford. On Friday evening, the very popular Barn Party will be held starting at 6:00 p.m. Tickets will need to be purchased in advance. On Saturday, April 26, more cattle sales for Shorthorn, Charolais, Salers, Longhorn and Commercial Replacement Heifers will be held. The Junior Beef Roundup will begin on Saturday afternoon, April 26 with breed meetings in the afternoon and heifer shows beginning at 5:00 p.m. On Sunday, April 27, all the junior showmanship competition will begin at 8:00 a.m., followed by the Angus heifer show and the junior steer show. Mark you calendar now and plan to be in Harrisonburg for as much of the Expo as possible. It is a great event that will include lots of educational events, cattle sales, a super trade show and food events.