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Beef Management Tips

Livestock Update, March 1998

Ike Eller, Extension animal scientist emeritus, Virginia Tech

So far 1998 has been a just as wet as 1997 was dry. In the Roanoke area, through the first week of February, the total rainfall was nearly 12 inches since January 1st. This is as much rain as we received in this area into the month of May of last year. The winter, though wet, has been mild up to now. Winter is a busy time and cattle management is critical. Here are some thoughts:

  1. January 1st Cattle Inventory Down As Expected - The January 1, 1998 USDA cattle numbers reported on February 1st bore out our expectations. Cattle numbers in nearly every category are down. In the U.S. all cattle and calves stood at 99.5 million, down 2% from January 1, 1997 and down 4% from January 1, 1996. Virginia's cattle numbers are 1.76 million, down 4% from a year earlier. In the U.S. beef cows number 33.7 million, down 2% from 1997 and 4% from 1996. Virginia's cow numbers slipped 3% and stand at 720,000 a head. Nationally, milk cows number 9.19 million, down 1% from a year earlier. In Virginia milk cows number 120,000, down 4% from a year earlier. Beef replacement heifers in the U.S. are 5.75 million, down 5% from 1997 and down 7% from 1996. Beef replacements in Virginia are 120,000, down 8%. Milk replacements in the U.S. stand at 3.98 million, down 2% and in Virginia 55,0000, down 8% compared to a year earlier. There are 10 million other heifers in the U.S., down 2% from last year and 75,000 in Virginia, down 12% from last year. Steers over 500 pounds number 17.2 million in the U.S. and are down only 1% from 1997 but down 3% from 1996. Steers over 500 pounds in Virginia number 205,000, down 2% from 1997. Calves under 500 pounds are 17.4 million in the U.S. and are down 3% from 1997 and down 6% from 1996. They stand at 420,000 in Virginia, down 3% from 1997. Cattle and calves on feed in the U.S. number 13.6 million, up 3% from 1997 and up 5% from 1996. In Virginia, cattle on feed number 30,000 unchanged from a year earlier. The 1997 calf crop in the U.S. stands at 38.7 million, down 3% from 1996 and down 4% from 1995. In Virginia the calf crop is 780,000 head, down 1% from 1996. The total number of cattle operations in the U.S. for 1997 number 1.17 million, down 2% from 1996 and down 4% from 1995. The 34,000 operations with cattle in Virginia for 1997 are up 2,000 from 1996 for a 6% increase. In Virginia 24,000 farms report 1 to 49 head of cattle, 5,200 operations report 50-99 head of cattle, and 4,500 farms report 100-499 cattle.

  2. March - Last Chance To Overseed Clover/Alfalfa - If you plan to overseed clover or alfalfa on hay fields or pasture, remember it can be done in March but should be done as early as possible and before significant growth of grass occurs. If you overseed in March the best results will be obtained if you use a no-till drill. Next best is to be sure the seed is scratched in to get good soil contact using a chain herald. A healthy stand of legumes in orchard grass or fescue fields will produce not only more feed but a much higher quality feed and the nitrogen that is fixed by these plants in the soil is a bonus creating savings on fertilizer dollars. Remember that grazing management where clover or alfalfa is overseeded is critical to prevent shading out of legume plants by the faster growing grasses. It may be necessary to "quick graze" fields that are overseeded one or more times to insure that young clover or alfalfa plants get a good start.

  3. Prepare For Grass Tetany Season - There is always a concern for the prevention of grass tetany particularly in early spring and late fall when lush pastures are available. Grass tetany is a condition brought about by an imbalance of electrolytes and a lack of magnesium in the animal's system. Animals do not store magnesium in bones as they do other minerals. Magnesium is stored in the soft tissues and must be ingested on a daily basis. Cattle more apt to be affected with grass tetany are older cows after they have calved. To guard against grass tetany problems utilize a mineral mix containing magnesium. If you use a commercial mineral mix be sure it contained at least 12% magnesium. For a homemade mix use equal parts by weight of trace mineralized salt, dicalcium phosphate, magnesium oxide, and soybean mill or another feed such as dried molasses or finely ground shelled corn to make the mix palatable. Many producers keep cow herds on magnesium containing mineral mix throughout the year. Check your minerals and be sure your herd is protected during late winter and spring.

  4. Prepare For The Breeding Season - Breeding season for most late winter and spring calving programs will begin in April or May. Success of the breeding season may be measured in the percentage of cows that get settled in the first month of the breeding season. There are a number of check points as preparation is made for the start of the breeding season. Some of these are:

    1. Flesh Condition - flesh condition in a set of cows or heifers is the key to whether they will cycle in a short 45 days after calves are born and be ready to breed. Remember that optimum cycling and thus conception rate will occur when cows are carrying average or above flesh condition. If cows or heifers are thin it may be money well spent to add grains such as corn or barley or another high energy source to bring females up to average flesh condition.

    2. Health - Both cows and heifers should be vaccinated against IBR, PI3, PVD, Lepto, and Vibriosis when they are open after calves are born and before breeding season starts. Most programs will call for the use of modified live respiratory disease materials but kill products may be called for in some programs realizing that the kill products will require two doses rather than one. An annual vaccination regime including inoculation against these diseases should be followed in every beef herd.

    3. Bull Power - First of all be sure bull power is sufficient. Remember that two year old and older bulls can service some 35 to 40 cows during the breeding season. Yearling bulls can breed 15 to 20 cows. Bulls should be thoroughly checked by a qualified veterinarian and should be given a thorough breeding soundness examination including a semen check. At the same time, look critically at eyes, feet, and legs. Bulls that don't measure up or those that are questionable should be culled and replaced before the breeding season.

    4. AI Usage - Many commercial producers have found that artificial insemination is a useful strategy particularly for breeding virgin heifers. Selecting low birth weight, calving ease bulls based on birth weight EPDs with high accuracy can vastly reduce calving difficulty and at the same time produce a set of calves from first calf heifers that have the desired traits to make them female replacements. Select the estrous-synchronization program for use that best fits your situation. The MGA-Prostaglandin program works extremely well on heifers. Feed .5 milligrams of MGA per day for 14 days and then remove the MGA from the supplemental feed. Seventeen days later heifers are injected with prostaglandin such as Lutalyse or Estrumate. Most will come in heat two to four days later and should be bred 12 hours after observing them in standing heat. Synchromate B has also been a good synchronization program for heifers. Heifers are implanted and injected and then 9 days later the implants come out and heifers are bred on appointment 48 to 52 hours later or 12 hours after being detected in standing heat. AI organization representatives are available to assist with synchronization and AI programs. A good Extension publication on estrous-synchronization and artificial insemination is available from your local Extension office. Also, excellent literature is available from most AI organizations.

  5. Good Field Results With Select Synch Programs - The new estrous-synchronization system for suckling beef cows known as "Select Synch" has been given a thorough field test during the last 12 months and at this point looks very good. The system involves an injection of GnRH (trade names Cystorelin, Factrel, or Fertagyl, all prescription drugs) to all animals eligible to be bred, followed 7 days later with an injection of Prostaglandin (trade names Lutalyse and Estrumate). Estrus detection should begin on day 6 after the GnRH injection hence 8% or so of normally cycling cows will come in heat on day 6 and may be bred 12 hours later. Therefore, Estrus detection should begin on day 6 and continue for 7 days. All animals detected in standing heat should be inseminated in 10 to 12 hours later. Most animals will display standing heat in day 2 to 4 following the prostaglandin injection. This system does not lend itself to breeding on appointment and does require heat detection though the synchrony of estrus is relatively tight. This system is recommended for cows 45 or longer postpartum and is recommended for use on cows three years old and older with a body condition score greater than or equal to 4. Personnel at Select Sires has worked with several scientists at universities and a number of cattlemen throughout the United States. To date, data has been compiled on 7,000 cows in the U.S. The 7,000 cows averaged 77% Estrus response rate. Using the conception rate achieved from the 1996 field trials of 66%, it was concluded that using the Select Synch system, a beef producer could achieve a 51% AI calf crop from basically 4 days of heat detection and putting cows through the shoot three times. The system for nursing cows looks like it has real promise and no doubt will be used extensively during the 1998 breeding season.

  6. 230 Bulls To Be Sold At BCIA Test Stations - Two excellent set of bulls of several breeds will be sold in the upcoming weeks. On Saturday, March 28th, 141 bulls will be sold at the Virginia BCIA Southwest Bull Test Station at Wytheville at the Danny Umberger Farm. These bulls represent the top performing two-thirds of 62 senior bulls and 150 junior bulls on test. Breeds represented include Angus, Polled Hereford, Charolais, Simmental and Gelbvieh. On Friday, April 10th at 2:00 PM, 89 junior bulls will sell at the Culpeper Agricultural Enterprises. They represent the top two-thirds of the 133 bulls on test at Glenmary Farm and include Angus, Polled Hereford, Charolais, Simmental, Limousin, and Salers. For information contact the Virginia BCIA, Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0306, (540) 231-9163. For catalogs contact Sale Manager at VA Sale Services, Route 2 Box 446, Staunton, VA 24401, (540) 337-3001. Catalogs for each sale will be available about two weeks ahead of the sale. Make requests now for catalogs.

  7. Virginia Beef Expo Sales April 24th and 25th - The Virginia Beef Expo will be held in Harrisonburg at the Rockingham County Fairground on April 24th and 25th. A full line-up of cattle sales is on tap for this year's Expo as follows: Friday, April 24th - Simmental at 10:30 AM, Limousin at 11:00 AM, Angus at 1:00 PM, Red Angus at 2:00 PM, Tarentaise at 4:00 PM, and Polled Hereford at 5:00 PM. Saturday, April 25th - Shorthorn at 10:00 AM, Charolais at 11:00 AM, Commercial Replacement Heifers at 1:00 PM, and Texas Longhorn at 2:00 PM. Most of the animals in these sales will be females but several sales do contain bulls. Commercial Replacement Heifer sale will include 150 to 200 excellent replacement heifers. Some will be fall calving heifers but the bulk will be exposed fall calvers or open heifers. There will be a private treaty pen bull sale with 20 to 30 bulls offered at private treaty including several breeds. For additional information contact the Expo Manager, Jim Johnson, Virginia Cattlemen's Association, Daleville, Virginia, (540) 992-1009. Contact individual sale managers for catalogs for breed sales.

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