Livestock

Artificial insemination is precision breeding

Written by Jon Roberts on .

In recent months, we’ve seen the effect of high beef prices from 2014-15. Beef producers across the country answered those high prices with herd expansion.

If you put the average annual cow slaughter against the expected herd expansion numbers, the total surpasses herd growth looks like 3 million new breeding females per year for the next few years. That’s a large number of heifers coming to pastures. Of course, depending on their goals, beef producers will have multiple agendas in mind when making genetic selections for coming calf crops.

Producers who look for long-term herd expansion might place an emphasis on maternal traits to derive good replacement heifers. They might also seek calving-ease sires on first-calf heifers.

To maximize inputs, producers might seek growth and feed efficiency traits for cattle sold as calves and yearlings. And some producers will focus on carcass merit traits for livestock retained through the feeding phase, particularly in niche markets.

While everyone is aiming for improving the herd, the goals I’ve just mentioned will require multiple sources of genetics. The average commercial producer probably won’t have a group of bulls diverse enough to deliver these maternal traits to the next few calf crops for replacement heifers. To get that kind of genetic diversity from herd bulls takes considerable planning, management and adds expense to the operation.

Herd bulls have kept pace with rising cattle prices. In fact the average Angus bull commanded a price of $5,500 at public auction last spring. When you do all the math and average things out, that makes for about $140 per pregnancy.

All these factors create a compelling case for the exploration of an artificial insemination program for commercial cows. In looking at the cost factor alone, the average cost of pregnancy with an AI program ranges from $80 to $100. Spending that money certainly grabs your attention, an advantage to the outlay is the ability to select genetics strategically for a specific goal.

With AI, the producer can hone in on any single goal, or a combination of the above goals. AI sires can be selected with a high degree of accuracy for any of the above traits to ensure that you can make significant genetic advancements in one generation.

One of the reasons producers have been reluctant to participate in this management practice is that they are unfamiliar with the procedure and possibly have had the perception that it is too difficult and time-consuming for their operation. Advancements in synchronization protocols have streamlined the process. MFA has recently partnered with ABS to help producers take advantage of this valuable tool. Aside from improvements from the targeted genetics, AI can improve calving logistics. What I’ve seen from producers using AI for commercial herds is a tighter calving pattern, with more calves born in the first two weeks of the season. And that means cows have a better chance to cycle back sooner for re-breeding.

Herd bulls still have an important place in the Midwest cowherd, but take a look at what AI might do for your operation as you continue to improve genetics.

Toxic fescue sticks around

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

Fescue toxicosis continues its quiet theft among cattle herds in the Midwest. The condition results from cattle fescue that hosts an endophyte fungus that produces toxic alkaloids (ergovaline) in the plant. You’ve seen the damage in action: vasoconstriction that causes hoof problems and labored breathing, reduced daily gain, trouble with breeding and the tell-tale heat stress that leads cattle to stand in ponds even on cool days.

More than 90 percent of fescue pastures tested in the Midwest contain the endophyte fungus. The irony is that, aside from the harmful effects the fungus has on cattle, it’s also part of the reason that fescue is so persistent—it actually helps the plant.

But at what cost? A study in 1993 estimated fescue toxicity cost the U.S. beef herd $609 million dollars. If you account for inflation, the cost is more than $1 billion today. And, while you can account for general inflation, it is harder to figure the actual cost to producers during times of high beef values. The peak prices from a couple of years ago may have faded, but producers don’t want to give up daily gain in today’s market either.

By whatever measure, fescue toxicity is a drain on the industry.

There are a few approaches to consider in mitigating problems from fescue toxicosis. One, says MFA director of nutrition, Dr. Jim White, is to move cattle to non-endophyte-infected pasture.

“If you have the resources, cattle can be moved from toxic fescue to warm-season perennial grass pastures in the late spring or early summer,” he said. “Dilution with legumes in the fescue pasture is also an option, but you need to use something that will compete with fescue: red or white clover or lespedeza. The clovers are easily established into existing sods. They’re compatible with tall fescue and able to increase animal gains. Research shows that adding clover to infected tall fescue stands can increase steer gains substantially. Adding clover to a toxic tall fescue pasture has been shown to deliver an extra 0.15 pounds of average daily gain to grazing steers. Additionally, interseeding clovers has consistently been shown to dilute the ergot alkaloids and enhance performance.”

If economically feasible, supplementing cattle on heavily endophyte-infected pastures is an option. If you see symptoms of fescue toxicosis, you may already be paying a price that would have afforded those supplements.

Producers should do something about the toxin load the animals are eating before seeing the symptoms. “In general terms, you can figure you lose 0.1 pounds of average daily gain for each 10 percent infection that you have on the pasture,” said White. “If I had to use infected fescue, my first preference would be to feed 0.5 percent to 1 percent bodyweight of a complete feed. In the spring and fall, during rapid grass growth, this provides dilution, better protein efficiency, additive effects and trace mineral-vitamin supplementation,” he said.

Finally, you can change the pasture itself. Renovating infected pasture and replacing it with “novel” endophyte strains retains the value of fescue for its persistence and soil-holding capabilities without supporting the toxic endophyte fungus. Instead, these fescues contain a “beneficial” endophyte that does not produce toxic alkaloids. In the past decade, seed breeders have brought several lines of novel-endophyte fescue to market. MFA offers BarOptima Plus E34 and MaxQ.

Clearing up the water

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Cows consume more pounds of water a day than anything else. If water quality or water quantity are issues, your cattle have a problem.

The most common water quality concerns in the Midwest are high iron and high anion contents. Water above certain thresholds in these minerals can affect cow performance. Iron over 0.3 ppm or anions (sulfate + chloride levels greater than 1,000 ppm) are troublesome.

Water treatment methods available to remove the iron, sulfate and chloride include chlorination with filtration; ion exchange; ozonation; reverse osmosis; and an oxidizing filter. None of them are cheap.

Working with too much iron

The recommended maximum tolerable concentration of iron in drinking water is 0.3 ppm. Concentrations more than this can be detrimental to normal health and lactation performance. The common chemical form of iron in feed ingredients is ferric iron (Fe+3) which is insoluble (although low pH iron, say in calcium phosphates will be soluble). The iron in drinking water (Fe+2) is highly soluble and absorbable. Excess absorbed iron ingested from drinking water can lead to cellular stress and inhibit copper and zinc absorption.

High iron in drinking water also may reduce water intake, apparently because ferrous iron is unpalatable. When cows don’t drink enough, feed intake and milk production can suffer.

Aside from animal intake, the residue formed by iron-loving bacteria in water troughs can affect flow rates and water volume through pipes. Treating high-iron drinking water with 20 ppm hydrogen peroxide eliminates these microbes. However, immediately after treatment with hydrogen peroxide, there is a good chance there will be iron debris in the line. Check waterers to make sure everything is still flowing.

Effects of sulfate and chlorine

Excess sulfate and chloride can negatively influence a cow’s digestion, electrolyte balance, acid-base status and lactation. If the sum of the concentrations of sulfate plus chloride is greater than 1,000 ppm an evaluation should be done to determine if the anions are affecting cow health and performance.

High concentrations of sulfate plus chloride, (greater than 1,000 ppm) in water can reduce water consumption. In research at Michigan State University, animal scientists found the maximum tolerable concentrations of sulfate range from 3,500 ppm to 1,450 ppm sulfate. In that study, heifers discriminated against the water containing 1,450 ppm sulfate and rejected water with 2,800 ppm sulfate. Other research has shown levels of 3,200 to 4,700 ppm sulfate makes water unpalatable to livestock. Meanwhile, high-sulfate (1,200 ppm) in drinking water reduced performance of transition fresh dairy cows by causing reduced feed intake and milk yield, and increased incidences of retained fetal membranes and abomasal displacement.

Dealing with hydrogen sulfide

In water, sulfur present as hydrogen sulfide tends to smell like rotten eggs. While the research at Michigan State showed water intake increased when water without the smell was offered, scientists there didn’t find what concentration of hydrogen sulfide or what intensity of smell reduces normal water intake of cattle. It could be that animals simply adapt to the smell and maintain typical levels of intake if no other water is available.

Water-treatment options

If lab results show you have concentrations of iron, sulfate or chloride high enough to affect cattle performance, finding a different water source may be the best solution. If that’s not an option, treating water can work. Whether water treatment is cost effective will depend on your situation.

There are a several ways to treat water, each has its limitations, complications and expense.

Chlorination can remove dissolved iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide if followed by mechanical or activated carbon filtration. If not properly operated, a chlorination system can be expensive and potentially hazardous if chlorine byproducts escape. Cows dislike getting a strong waft of chlorine in the nose. Even adding slow release chlorine tablets into water tanks can affect water intake.

Use of mechanical filters is recommended with chlorination to remove soluble and insoluble particles and to reduce plugging or wear on equipment. Activated carbon filters use carbon granules to absorb free chlorine as well as other things that can contribute to odor, off-tasting water and contaminants like mercury, pesticides and radon gas.

A cation-anion exchange system can be used to remove iron and manganese at relatively low concentrations (less than 1 ppm).

Ozonation can remove soluble iron and manganese if water passes through mechanical or activated carbon filtration. Ozonation also destroys microorganisms. This method can be used to remove color, offtaste, odors and hydrogen sulfide.

Reverse osmosis technology removes iron, sulfate, chloride and other unwanted compounds. Impurities are filtered from water using membranes. However, initial and maintenance costs are steep, and the process requires a lot of volume because the rate of filtration is slow. Meanwhile, you’ll be collecting the filtrate—the stuff on the filter to dispose of. If you pull water out of the ground and treat it, what’s diverted from consumption is technically waste water. What happens to the waste water might be regulated by county, state or federal agencies. Be sure to check first.

Finally, oxidizing filters remove iron and manganese through filtering and chemical reactions. Hydrogen sulfide can also be removed in this manner.

Start your foal right for future health

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

A healthy foal will grow rapidly, gaining in height and weight. From birth to age two, a young horse can achieve 90 percent or more of its full adult size, sometimes putting on as many as 3 pounds per day. Feeding young horses is a balancing act, as the nutritional start a foal gets can have a profound effect on its health and soundness for the rest of its life.

At eight to 10 weeks of age, mare’s milk alone may not adequately meet a foal’s nutritional needs. As the foal’s dietary requirements shift from milk to feed and forage, your role in providing the proper nutrition gains importance. Following are guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners to help horse owners meet the nutrient needs of young horses.

  1. Provide high quality roughage; hay and pasture should be available free-choice.
  2. Supplement with a high-quality, properly balanced grain concentrate at weaning, or earlier if more rapid rates are desired. (MFA Strut and Shine).
  3. Start by feeding 1 percent of a foal’s body weight per day (a 300 pound horse gets 3 lbs. of feed). If you are in doubt of the weight/feed ratio, you can feed 1 pound of feed per month of age.
  4. Weigh and adjust the feed ration based on growth and fitness. A weight tape can help you approximate a foal’s size.
  5. Foals have small stomachs, so divide the daily ration into two to three feedings. Remove any old feed daily.
  6. Make sure feeds contain the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, energy and protein.
  7. Use a creep feeder or feed the foal separate from the mare so the foal can eat its own ration. Try to avoid group creep feeding situations.
  8. Do not overfeed. Overweight foals are more prone to developmental orthopedic disease.
  9. Provide opportunity for abundant exercise.

The foal’s first months of life is a time of rapid growth and digestive changes, and a time when nutrition plays a critical role in skeletal development. To achieve each foal’s genetic potential, you must provide feed to complement their changing digestive system in a form they can absorb and meet their nutrient needs of proteins, fats, calories, macro minerals, trace minerals and vitamins.

A common management practice in the past has been to allow nursing foals to eat with their dams. Unfortunately, the foal under two months of age has little ability to digest the higher fiber feeds of adult animals. Young foals have a digestive system geared up to take advantage of milk, but that changes over time. When a foal is between three and four months of age its digestive system changes to better handle cereals.

Nutritional shortages can develop from the decline in the mineral density in mare’s milk. If this is the reason, the foal will begin to show signs of developmental orthopedic disease between two to four months of age.

To help ensure adequate consumption, offer a creep feeder for the foal during its first week, then find a way keep foal and mare feed separate.

Fly Fighting

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Flies cause substantial economical losses to cattle producers; e.g., biting flies carry diseases such as anaplasmosis and bovine leukosis virus. Face flies can spread pinkeye from animal to animal. Flies are well adapted to the environment. They have been around for thousands of years and are doing very well for themselves. The adaptability of flies means that it is going to be impossible to completely remove them from your operation. However, there are ways to control flies and to lessen their negative impact.

1. FEED AN INSECT GROWTH REGULATOR. These are either Altosid to treat horn flies on pastured cattle, or Clarifly for confinement cattle. Clarifly has a claim for face flies in addition to horn flies. Clarifly costs about twice as much to use compared to Altosid, but it gets twice the fly species. The pesticide should be fed starting 30 days before flies typically appear, and should be continued for 30 days after a killing frost. This roughly means feeding it between March 15 to Nov. 15. While horn flies don’t travel far, face flies will travel up to two miles.

2. USE FLY TAGS. Newer-generation fly tags are quite useful in controlling fly populations. To reduce pyrethroid resistance, after using pyrethroid tags for two consecutive years, switch to an organo-phosphate tag for one year. For optimal fly control, many products require two tags for an adult animal and one tag for a calf. As always, whenever you are using a pesticide follow the label directions. Applying the tags too early will be result in less effective fly control. The ideal time to apply tags is when there are about 200 horn flies per cow. The best time to check this is in the early morning hours: it is cooler, and the wind tends to be down. Look at the animals as they graze, it is relatively easy to see the flies on their sides.

3. USE POUR-ONS. You can apply a pour-on at the same time you flytag your cattle. If you are doing this during spring turnout time, you can use a product that kills internal parasites, these products are also effective against flies. If you do this later in the year, use products that are just labeled for flies and/or lice.

4. PROVIDE DUST BAGS/CATTLE RUBS. If you place a dust bag or rub at a site where all cattle use it, and keep it charged with insecticide, it can provide a very economical means of controlling face and horn flies.

5. SPRAY CATTLE. If you use a spray product on your cattle at timely intervals it can be very effective at reducing the fly population. Though useful, this method can be time-consuming.

When working on controlling flies and lessening their damage to your cattle, it is unlikely that one strategy alone will be sufficient. When you use several methods in conjunction, you are better able to lessen the negative impact of flies. If grass tetany is a concern, use Mag- Ade Meal IGR-CTC. If you offer free-choice mineral and want to minimize problems, feed Ricochet FESQ Max CTC-Alt. If you need a fescue equalizer, feed Fescue Equalizer CTC-Alt.

Horn flies cost the American cattle industry a couple of million dollars every day. Horn flies are about half the length of a house fly. Both males and females are blood feeders and congregate on the shoulders and backs of cattle. When disturbed, horn flies will fly up in a swarm, but they will return to animals almost immediately. Females leave occasionally to lay their eggs in fresh manure piles.

The close association between horn flies and host helps with control. The flies leave animals only to lay eggs or to change hosts. Thus many methods will expose flies to control practices (ear tags, topical products, feed-through feed additives). With some chemistries (pyrethroids), insect resistance has been an issue. Resistance is not a problem when using IGR-insect growth regulator, chemical name S-methoprene; there is no known resistance to IGR-methoprene-Altosid. The appropriate application of an IGR feed-through product is that the horn fly control is long-term and preventive, not reactive. IGR is ingested as part of the animal’s feed. Cattle then excrete manure which has IGR. Given that horn flies must lay their eggs in fresh manure, the IGR is there to keep the horn fly pupae from developing into breeding, biting adult horn flies.

Ricochet FESQ Max CTC-Alt is a convenient, ready-to-use mineral formulated to balance range or pasture feeding programs for beef cattle. The inclusion of IGR and CTC allows for both horn fly control and medicated feed claims.

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