Easy DIY mineral feeder
For very little cost, you can repurpose commonly cast-off items to construct a sturdy, portable mineral feeder. North Carolina State University animal scientist Matt Poore, PhD, demonstrates how to build the feeders in a video available online. He uses a plastic 55-gallon barrel and a large truck tire. The barrel fits into the tire, held with bolts that extend into, but not through, the tire, allowing some movement of the barrel. Poore then cuts an 18-inch hole with a reciprocating saw, with the bottom of the hole in line with the top of the tire. He suggests using blue or black barrels, which will last up to five years in the field. The white barrels are less sturdy and will wear out in about two years. As an option, you can bolt wooden runners to the bottom of the tire for towing across rough terrain. The feeders will hold about 100 pounds of mineral, enough to supplement 35 to 40 cows, and can easily be towed to new locations with an ATV.
View the YouTube video at youtu.be/ZlnDfWWeJd8.
Concurrent or selective parasite control?
The goal of any parasite-control plan is to make sure the maximum number of the highest-priority parasites is eliminated and you decrease parasite resistance in your herd. There are two types of parasite-control programs that producers can utilize:
• A CONCURRENT PARASITE-CONTROL protocol is based on a one-time, multi-product treatment. A concurrent protocol may be utilized when a producer only handles the cattle once, or it is determined by fecal eggcount diagnostics that the parasite population is most effectively controlled by a combination of products administered together.
• A SELECTIVE PARASITE-CONTROL program deploys a sequence of treatments, typically at times when cattle would otherwise be handled, such as at weaning and branding. The sequence of products is determined based on the lifecycle and prevalence of the parasites present.
“The decision should be based on your goals, your experience, information and the counsel of your local veterinarian, which is extremely important to helping you decide which protocol to use,” says veterinarian Doug Ensley, with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.
Questions to Consider
Before determining whether a concurrent or selective deworming protocol is right for you, Ensley recommends discussing the following topics with your local veterinarian:
• What time of year will you process your cattle?
• How many times do you process your cattle during the year?
• How are cattle handled?
• What are your production goals?
• What are the parasites that pose the maximum level of threat to your herd?
• Do you have current data about parasites infecting your herd?
• What does your veterinarian currently recommend for parasite control in your herd?
In either case, producers who choose their option based on data and the advice of their local veterinary expert stand an excellent chance of sending a faster growing, healthier animal to the feedlot.
“We need to be sure that we’re making the best selection; it is important to utilize the most efficacious products in the concurrent dose to minimize the risk of resistant parasites,” Ensley says. “To try to save money by using a less-effective product may compromise the entire program.”
Save on heifer development
Conventional wisdom has maintained that heifers should be grown to 60 to 65 percent of mature weight prior to breeding, but research shows that with proper management, ranchers can raise replacements to lighter weights at breeding, in range conditions, without sacrificing pregnancy rates. University of Nebraska animal scientists Rick Funston, PhD, and Aaron Berger, PhD, explain how the process works.
Recent research, the specialists say, has demonstrated replacement heifers developed to 50 to 57 percent of mature weights at breeding can have acceptable pregnancy rates and longevity. Genetic improvements, they say, allow today’s beef heifers to reach puberty at younger ages and lighter weights than in the past, and we have a better understanding of their physiology and related management factors.
Timing of bodyweight gain matters in these lower-cost systems. Heifers developed to 50 to 57 percent of mature weight at breeding can still achieve 80 to 95 percent pregnancy during a 45- to 60-day breeding season if the period of slower eight gain is followed by a positive energy balance prior to and through the breeding season. Heifers developed on crop residue or native range at low rates of gain have demonstrated compensatory gain in the spring when placed on higher-quality forage. When this higher rate of gain coincides with breeding, it appears to benefit conception and maintenance of pregnancy.
Declining nutrition at the time of breeding can have the opposite effect. The specialists note that some cow-calf producers have moved to later spring calving, which can offer several benefits. However, this schedule results in heifers being bred in mid to late summer when forage quality often is declining. These heifers, adequate in size and age for breeding, often have decreased pregnancy rates. A recent study demonstrated supplementing heifers on native range during a late-summer breeding season with 1 pound per day of 30 percent crude protein cube containing an ionophore resulted in 20 to 25 percent greater pregnancy rates than heifers not receiving supplement. In other words, nutrition and gains should be improving at the time of breeding, not declining.
The Nebraska specialists recommend that ranchers changing to a lower-input development system initially retain more replacement heifers than needed to determine how herd genetics will respond to a reduced nutritional environment during development.
Grain versus grass finishing
Research trials comparing grain-and grass-finished cattle typically compare results such as carcass weight and grade at the same chronological age. Grass-finished cattle, however, grow and deposit fat more slowly than grain-finished, so researchers at the University of California designed a trial to compare carcass characteristics and profitability between grain- and grass-finished steers at a minimum level of fat development, in this case targeting high-Select USDA quality grade.
The researchers sorted Angus steers initially averaging 905 pounds into two groups. One group was finished on irrigated annual ryegrass and white clover pasture for 303 days. The other group went to a grain-finishing program and reached the carcass target in 168 days.
At slaughter, grain-finished steers exhibited greater final bodyweight, average daily gain, intramuscular fat, backfat, hot carcass weight, dressing percentage, ribeye area and percent total fat compared with grass-finished steers. The grain-finished steers graded an average of low Choice compared with high Select for grass-finished. Taste-panel judges did not detect significant differences in juiciness, flavor intensity, flavor quality or overall palatability. Furthermore, there was no difference in shear force or cooking loss between steaks from grass- or grain-finished steers.
Cost of gain was 7 cents per hundredweight less for grass finishing. Economic analysis indicated that if the grass-finished steers earned carcass premiums of 8 percent, they would have been $62 per head more profitable. However, without any premium grain finishing was $25 per head more profitable.
Tell your story, win $3,000
Ready for your moment in the spotlight? In anticipation of their February 2014 event, the World Ag Expo has opened a video contest to give agriculturists a chance to compete for $3,000 while spreading their stories. An information video produced by the World Ag Expo makes light of consumers’ misunderstanding of food production and asks farmers, producers and others working within the industry to tell the “true” story of agriculture. To enter, videos must represent the theme “Agriculture: Feeding Tomorrow’s World” and last between 30 seconds and six minutes. The videos will be evaluated by a panel of judges, and the public will have a chance to vote for their favorite finalist. “Farmers and ranchers are dedicated to providing us with a safe and consistent supply of food and fiber,” says Jerry Sinift, chief executive officer of the International Agri-Center. “We want the public’s help to tell their stories. The contest challenges you to come up with a creative way to tell the great story of agriculture, and we can’t wait to see the results!” For more information, go online to tinyurl.com/nzsxy9l.
Sugar beets for cows
In some parts of the country, sugar beet pulp can provide an economical energy source for beef cows, says University of Nebraska cow-calf and range-management specialist Karla Jenkins. Research at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension feedlot has demonstrated that gestating beef cows can be maintained on energy-dense, limit-fed rations containing beet pulp. Performance results from two years of data suggest the total digestible nutrients of beet pulp in high-roughage diets to be about 90 percent. The crude protein content is approximately 10 percent. In the first experiment, researchers limit-fed late-gestation beef cows at a rate of 1.7 percent of bodyweight, or 18 pounds of dry matter, using one of two rations:
• 30 percent wet distillers’ grains with solubles (WDGS) and 70 percent wheat straw
• 20 percent WDGS, 20 percent beet pulp and 60 percent wheat straw.
Both diets were fed to provide the same energy level. The cows weighed 1,100 pounds and were a body-condition score (BCS) 5.8 at the initiation of the 70-day feeding trial. At the conclusion of the experiment there were no statistical differences in either end weights or BCS.
In the second experiment, mid-gestation beef cows were limit-fed either the 20 percent WDGS, 20 percent beet pulp and 60 percent wheat straw diet at 18.6 pounds of dry matter per day or a 20 percent WDGS, 45 percent beet pulp and percent wheat straw diet at 15.3 pounds per day, again with similar energy values. bodyweight was 1,200 pounds and average BCS was 5.2. Again, there were no statistical differences in final bodyweights or BCS.
Including WDGS in the diet met the metabolizable protein needs of the cows, Jenkins says. Being able to maintain cow bodyweight with beet pulp, wheat straw and some distillers’ grains is an economical way to replace forages or hay that may be better utilized for growing cattle. The moisture content of beet pulp is typically 75 percent. This may allow producers to use dry distillers’ grains as a protein source and still avoid sorting issues when feeding crop residues. The dry matter content of these diets makes them compatible with storing in bags, pits or other methods with minimal oxygen permeation. However, at the research facility these diets were mixed fresh daily with no sorting or refusal issues.
Consider early weaning
Drought conditions sometimes force producers to wean calves earlier than normal, but research suggests the practice could offer benefits even in good forage years. Kansas State University animal scientists John Jaeger, PhD, K.C. Olson, PhD, and Justin Waggoner, PhD, recently conducted two studies to determine the effect of earlier-than-usual weaning on the calves. The studies found that calves weaned at 120 to 160 days at an average of 360 pounds gained as much weight at later stages and were just as healthy as calves that were weaned later. It also indicated that the health risks and death loss were no different in early-weaned calves than in those weaned at the more conventional ages of 180 to 210 days. Jaeger says a calf weighing 450 pounds at 120 days of age eats about 6.8 pounds of forage per day. So, for every 30 days that a calf is weaned early, there should be one week of additional grazing for the cow. Early weaning also decreases the cow’s nutritional requirements, and the studies showed that for every 30 days that a calf is weaned early, there will be three additional days of grazing for the cow due to that lower requirement. Cows enter fall and winter in better body condition, which reduces the need for winter supplementation and cuts cow maintenance costs.
Research shows calves can be weaned as early as 90 days, Jaeger says, but an optimum age for a beef production system has not been established. “I usually advise producers interested in early weaning to wean when calves average 120 days of age. Most progressive producers have a 60-day breeding season, so calves weaned at an average of 120 days of age will range from 90 to 150 days of age.” Jaeger offers these tips for early weaning:
• Place an additional water tank and feed bunk in the pen with the calves.
• Remove floating covers from automatic water troughs.
• Pen calves based on their body size.
• Provide at least 12 inches of linear bunk space per calf.
• Provide easy access to feed and water.
• Consider air flow, especially in hot weather. Too little shade promotes crowding.
The researchers now are conducting a follow-up study in which they weaned calves from their mothers at an average of 127 days and split them into two groups. Half of the calves were left to graze on pasture and the other half were placed in a feedlot. At the end of 60 days in the separate environments, the weaned calves will be put back together as a group and fed a common ration up to market weight. In that way, the team will be able to evaluate how grass-fed calves fared in comparison to those fed a high-concentrate diet. Those data will be available in 2014.