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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, February 1998

Ike Eller, Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech

As I write this column in mid-January, we are just coming out of the big January thaw for 1998. We have had about ten days of extremely warm weather which has caused tremendous growth in small grains and even fescue pastures. No doubt it has saved some feed and we will need it because it is a long time until spring. We are in the middle of winter and surviving winter and the economic conditions are on the minds of every beef producer. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Cattle and Calves Rank Third: Income to Virginia farmers from the sale of cattle and calves rank third among all agricultural commodities for the year 1996, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services publication entitled "Virginia Agricultural Statistics Bulletin 1996". Receipts from sale of cattle and calves ranked third among Virginia agricultural commodities with farm gate receipts of $211.3 million. Virginia's production amounted to 1.32% of the U.S. total. The ranking of the top ten agricultural commodities are as follows: 1) broilers-$466.4 million; 2) milk-$290 million; 3) cattle and calves-$211.3 million; 4) turkeys-$204.3 million; 5) tobacco-$187.8 million; 6) corn grain-$96.3 million; 7) soybeans-$95.6 million; 8) hogs-$81.4 million; 9) eggs-$75.4 million; and 10) winter wheat-$69.3 million. In terms of total Virginia cash receipts, animals accounted for 60% and crops of all kinds 40% of the total agricultural income. Poultry and eggs accounted for 32.7%, field crops 26.6%, meat animals 12.6%, milk 12.2%, vegetables 2.2%, greenhouse and nursery 6.6%, fruit and nuts 2.2%, and other 4.9%.

  2. More Than EPDs in Sire Summaries: Both purebred and commercial beef producers have become adept at using EPDs in the selection of herd sires and other seedstock. The major traits of interest are birth weight, weaning weight, maternal milk, and yearling weight. EPDs, in most breed associations however, are available on a number of other traits including maternal weaning weight, yearling hip height, scrotal circumference, and carcass traits including carcass weight, marbling, ribeye area, fat thickness, and percent retail product. Other traits available from various breed association sire summaries include calving eaves heifers and mature cows, mature daughter weight, and mature daughter height. EPDs are indeed extremely useful in comparing animals within a breed. All EPDs are also reported with accuracy, which give us an indication of the change that may be expected when more records are added. In other words, accuracy can range from 0 to 1.0 and the higher the accuracy, the more dependable the EPDs for any trait. Unproven non-parent bulls or females will have accuracy up to about .3. Accuracy on these animals will depend upon the amount of data on sires, dams, and collateral relatives. The more data, the more accuracy. Bulls to be considered proven must have accuracy on various traits of at least .8, and the very highly accurate bulls by virtue of having lots of progeny records will range between .95 and .99. Usually breeders who plan to select sires for use through artificial insemination prefer these high accuracy bulls and should. The other information that is often times under-utilized is the percentile rank for each trait EPD of any animal. The percentile rank within the particular breed may be obtained from the tables in the front of the sire summary. Animals whose EPDs for any trait are average for that breed will have a percentile rank of 50%. Those above average will have a higher percentile number, but will really show a lower percentile. For example, in the Angus breed for non-parent bulls born in 1996, the average weaning weight is 29 pounds or 50%. A bull with a weaning weight EPD of 38 pounds is in the top 10 percentile. I have found it very interesting to use Roy Wallace's "power index" in evaluating the four major traits based on EPD percentile rank. The way this works is to look up the percentile for each of the four major traits of birth weight, weaning weight, maternal milk, and yearling weight. Add these percentiles together and divide by 4 to get the average. This "power index" is very useful in making an evaluation of animals such as bulls in a sale.

    Sire summaries made available at no cost from national breed associations can be obtained simply for making a request to the association or associations of interest. They will mail sire summaries for the asking. Listed here are a number of these associations: American Angus Association, 3201 Frederick Blvd., St. Joseph, Missouri, 64506; American Gelbvieh Association, 10900 Dover Street, West Minster, Colorado, 80021; American Hereford Association, P.O. Box 014059, Kansas City, Missouri, 64101; American International Charolais Association, P.O. Box 20247, Kansas City, Missouri, 64195; American Salers Association, 5600 South Quebec, Suite 220 A, Englewood, Colorado, 80111; American Shorthorn Association, 8288 Hascall Street, Omaha, Nebraska, 68124; American Simmental Association, 1 Simmental Way, Bozeman, Montana, 59715; American Tarentaise Association, P.O. Box 34705, 1912 Clay Street, North Kansas City, Missouri, 64116; Beefmaster Breeders Universal, 6800 Park Ten Blvd., Suite 290, W. San Antonio, Texas 78213; North American Limousin Foundation, P.O. Box 4467, Englewood, Colorado, 80155; Red Angus Association of America, 4201 I-35 North, Denton, Texas 76207-3415.

  3. Seedstock Industry Develops in Virginia: Back when I started my career as Extension Beef Cattle Specialist in the early 1960s, performance testing was indeed in its infancy, and at that time was not well received, or well understood by most cattlemen and certainly this would include purebred breeders. The Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association was the first organization of its kind in the country and was founded in 1955. Back in those early years, every breeder was interested in selecting cattle with more average daily gain, in other words, more growth rate. But because of the power of the show ring and the long history of selection based on eyeball appraisal, type or confirmation as judged by the eyeball, was considered much more important than performance data for most breeders. Virginia breeders did buy in heavily to the performance testing programs and as national breed associations begun to put excellent breed-wide performance testing programs in effect, Virginia breeders were among the first to utilize them in large numbers. In addition to on-farm testing, central bull test stations have been operated in Virginia since 1958 and indeed have had a tremendous educational impact on both purebred and commercial breeders. When EPDs became available, Virginia purebred breeders were among the first to realize that these data were extremely valuable and really much more powerful than the individual's own performance record. This put the seedstock breeders in Virginia ahead of many others around the country. Most progressive purebred breeders in Virginia tested bulls in the central bull test stations at Culpeper, Wytheville, and Red House. Many of these progressive breeders today have seen the need to go beyond the central test station and have indeed tested many more bulls past the weaning stage on their own farms or in other central test facilities such as the one operated by George Wynn at Gretna or Tom Nixon at Rapidan. Well bred, completely performance tested bulls now are available in many auction sales as well as privately from these Virginia breeders. We are extremely proud of these purebred breeders and the breeding and marketing programs that they have pioneered and are pioneering. The benefactor is the commercial cattle producer. In addition to bulls, the other part of seedstock production is the production of commercial replacement heifers. We have seen a number of producers make a business out of raising and marketing bred commercial heifers. They require that these heifers come out of performance programs. They grow them out properly and breed them either AI or naturally to low birth weight EPD bulls. J.D. Scott at Moneta and Bill Tucker at Amherst are but two examples of this kind of development. Beef cattle production is extremely important in the state of Virginia and we are proud of our innovative seedstock producers.

  4. Deworm and De-lice: The treatment for the control of lice on most beef cattle should have taken place in January, but February is not too late. Most of the rubbing activity in cattle will be noticed in February and March. There are a number of excellent pour-on materials specifically for lice and systemics that kill lice and grubs which may be used safely after February 15th on cattle that were not treated for grubs last fall. Young cattle that have been wintered on pasture, though they may have been dewormed last fall, will probably need a deworming in mid-winter. February is a good time. The brown stomach worm which lives in the lining of the stomach of cattle in late fall and early winter, may emerge in late January through February and cattle may become parasitized in a very short period of time. For February deworming, utilize any of the good deworming materials on the market. All are effective and should be selected on the basis of price and convenience. Mature cows will generally not need to be dewormed at this time. Stomach worms primarily damage young, growing cattle. Older animals have a natural immunity.

  5. Plan to Overseed Clover or Alfalfa in February or March: February and March are the two months of the year to get overseeding of clover or alfalfa in meadows and pasture land done for best results. If you are going to broadcast seed, February is the best month. When broadcasting or putting seed in with a drill, be sure that grass is grazed right down to the ground before seeding, especially if the seed is broadcast. Running a chain over the field after seeding will incorporate the seed into the ground and is a good practice. If you have fed cattle on fields during the winter, you will spread manure as you scratch clover or alfalfa seed in. Be sure you are using medium red clover, probably 4 to 5 pounds per acre and you may want to add a couple of pounds of ladino clover per acre. Many producers have been successful in adding alfalfa to hay fields that are being used for hay and grazing. The variety Alfagraze looks good but other adapted hay varieties work well also. Seed 4 to 6 pounds per acre in most incidences. It is best to drill alfalfa seed in with a no-till drill. To get a good stand of alfalfa or clover, the management of the grass and the legume mixture in early spring is particularly critical. You should be in a position to force graze newly seeded fields a couple of times early in the grazing season when the grass is six to ten inches tall. Turn in cattle to quickly graze down grass so that young legume seedlings have a chance to grow. It may be necessary to graze down grass growth twice to get the job done. Decide on the management for your farm, but remember that controlled grazing will help get and maintain a good stand of alfalfa or red clover and can be very helpful where these legumes are in mixtures with orchard grass or fescue. Be sure to test the soil and make sure the pH is 6.0 or above and that fertility levels of phosphorous and potash are adequate. Fertilize and lime according to soil tests.

  6. PT Bull Sales in March and April: Two bull sales at Virginia Beef Cattle Improvement Association Central Bull Test Stations are scheduled for March and April. One hundred and forty five bulls will be sold at the Southwest Bull Test Station at Wytheville on Saturday, March 28th. These bulls will represent the top two-thirds of the 216 bulls on test which include 62 senior bulls and 154 junior bulls. Combine these include 139 Angus, 5 Polled Herefords, 12 Charolais, 50 Simmental, and 10 Gelbvieh. The Southwest Bull Test Station is located three miles north of Wytheville, just off Interstate 81 exit 77. Call Jack Poole for information at 540-637-3550. There will be an open house at the test station on Sunday afternoon March 15th. On Friday, April 10th, 58 bulls will sell at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises at 2:00 PM. These will represent the top two-thirds of the 133 junior bulls on test at Glenmary Farm operated by Tom Nixon near Rapidan. Bulls on test include 107 Angus, 15 Polled Hereford, 5 Charolais, 3 Simmental, 1 Limousin, and 2 Salers. Call Tom Nixon at 540-854-6994. For additional information on bull tests and sales contact Virginia BCIA, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0306, 540-231-9163. For catalogs contact sale manager at VA Sale Services at Route 2 Box 446, Staunton, Virginia 24401-9432, 540-337-3001.

  7. Prepare for the Breeding Season: Cow/calf producers who calve in late winter and early spring should do some serious planning as time draws closer for the next breeding season which will start in April or May. The goal should be to get a high percentage of cows and heifers pregnant within the first 21 days of the breeding season and to get 100% of them pregnant in a short 60 to 90 day breeding season. Here are some points to consider:

    1. Control Diseases: Most cows and virgin heifers should be vaccinated while open ahead of the breeding season against IBR, PI3, PVD, BRSV, Lepto, Vibriosis, and perhaps Haemophilus Somnus. It is generally best to use a combination vaccine with modified live materials for IBR, PI3, PVD and BRSV. Consult your veterinarian for advice.

    2. Cow Condition: Cows and heifers should go into calving season in average or better condition and then be fed 50% more nutrients after they calve so that they will maintain a condition score on a scale of 1 to 9 of 5, 6 or 7 at the beginning of breeding season. Thin cows or heifers should be segregated from others and given more groceries to bring their body condition up.

    3. Heifer Development: Remember that virgin heifers being bred at 13 to 15 months of age to calve as 2 year olds need to weigh at least two-thirds of what they are expected to weigh as mature cows. Of course, their body condition should be 5 to 7 at breeding time.

    4. Bull Power: If you are breeding naturally as most commercial producers do, make sure bulls are sound and fertile. Get old bulls checked by a veterinarian for breeding soundness prior to the breeding season. If they are questionable or sterile replace them. Yearling bulls can handle 15 to 20 cows and two year old or older bulls 25 to 40 cows. If using artificial insemination select the right estrous synchronization program to help cut down on labor and get a high percentage of eligible females settled on one AI breeding and then use natural service clean up bulls to finish the job.

    5. Breeding Season Length: For well managed herds, breeding season length on virgin heifers are 45 to 60 days and on mature cows 60 to 90 days is about right for most operations. It is a good idea to breed virgin heifers so they will calve for the first time three to four weeks ahead of the main cow herd if at all possible. This allows those young heifers that are still growing and milking and raising a calf a little extra time to get re-bred along with the main cow herd for their second calves.

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