Beef Management Tips
Livestock Update, August 1997
Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech
1997 up to this point has proven to be a very different kind of a season. Spring was cold and late and on the dry side. Summer finally came in June and with it, brought mostly dry weather. The eastern corn crop is severely damaged and second cutting hay will no doubt be short in many places. Cattle prices which rebounded in the spring are still strong, but with higher feedlot placements and some uncertainty in the feed grains market, strength in cattle prices may wane as we move on into fall. Management is always critical. Here are some thoughts:
1. MARKETING BACK TO BASICS - There are probably more marketing alternatives for feeder cattle today than we have seen in my time. There is a great deal of talk about alliances and a few of them are certainly going to make it. It looks like US Premium Beef headquartered in Kansas is on target. Northern Plains Premium Beef is headed back to the drawing board after it did not reach the sale of its minimum number of shares by June 1. There are a number of other alliances being established across the country and for producers who have a large number of cattle, it may make sense to look closely at the possibilities of joining one of these alliances. Be sure to read the fine print, however, because there can be some risk involved with alliances. Another marketing alternative that works well for folks that are knowledgeable and have large operations and that is retained ownership, which means retaining the ownership of feeder cattle through a feedlot in the mid west or western plains. For producers with excellent quality cattle, retained ownership is certainly a viable marketing alternative. Selling feeder cattle through our established field telo-auction system works extremely well for load lots of uniform cattle. The field telo-auction is operated by the Virginia Cattlemen's Association headquartered at Daleville. The basic marketing that most small to mid size cow calf producers should not fail to utilize are special graded feeder cattle sales. The Virginia graded feeder cattle sales have done a good job for 50 years and continue to make money for producers who utilize them. These sales are scheduled at livestock markets throughout Virginia and are managed by the Virginia Cattlemen's Association. The key ingredient to utilizing the right marketing program is quality cattle. Timely marketing is also of essence. It certainly appears that this year, as in most years, marketing heavy feeders in August and early September is the right way to go. Regardless of the marketing method used, plan marketing well and follow your plan.
2. EPDS-A POWERFUL TOOL - Selection of bulls for a purebred or commercial herd is much, much easier today than it has ever been in the past. Expected Progeny Difference (EPD) information on the major traits of economic importance is made available through each beef breed association for it's breeders. Many, many research trials and lots of experience in the field prove that selection based on EPDs works without a question. The breeds with the most performance data have the most reliable EPDs and this is particularly true for carcass traits. At our recent Virginia Tech Animal Industry Day, a panel of speakers addressed the business of bull selection. Roy Wallace brought forth an idea that he has proven to be very useful in bull selection which he calls calculation of a "Power Index." Each sire summary has in the front of it, a percentile breakdown for non-parent bulls which is the table that should be used when selecting young bulls and constructing the power index. For the traits of birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight and maternal milk, use the percentage breakdown table to find the percentile for the EPDs on each of the four traits for the bulls in question. Once the percentile is found, add the four percentiles and divide by 4. In this power index, a low number indicates more superiority than a high number, so when comparing bulls, one might wish to calculate a power index for several bulls and then select from those with the lowest power index. As an example, an Angus bull with EPDs of birth weight 1.6, weaning weight 36.0, yearling weight 50.0 and maternal milk 12.0 would have, from the table percentiles as follows: birth weight 25, weaning weight 10, yearling weight 30 and maternal milk 50. These would add to 115. 115 divided by 4 would yield a power index of 28.8. This simple method of utilizing EPDs tends to give 25% credit to birth weight, 50% to growth and 25% to milk and serves as an easy way to obtain balance among traits in bulls selected for use. Another good thing about Roy's power index, is that it may be used for comparing bulls across different breeds.
3. DEWORM SPRING CALVES IN EARLY AUGUST - If you failed to get spring born nursing calves dewormed in July, early August will do. Such calves should be dewormed some 70 or so days prior to weaning. The weight gain advantage of these calves has been proven and particularly where first calf heifers or young cows are running with the entire herd. There is usually no need to deworm cows at this time, only calves.
4. AUGUST-TIME TO STOCKPILE FESCUE - Stockpiling fescue for late fall and winter grazing is a time-proven method for producing economical grazing to save on storing and feeding of hay. For best results, stands of fescue should be grazed or cut for hay in early August. Fifty to one hundred pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre should be applied along with other needed plant food nutrients. Cattle should be shut out of meadows or pastures by August 15 to let the stockpiled growth accumulate. Grazing of stockpiled fescue should begin after frost and cool weather and continue until the stockpiled growth is completely utilized.
5. PLAN NOW FOR STRIP GRAZING IN THE FALL - Strip grazing accumulated and stockpiled growth in hay meadows will extend the grazing period and will increase utilization of the grazing material up to 50%. A single electric wire or tape can be utilized to limit grazing and move across the field. Make plans now to make maximum utilization of aftermath growth this fall through the use of strip grazing.
6. PRUSSIC ACID DANGER - Prussic acid is a nice term for the real culprit, Hydrocyanimic Acid. Prussic acid is found in both cultivated and native forages. Practically all prussic acid containing plants are quite palatable. There are a number of feed plants that may have toxic amounts of prussic acid under the right conditions, but major ones of concern are sorghum-sudan crosses and Johnson grass. Plants of the sorghum family may have toxic levels of prussic acid in growth that follows either frost, a severe period of drought or a period of heavy trampling or physical damage. Heavy nitrate fertilization of the soil followed by abundant rainfall may increase the prussic acid poisoning potential of these crops as well. Under normal circumstances, prussic acid should not be a problem, but under severe drought conditions or around the time of the first killing frost, care may need to be taken. Poisoned animals show signs of nervousness, abnormal breathing, trembling or jerking muscles, blue coloration of the lining of the mouth, spasms or convulsions and respiratory failure followed by death. Prussic acid poisoning can be very rapid. Often, the first sign of a problem is that some of the animals are found dying or dead. Animals which have not shown much evidence of toxicity may be injected intravenously with a mixture sodium thiosulphate. Prussic acid poisoning is not cumulative and, therefore, upon removal from a forage source, animals not showing evidence of being poisoned will not likely be affected adversely. The main point is to know what you're dealing with and prevent problems from prussic acid by managing plants of the sorghum family. After growth has been thoroughly killed by frost, it will again be safe to graze. Any variety of millet is not affected by prussic acid potential problems.
7. ACORN POISONING ALERT - Acorn poisoning generally deals its most severe blow in the months of September and very early October. It seems that cattle like newly fallen acorns best. If you are grazing cattle in pastures with oak trees, and thus, where acorns will be present on the ground, take proper precautions. Medical signs are a loss of appetite, listlessness, weakness, constipation, followed by diarrhea that may be dark colored or bloody and animals will appear bowed in the back. Animals get weaker and eventually go down. Affected animals may show yellow color, bloody urine and dehydration. There are no specific treatments for this condition other than rumen stimulation (mineral oil and the like) and fluids for dehydration. Treatment for down animals is rarely successful, while early treatment of cases is helpful. If possible, the removal of animals from the source of poisoning will greatly reduce the loss and increase the success rate of treatment. A prevention ration of 10 to 15 percent calcium hydroxide in a high protein feed is helpful. It may take about 4 pounds of this mix per cow per day and 2 pounds per day for younger animals. If acorn poisoning is a threat, cattle should, perhaps, be removed from the pasture where oak trees producing acorns are present or be fenced from these wooded areas when acorns begin to fall. Again, acorn poisoning won't occur until acorns start falling, but prior to that time the acorn crop should be assessed and a plan devised to prevent death losses.
8. OCTOBER 1 DEADLINE TO CONSIGN PT BULLS AND COMMERCIAL HEIFERS - The Virginia BCIA sponsored Staunton All Breed Performance Bull and Commercial Bred Heifer Sale is scheduled for Saturday, December 6 at Augusta Expoland near Staunton. The Blackstone Performance Tested Bull and Bred and Open Commercial Heifer Sale is scheduled for Friday evening, November 21st at the Southside Livestock Market at Blackstone. Performance tested bulls eligible for these sales must be calved between September 1, 1995 and September 30, 1996. Commercial bred heifers must be bred to calve between January 1 and April 15, 1998. Consignments should be sent to sale manager Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, P O Box 176, Daleville, VA, 24083 by the deadline date, October 1, 1997. Rules & Regulations and consignment forms may be obtained by contacting Jim Johnson or Virginia BCIA, Dept. of Animal & Poultry Sciences, VA Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061-0306.
9. GET HERDS BANGS CERTIFIED AND TB ACCREDITED - We have extremely good news in Virginia. The state is once again TB free and, of course, remains Brucellosis free. Breeders, and particularly those selling seedstock cattle that are not currently Bangs certified and TB accredited should consider making a move to obtain this health status. For the breeder who ships cattle across state lines, certification and accreditation is definitely an advantage. The requirements for obtaining Bangs Certification and TB Accreditation is that the entire herd be tested and found negative twice within a twelve month period and then tested and found negative annually thereafter. Some commercial herds will also profit from certification and accreditation, but purebred herds in most instances definitely will.