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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, November 1997

Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

1997 has been a most unusual year with a very dry and almost snowless weather; a cold, late, dry spring; and a growing season punctuated by a lack of rainfall in most areas. Many producers are short of winter feed, and the fall grazing season was cut short by dry conditions. This will be a longer than normal winter in terms of feeding cattle, and management will indeed be critical.

Here are some thoughts.

  1. 611 bulls are On Test. This is the 40th consecutive year Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association and its members have tested and sold bulls at the central bull test stations in Virginia. By the time you read this, there will be 611 bulls On Test at Culpeper, Red House, and Wytheville, with 408 of them scheduled to sell in four auctions in late 1997 and early 1998. About 2/3 in each test group will make up the sales. At Culpeper, there are 125 senior bulls On Test, and 84 of them will sale at the Culpeper Agriculture Enterprises in Culpeper, Virginia on Saturday, Dec. 13 at noon. There are 130 junior bulls on test, with 81 bulls scheduled to sale on Friday, April 10. Only senior bulls are tested at Red House. There are 141 bulls On Test, with 93 scheduled for sale on the first Saturday in January (January 3) at noon. At the Southwest Bull Test Station at Wytheville, there are 216 bulls On Test (62 seniors, 154 juniors). A combined sale of 144 bulls is scheduled for the last Saturday in March (March 28) at noon at the Southwest Bull Test Station. Information on bulls On test can be obtained from the Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association, by writing VA BCIA, Department of Animal and Poultry Science, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0306 or calling (540) 231-9163. Catalogs for sale may be requested from the sales manager, VA Sales Services, Route 2, Box 446, Staunton, VA 24401-9432, (540) 337-3001.

  2. Staunton and Blackstone Bull and Replacement Heifer Sales. Two very important performance tested bull sales, combined with commercial bred heifer sales, are coming up in late November and early December. The first of these will be held in Blackstone on Friday, November 21 at 6:30 p.m. There will be about 35 service-aged, performance tested bulls, 30 open heifers, and 50 spring calving bred heifers. The all-breed PT bulls and commercial bred heifer sales at Staunton will be held Saturday, December 6 at Augusta Expoland at noon. The Staunton sale will be made up of 45 service-aged, performance tested bulls and 105 spring calving bred commercial heifers. For additional information and catalogs, contact sale manager Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattleman's Association, PO Box 176, Daleville, VA 24083, (540) 992-1009

  3. Pregnancy check and cull cows. November is the time when commercial or purebred cow herds that are calving in winter and spring should be pregnancy checked and evaluated by a qualified veterinary or technician. Cows that are open, old, lame, or poor producers should be culled. Slaughter cow prices are at about the same level as a year ago, between $30 - 40 per hundred weight. This year producers with open cows may be tempted to keep them because of the improved market for feeder cattle. But because of the scarcity of feed on most farms, keeping an open cow is an unsound and uneconomical practice. In almost all instances, it is best to cull open cows, replace them with bred heifers, either raised or purchased, or bred cows. The slaughter cow market generally shows some additional strengths after the first of the year and, if feed is plentiful, it may be wise to add weight to cows and sell them during that time frame, rather than marketing them in the fall when the market is saturated with cull cows. At the time the cows are pregnancy checked, it is an excellent time to mouth cows if age is unknown and write down the exact or approximate age of each cow. When mouthing, remember that incisors are important. Two-year-olds have two permanent incisors and a five-year-old has eight permanent incisors. From 2 to 5 years of age, cows get two new incisors each year. Old cows and those with badly worn teeth and broken mouths due to age should defiantly be culled along with unsound cows, bad uttered cows, and those with other physical infirmities.

  4. November is deworming time. All young cattle, whether raised or purchased, should be dewormed around November. This is the same time period that producers deworm cows, although it looks as if deworming mature cows is not as necessary as deworming first calf cows and younger cattle. The bottom line is, put the money you plan to spend on deworming on young cattle. If young cattle are dewormed at this time and wintered in a dry lot, they will not need another deworming. If, however, they are wintered on pasture, and most are, they will probably need another deworming in January. The November deworming in most instances should utilize a product that will kill brown stomach worms in the inhibited stage. There are a number of good deworming products on the market that fit the bill, including Ivomec, Synanthic, Valbizon, Ivomec Eprinex (a new one), Dectomax, or a double dose of Safe Guard. With the scarcity of feed that most producers face going into winter, it will not be a good winter to let internal parasites rob cattle of good nutrition.

  5. 1997 Virginia Beef Cow-Calf Conference - December 8th. The 1997 Virginia Beef Cow-Calf Conference is a one-day educational program designed for commercial cow calf producers, backgrounders, purebred breeders, professional workers, and allied industry personnel to be held at the Ingleside Hotel in Staunton on Monday, December 8. The theme of this conference will be "Practical Alliances for Virginia Cattleman."

    An outstanding line-up of nationally recognized speakers are on tap for the Cow-Calf Conference. Casey Kelly, of Cattle-Fax of Denver, Colorado, will speak on the topic "The Economic Climate for Cattle Producers and Future Implications." Warren Weibert, who operates the Decatur County Feedyard, at Oberlin, Kansas and who has fed cattle for a number of Virginia producers, will speak on the topic of "The Elements of Profitability In Feeding and Marketing Producers Cattle." Larry Corah, of the National Cattleman's Beef Association, will present "An Overview of Alliances and Packers Interest in Genetic Control." Dave Nichols, of Nichols Farms in Bridgewater Iowa, will speak on the topic "Our Experience In Making Practical Alliances Work." Virginia Tech's Bill McKinnon will acquaint producers on what has been learned through producer retained ownership feed-out programs in Virginia and many other states across the country. Reggie Reynolds, Executive Secretary of the Virginia Cattleman's Association, will acquaint producers with current and new alliance approaches in Virginia and will chair a panel of producers giving their experiences with alliances. This panel will include: Jim Myers, Extension Agent in Buckingham County, James Bennett, of Red House, John Mitchell of Hot Springs, and Jerry Burner of Luray. Each of these panelists will talk about their experience with programs of marketing, retained ownership, partnering with feeders, and working with small producers in alliances.

    Pre-registration is requested by Nov. 28 and should be sent to John Hall, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0306, (540) 231-5253. A conference registration fee of $25 per person will cover lunch and a printed proceedings. Mark this date on your calendar and plan to attend the Cow-Calf Conference. It is going to be a good one.

  6. Bull Fertility. Research has pointed out a couple of interesting things about bull fertility. Dr. Neal Schrick of the University of Tennessee recently reported on research to answer the question about the fertility of bulls coming off of performance testing programs. It has been theorized that an increase in back fat will cause scrotal fat deposit impairing the thermoregulation of the testicles and, therefore, reduce fertility. Dr. Schrick and his group recorded body weights and scrotal circumference on 147 bulls at the beginning of the 112-day test during which the bulls were fed a 70% TDN ration. The bulls were weighed off test measured for back fat at the 12th rib and given a breeding soundness exam to determine scrotal circumference, and percent normal sperm (sperm morphology and sperm motility). Ultrasonic measurements were taken on bulls with scrotal circumferences of 30 cm or more to measure fat thickness at the largest circumference of the scrotum and at the neck of the scrotum. These researchers found that back fat thickness was not related to scrotal fat, scrotal neck fat or sperm morphology. Neither scrotal neck fat nor scrotal fat, exhibited any relationship to sperm morphology. Backfat was not related to off-test scrotal circumference. Back fat and sperm morphology were correlated with age. Scrotal fat and scrotal neck fat were not associated with back fat in performance tested bulls. Therefore, decreased fertility observed previously in bulls with increased back fat may not be due to increased insulation (fat) in the scrotum affecting scrotal temperature and spermatogenesis as previously believed.

    Dr. Roy Ax of the University of Arizona working with producers including King Ranch in Texas say a new tool in finding sub-fertile bulls can increase pregnancy rates. A laboratory test conducted on a semen sample can detect the presence of fertility associated antigen (FAA) on sperm membranes. "Selecting bulls with FAA in sperm membranes compared with bulls without measurable FAA results in production of about 5 more calves per 25 cows exposed to a bull," says Dr. Ax. "If selection of bulls with FAA resulted in only one additional calf weaned per herd, the national economical impact to producers would be approximately $19.2 million."

    Since 1991, field trials have been conducted using more than 400 beef bulls mated with 10,000 cows. Groups of 1 to 14 bulls were pastured at a ratio of 1 bull to 25 cows. Pastures containing bulls with FAA had 17 percentage points greater fertility than pastures of bulls without FAA. The cost of determining the presence of FAA in semen samples is about $30 or about $1 per cow. According to Ax, if testing helps the producer realize a 1% increase in marketable calves in a 100 cow herd, the test would be profitable assuming a $500 gross profit per additional calf and a test cost of $100. This technology is not commercially available, but very well may be in the future.

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