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Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, May 1997

Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

As I write this column in early April, spring is trying desperately to get here. We had a drier than normal winter from a rainfall standpoint, an extremely open winter and an early spring with a very warm March. April, to this point, is more like March than April, so pasture growth still needs April showers and warm temperatures. The mental attitude of cattlemen, however, is the best it's been for a few years. Choice slaughter cattle are up $5-6 over a year ago; yearling feeders are up $15 per hundred weight; and light stockers are $20-30 per hundred weight above a year ago. Lets hope for a good grazing season and cheaper feed grains. Management in summer is critical. Here are some thoughts:

1. START FLY CONTROL PROGRAMS IN MAY - Horn and face flies are major fly problems for beef cattle in Virginia and elsewhere. Control of these parasites, in general, should begin in May. Usually, there is no significant fly buildup until May or later, though it varies some within the boundaries of Virginia. Many producers continue to use fly tags with moderate to good success. Keep in mind there are two basic types of chemicals contained in fly tags which are synthetic pyrethroids and organo phosphates. Various fly tags may contain one or the other and some contain a mixture of both classes of chemicals. The fly tags containing third generation pyrethroids have been among the most effective during the last two or three years. Since flies have generally built up resistance and have the ability to continue to buildup resistance to various chemicals, we have usually recommended that fly tags carrying a different chemical be used each year in a rotation fashion. Old tags should be cut out of cattle's ears at the end of the fly season, to cut down on the opportunity for flies to become resistant. For most types of fly tags, the general recommendation for cows is to put a tag in each ear, though one or more of the new tags only recommend one tag per animal. Nursing calves generally do not need to be fly tagged. Yearlings may get good control with one ear tag, though for most tags, two are recommended. There are a number of other alternatives for fly control. Dust bags properly placed 18 to 24 inches above the ground in areas where cattle use heavily will work well. Back rubbers utilizing appropriate chemicals and Number 2 Diesel Oil as a carrier can also be effective. There are fly and lice control products on the market in the form of pourons, such as Permectrin CDS. This product can actually be applied as a pouron, spray mist or through back rubbers and kills a wide spectrum of insect pests on lactating and non-lactating dairy and beef cattle. These types of topical pourons and sprays will, no doubt, need to be used several times over the course of the grazing season to get good control. Contact your county extension office for a copy of the latest recommendations found in the Pest Management Guide for Home Grounds and Animals publication.

2. PLAN A CONTROLLED BREEDING SEASON - Although controlled breeding seasons, and thus, controlled calving seasons have been recommended for many years, a large number of cow/calf producers still let nature control the breeding and calving season. Most producers using a controlled breeding season with beef cows utilize a 60 to 90 day season. For virgin heifers, a shorter season of 45 to 60 days is usually desirable. This gives an opportunity to pregnancy check early and sell as feeders any heifers which fail to conceive. Get out your calendar now and plan when the breeding season should begin. If calving is to be completed by March 30, the breeding season should end June 20th. If the breeding season is to conclude the end of April, bulls should come out July 21st. Cattle management is made considerably easier when a controlled breeding season is employed. For producers who have a strung out breeding and calving season, it will be impossible to get to a 60 to 90 day season in one year. A plan should be employed to cut the length of the breeding season and thus, the calving season, down in two to three years, having it exactly where you want it at the end of that time. Once the breeding season has ended, remove bulls and put them in a bull lot for the rest of the year. Remember, the best time to vaccinate cows for respiratory diseases, Leptospirosis, and Vibriosis is when cows are open prior to the breeding season. There are a number of combination vaccines on the market which do a good job. In general, the vaccines which contain modified live materials for the respiratory diseases are desirable and may be more effective and less expensive than killed products.

3. WHAT'S HAPPENING TO CROSSBREEDING? - We learned through many years of excellent research conducted at a number of land grant universities and by the United States Department of Agriculture that crossbreeding in beef cattle could add as much as 20 percent to the total pounds produced by a herd of cattle in a year. Crossbreeding allows for increases to occur due to hybrid vigor or heterosis and also allows for increases due to breed complimentarity. Cow/calf producers across the country were, at first, slow to employ crossbreeding, coming out of the 1940's and 50s, where straightbreeding was the order of the day. Once crossbreeding caught on, however, and a flood of new breeds came across from Europe to be utilized in this country, crossbreeding became the order of the day from the 1960s through 1980s. Crossbreeding is still highly utilized across the United States, but here in our own mid-Atlantic area, it appears we're using less crossbreeding than a few years ago. Perhaps this is because our market for feeder cattle has, in general, paid a premium for black hided cattle and has discounted some of our crossbreeds based on hide color or extreme frame and finished weights. In the past few years, there has been a very strong market for Angus bulls, but a spotty market for many other breeds available. This is disturbing. Surveys and testimonials by cattle feeders show that in the mainstream, the biggest demand is for continental/British crosses. An increasing percentage of our feeder cattle are going west to the feedlots in the western corn belt and high plains. It would appear that it may be a mistake for producers to move back to straightbreeding programs and give up the additional pounds that can be produced from a herd available through good, well designed crossbreeding programs. It would appear to me that there is certainly a place for bulls of a number breeds to be used in crossbreeding programs which will produce cattle that will gain 3 to 4 pounds in the feedlot, come out weighing 1100 to 1300 pounds with at least two-thirds of them grading choice with a yield grade of 2 or 3. We're moving into a more profitable part of the cattle cycle and crossbreeding can help increase pounds produced and thus, profits. Select the breeds carefully that are to be used and plan crossbreeding programs for a number of generations, not just the next year. Breeds are different, so breed complimentarity should be a major consideration.

4. MINERALS IMPORTANT IN SUMMER - Minerals for beef cattle are important year round. For most grazing cattle, whether they be stockers, replacement heifers or cows, the three most important ingredients are salt, calcium and phosphorus, though any mineral mix in our region should contain selenium as well. The calcium to phosphorus ratio in commercial or homemade mineral mixes for grazing cattle should be 2 parts calcium to 1 part phosphorus. In breeding herds, phosphorus is extremely important as it relates to reproduction. Most mineral mixes will require something in the neighborhood of 40 parts per million selenium. Many programs for cow herds should include a mineral mix with magnesium for the prevention of grass tetany. Such mixes should contain at least 12 percent magnesium. This is particularly important in the early part of the grazing season and in the fall grazing season. Animals most prone to grass tetany are older cows after they have calved and are lactating. If homemade mineral mixes are to be utilized, the major ingredients should be trace mineralized salt, dicalcium phosphate, a selenium premix and if magnesium is to be included, magnesium oxide.

5. EARLY SEASON GAIN IMPORTANT ON STOCKER CATTLE - At least two-thirds of the total gain for the grazing season will be generally obtained in the first half of the season. This year, or any year, it is important to economically maximize the gains on stockers, particularly during the first half of the grazing season. There are several management practices that can add gain to these cattle economically. First of all, they should be properly dewormed. This may include the recommended strategic deworming programming at the beginning of the grazing season which would involve treatment with most materials at zero, three weeks and six weeks. Or if using longer lasting materials such as Ivomec or Dectomax, cattle would be dewormed at zero, and five weeks. All such cattle should certainly be implanted with one of several recommended implants. Rotational grazing will increase gain in most situations because cattle will be consuming higher quality forage through out the grazing period. Don't forget that minerals and salt are important to keep before cattle at all times. Finally, fresh clean water is a must. Check these points and make sure stockers are managed for max gain. This will be particularly important this year because many stockers purchased in spring cost more dollars this year.

6. BIF CONVENTION MAY 14 - 17 AT DICKINSON, NORTH DAKOTA - The 1997 annual convention and research symposium of the Beef Improvement Federation will be held at the Hospitality Inn in Dickinson, North Dakota, May 14 - 17. An outstanding program is on tap. Dickinson is located about 2 hours west of Bismarck, ND. For registration, call or write Kris Ringwall, Dickinson Research Center, 1089 State Avenue, Dickinson, ND, 58601. 701/227-2348. For hotel reservations call the Hospitality Inn, 800/422-0949.

7. MEAT IN THE DIET - According to USDA's latest report on food consumption trends, the percent of dietary energy (calories) supplied by meat was 17% in 1990, compared to 22% in 1970. This reflects the trend to leaner, lower fat products according to the report. On a percentage basis, various food groups account for the following percentage of calories in the American product: Grain products-23%; fats & oils-19%; sugar and other sweeteners-18%; meat products-17%; dairy products-9%; and other-14%.

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