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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, January 1998

Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

As I write this column we are just days away from the official start of winter. The fall has been a mixed bag in Virginia with some areas getting plenty of rain and in other areas still a bit dry. The general dry conditions during the summer and fall definitely cut into the hay and other winter feed supply on many, many farms. Winter is a challenging time for the livestock producer and management is the key to getting the animals through the winter and to the green grass of spring. Here are some thoughts:

  1. WHAT BULL BUYERS CONSIDER IMPORTANT - I have always had a fascination for the auction sales of bulls. It has been very interesting for me to watch bull buyers as they select and purchase bulls at auctions over the last 35 years. In years gone by we would see many commercial cow/calf producers come to auction sales with the notion of buying a bull that fit into their price range. They always wanted a good bull but after reviewing the offering they would decide the general quality of bulls offered was okay and they would try to buy the bull or bulls they needed. In the last few years this has changed considerably. Most buyers now come to bull sales with a definite notion of the breed they want, the quality of bull they want, and the kind of numbers to back up the genetic potential of the bulls they are interested in. Most of these discriminating buyers will do a good job with their homework before they arrive at the sale site. They will have just a few bulls picked out that will suit them on paper. Many of them are more concerned with the quality of the bull then they are with the price. Thus we now see bulls in auction sales go at fairly widely varying prices because many buyers today think very much alike. This has led me to analyze what appears to be important to most of these buyers. These factors seem to me are the ones that have to do with the demand and thus the prices paid.

    1. Performance - Bulls have to have documented performance records that are indeed above average for the herd from whence they came or from the test group at a central test station if that be the situation. Bulls with negative ratios, in other words, weaning weight or yearling weight ratios below 100 or dam progeny records for weaning weight or yearling weight below 100, are a turn off for many buyers. We all know that individual performance is not as good an indicator as EPDs of genetic merit and breeding value, but in the minds of most buyers is a part of that package and is considered very important.

    2. EPDs - Buyers have become very discriminating in this area and the bulls with the most demand will be bulls with excellence in EPDs for two or more traits including birth weight, weaning weight, yearling weight, and maternal milk. Buyers like below breed average or at least moderate birth weight EPDs, above breed average weaning weight EPDs, average or slightly above maternal milk EPDs, and above breed average yearling weight EPDs. They like to see consistent EPDs on Sire and Dam, and prefer sons of sires that have high accuracy on EPDs over sons of young bulls with very low accuracy.

    3. Predictability - Sound, solid performance pedigrees on both Sire and Dam as well as the young bull in question are required by most discriminating bull buyers. They like to see the production record of the bull's dam and based on weaning weight, be positive in terms of ratios.

    4. Conformation - This is still a very important factor. Frame size is part of this conformation area and the biggest demand is for 5 and 6 frame bulls with lesser demands for 7 frame bulls and very scant demand for 8 frame bulls and 4 frame bulls. Muscling is very important as well. Buyers like broad top, thick quartered bulls that indicate muscling and indicate that they will sire the kind of feeder calves that will grade number one thickness. Ultrasound measures are useful but are yet not well understood by most commercial bull buyers. Above average ribeye areas and above average intramuscular fat percentage indicating marbling, add icing to the bull selection cake.

    5. Body Condition - Finally, body condition becomes an important factor particularly in bull sales which are consignment sales that take bulls directly from farms. At least average body condition is desired by almost every buyer and most will pay more money for bulls in excellent condition versus bulls that are on the thin side.

      The new Virginia marketing program called Virginia Quality Assured Feeder Calves is having some effect on what bull buyers are looking for in terms of yearling weight EPDs. For calves to qualify from a genetics standpoint in the Virginia Quality Assured program, they must be sired by bulls in most breeds that are average or above for yearling weight EPD for their particular breed. The average yearling weight EPD for Angus bulls born in 1996 is 51 pounds, for Hereford bulls 49 pounds, for Simmental bulls 49 pounds, for Charolais bulls 7.4 pounds, and for Gelbvieh bulls 9 pounds. For the purebred breeder to produce bulls that are in high demand the sires he uses must have excellent balanced EPDs and have high accuracy which means that proven bulls through AI must be the sires of most commercial bulls.

  2. BULL SALES IN FULL SWING - Some 75% of the commercial herds in Virginia calve in the months of January through May with the biggest end of them calving in February, March, and April. This means that bulls turned out to breed cows in commercial herds go to pasture with the cows from anywhere from late March through May. The months of December through April are the heavy bull buying months for commercial herds. Based on the first several sales that have been held in late 1997, to supply this demand, prices are up sharply from a year ago. Prices for bulls and other seedstock generally follow the trends in the commercial market. Two Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association consignment bull sales were held in late November and early December. At Blackstone, 27 bulls averaged $1698. Angus bulls averaged $1690 and Simmental $1767. At that sale 57 bred heifers sold at very reasonable prices averaging $554. In the Staunton sale on December 6th, 40 bulls averaged $1727 with 36 Angus at $1787, 2 Charolais at $925, and 2 Gelbvieh at $1500. One hundred fifty one spring calving bred commercial heifers sold at a strong $717 average. The Virginia BCIA Culpeper Senior bull sale held on December 13th, 82 bulls averaged $1814 with 73 Angus at $1788, 6 Simmental at $2242, and 3 Polled Hereford at $1600. At Abingdon, the Virginia's finest Angus bull sale in early December, saw 55 bulls average $1287. There will be many other bull sales held in the early part of 1998. The Red House Senior bull sale will see 94 bulls sell on Saturday, January 3rd. The Wytheville BCIA bull sale will be held on Saturday, March 28th and some 145 bulls will sell. The BCIA Culpeper Junior bull sale is slated with 85 bulls to sell Friday, April 10th. Those commercial producers interested in buying bulls should get out early, should study their lesson, and select and buy the bulls either privately or through auction sales well in advance of the time they need to turn bulls with their cows for the spring breeding season. Excellent performance data and EPDs are available on most bulls that are available today and should be utilized heavily in making bull selections.

  3. YOU BUY THE CORN - I was at a recent bull sale when a consignor came in with a couple of bulls that were a little on the lean side and he said "Well there's one thing about my bulls, they know how to eat fescue". These bulls were weighed in preparation for the sale and turned out about 150 pounds lighter than most other bulls their same age were weighing. I said to this consignor that there is an old adage that says "The breeder taking seedstock cattle to a sale pays for the corn whether the cattle eat it or not". Over the years I have seen this be a truism because almost invariably animals in a sale that are thinner and lighter in weight than desirable, bring fewer dollars. In truth the seller pays for the feed the cattle didn't eat by taking a lesser price for the animals at auction. There is an old saying that fat is a pretty color and this is not to say animals should be over-fat or obese at sale time but it is to say that almost any buyer will pay more dollars for animals of similar quality if they are carrying adequate condition. I guess the lesson here would be to the purebred breeder who plans to take cattle to an auction. Plans should be made well in advance of the sale date. The condition of the cattle to be sold should be assessed and a feeding program should be put in force to assure that cattle are in condition scores of 5, 6 or 7 on a scale of 1 to 9 at sale time.

  4. TREAT FOR LICE IN JANUARY - My standard recommendation for beef cattle producers in terms of treating for lice is to do it on New Years Day. Obviously it doesn't have to be done on New Years Day but it helps us to remember that this management practice is very important on most cattle. Lice rob profits and are usually are not seen as early as January but by February and early March a lot of damage will already would have been done. Lice reduce the efficiency of cattle and take a real toll that many times goes unnoticed. There are many excellent products on the market, so take your pick. Pour on or spot on grubicide products for the most part should not be used unless similar products were used in the fall to kill grubs. However, after about February 15th these grubicide materials may be safely used once again.

  5. BANGS VACCINATE REPLACEMENT HEIFERS - Virginia is a Brucellosis free state and we surely want to keep it that way. Certainly any herd owner never wants a Brucellosis reactor on his farm or any problem with that dread disease. This is a reminder that all replacement heifers, pure bred or commercial, should be vaccinated for Brucellosis with strain 19 by a veterinarian between the ages of 8 and 12 months. If you have heifers that will one day be cows be sure they get vaccinated against bangs before they are too old.

  6. CREEP GRAZE FALL CALVES ON SMALL GRAIN - If you have fall born or early winter calves and have small grain available, creep grazing such calves on this material during the dead of winter and in the spring will definitely work for you. The nutritive value of small grain grazing is excellent for calves and will give them a cheap source of protein and energy. Creep gates or creep holes can be made in existing gateways or in fences to allow these young calves to leave their mothers for short periods of time and graze small grain. Creep holes should be 40 inches high and 18 inches wide.

  7. GIVE NEWBORN CALVES PROPER ATTENTION - Winter calving gets into full swing in January and February with probably the largest number of calves being born in February and March. It is imperative that calves be born alive and kept alive until market time. On those cold winter nights be sure you have a place out of the cold wind for cows going to calve. This may be a pine thicket on the lee side of a hill or may be a calving barn. When you find a newborn calf that is chilled bring him into a warm place and get him thawed out and some colostrum in him quickly.

    If a young calf becomes dehydrated from scours or from some other reason use powdered electrolytes which are readily available and designed to be mixed with warm water and put into the young calf using an esophageal feeder. A calf with an digestive upset that has become dehydrated should not be given milk but should be given only electrolyte solution immediately. Dip naval cords in iodine if calves are in muddy or messy environments. Castrate bull calves and dehorn those that have horns at an early age. The time to do all this with the least stress is when calves are in their first month or so of life. Newborn calves should be routinely given a shot of Vitamin A, D and E and selenium. Many producers make it a practice to vaccinate with seven way clostridial knowing full well that calves will need another booster at 4 or 5 months of age. If you are a pure bred breeder, birth weight should be taken within the first 24 hours. All calves in pure bred or commercial herds should be identified and ear tagged at birth. In some herds it works extremely well to put the same number on the newborn calf of that of its mother, though other systems work equally well. Remember that feeding expectant cows or heifers at about dark will greatly reduce the number of them that will calve during the darkness hours and increase the number that will calve during daylight hours. In any event, work hard to save those youngsters.

  8. WATER AND MINERALS IMPORTANT IN WINTER - The most essential nutrient for livestock of course is water. Water may be a problem in winter because of frozen pipes, frozen running water, or some other reason. Remember that on a daily basis, 400-800 pound calves will consume 4 to 7 gallons of water in winter. Finishing cattle in the feed lot that will weigh 800-1200 pounds will consume 8 to 11 gallons of water in winter. Eight to nine hundred pound bred heifers will consume 7 to 10 gallons of water in the winter. Thousand to 1300 pound cows will consume 9 to 13 gallons of winter while they will consume 18 to 25 gallons in the summer. As a general rule of thumb, cattle will consume 10% of their body weight in water during the winter and close to 1% of their body weight in the summer. Minerals for cattle are just as important in winter as in the summer. Remember that for cow herds and stocker cattle that are eating primarily forages, that a mineral containing a calcium to phosphorous ratio of 2 to 1 is about right. For feed lot cattle on a high grain ration their needs will be met with a mineral containing a calcium to phosphorous ratio of 4 to 1 or 5 to 1 since grains are a good source of phosphorous. Don't buy more phosphorous than you need because it is the expensive ingredient in a mineral mix. For cows that are calving or that have calved you will want to add magnesium to the mineral mix to guard against grass tetany or winter tetany, which it is often called. Commercial mixes should contain at least 12% magnesium. Over most of Virginia, particularly in the mountain areas, selenium should be added to the mineral mix with most mineral mixes containing 40 parts per million selenium. Minerals do cost money but they pay dividends. Use them in a well balanced beef cattle nutrition program year round.

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