Cattle producers heard from LSU AgCenter experts about the importance of good nutrition and pasture management at a field day at the Louisiana State Evacuation Shelter on Oct. 20.

The field day, which was forced indoors because of rain, drew an audience of about 70 people.

Vince Deshotel, AgCenter county agent in St. Landry Parish, La. said producers should stock cattle at a rate suitable for the amount of available forage. Overstocking and overgrazing can lead to more disease and parasites, lower conception rates and an overall decline in animal health, he said.

Rotating livestock through different pastures every seven to 14 days is one way to prevent overgrazing.

Cattle producers should make forage planting decisions based on their soil type. Clay soils that stay saturated with water will not allow as much plant growth, so those forages will have to be supplemented with hay, Deshotel said.

It’s also important to soil test every three years to see if fertilizer or lime is needed, Deshotel said.

Rodney Johnson, AgCenter county agent in Rapides Parish, said producers need to score animals’ body condition at four key times: in late summer, at weaning, 45 days after weaning and 90 days before calving.

The scoring scale goes from 1, emaciated, to 9, obese. A score of 5 to 6 is ideal.

“It’s a visual tool that we can use to determine the nutrient requirement for that animal,” Johnson said.

Thin cows have more difficulty conceiving along with an increased calving interval, less calf vigor and lower weaning weights, he said. If cows are too fat, they are costly to maintain, have impaired mobility and may also fail to conceive.

Glen Gentry, resident coordinator at the Idlewild Research Station in Clinton, said it’s important to maintain beef bulls’ body condition to ensure fertility and performance.

“If an animal is not fed and maintained properly and does not put down the muscle and weight it needs to, it will delay puberty,” he said.

Yearling bulls need about 1 to 3 months before the breeding season to adjust from a grain diet to a forage diet, Gentry said. They need to reach a body condition score of 5.5 to 6.5 because bulls tend to lose 100 to 200 pounds during the breeding season. But it’s important not to over-condition bulls, which can negatively affect sperm production.

After breeding, mature bulls in good condition can be maintained on an all-roughage diet, while younger bulls need a diet of both roughage and grain that allows 1.5 to 2 pounds of weight gain per day, Gentry said.

Phil Elzer, AgCenter associate vice president, said cattle producers need to prepare for the Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Feed Directive Rule, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017. The rule prohibits antimicrobial products from being used in feed or water without direction from a licensed veterinarian.

Some producers who are accustomed to putting antibiotics in feed to keep diseases at bay will have to be especially vigilant after the rule is implemented, Elzer said. They should watch closely for signs of sickness and contact a veterinarian if treatment is needed.

AgCenter engineer Randy Price showed attendees how drones outfitted with a camera can be used to check on cattle or video them for online sales and promotion.

Small drones are becoming more popular and can be purchased for under $1,000, Price said. Anyone who uses a drone for commercial purposes needs to get a pilot’s license.

AgCenter forage specialist Ed Twidwell talked about cover crops, which can extend the grazing season into spring and keep producers from having to feed so much hay during winter.

Cover crops that provide good early production include oats, the Gulf variety of annual ryegrass, turnips, forage radishes and some food plot mixtures. Those that perform better in late winter and early spring are Austrian winter peas, hairy vetch and clovers.

Twidwell cautioned that cover crops can fail completely in dry fall weather. However, he said, test plots of oats, radishes and turnips at the AgCenter Dean Lee Research Station in Alexandria are looking good despite the recent dry spell.

AgCenter weed scientist Ron Strahan said Virginia buttonweed, a perennial weed that forms a mat and kills the grass underneath, is becoming a major problem in pastures. The best option for control is Grazon Next at 1.5 pints per acre, he said.

Prowl H20, a pre-emergence herbicide, effectively controls many annual grasses in pastures and does not have any restrictions on grazing or haying, Strahan said. It should be applied first in February or March, and then periodically after harvesting hay during the growing season.

No herbicide is available to control broomsedge, which often crops up in low-fertility areas with compacted soil, like overgrazed pastures, Strahan said. The best thing to do is improve soil fertility and keep the weed clipped.

“Your goal is to make your base forage more competitive with the broomsedge,” he said.

Smutgrass, which Strahan said is the No. 1 weed problem in south Louisiana, also thrives in compacted soils. It can be controlled with Velpar at 3 pints per acre in bermudagrass and bahiagrass.

The biennial bullthistle has become a major issue and can be treated with Grazon P+D, Grazon Next or Chapparal, but those herbicides damage winter clovers, Strahan said. Spot treating the thistles with glyphosate or 2,4-D also works.

Donna Morgan, AgCenter agent with the Louisiana Master Farmer Program, and Jeff Gurie, manager of the livestock farm at the Dean Lee station, discussed their study from last winter on water quality and fertilizer use in ryegrass.

“These types of studies are conducted to evaluate nutrient and sediment management strategies,” Morgan said.

The study showed no significant difference in the amount of nitrogen in runoff water from plots treated in September and January with Environmentally Smart Nitrogen, urea plus Agrotain nitrogen stabilizer and urea alone.

Morgan and Gurie did a similar study with bermudagrass in the summer and again found no difference in nitrate levels. However, they found the most nitrates are lost through water between 30 to 66 days after treatment, Morgan said.

Dwayne Rice, rangeland management specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Services, said financial help is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for farmers and ranchers who want to implement conservation practices.

The Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association will host its annual convention Jan. 6 to 8 in Covington, said Robert Joyner, executive vice president of the association.