6 steps for a successful lambing or kidding season

Written by Dr. Tom Earlywine on .

The health, growth and early performance of a lamb or kid crop directly impacts future performance in the milking parlor, pasture or showring. As a result, long-term successes can be driven by success during the lambing and kidding season.

Nutrition is essential in giving lambs and kids a solid start. High quality milk replacer can be a solution to success; however, success is not guaranteed on milk replacer alone. Here is a look at six steps to a successful total management program shared at the 2015 Dairy Sheep Association of North America Symposium.

1. Set obtainable goals

Before the first lamb hits the ground, analyze past performance of the flock, set tangible goals and determine a path for achieving these goals. Consider a 200 percent lamb or kid crop as an attainable goal. Mature and well-conditioned ewes and does should be able to lamb at least two lambs or kids. Strive for less than 5 percent pre-weaning mortality. The industry target is less than 5 percent, but it’s estimated that 20 percent of lambs are lost before weaning, with 80 percent of those losses in the first 10 days.

2. Provide newborn care

Within the first few minutes after a lamb or kid is born, they are exposed to bacteria and pathogens. Two ways to protect against these pathogens are navel disinfection and quality colostrum.

Dip the newborn’s navel in 7 percent tincture of iodine immediately after birth. Make sure the disinfectant covers both the outside and inside of the navel.

Colostrum or the first milk in lactation is the primary protection newborns receive against environmental pathogens and bacteria. Lambs and kids should receive 10 percent of their body weight in colostrum by 18 hours of age, fed at 105 degrees F. For example, a 10-pound lamb should be fed 1 pound or 16 ounces of colostrum in the first 18 hours of its life.

Keep in mind that fluctuations in colostrum quality and quantity are probable; a colostrum replacement can be used to ensure all lambs and kids receive a high-quality, disease-free colostrum.

3. Select a species-specific milk replacer

After newborns are fed high-quality colostrum or colostrum replacer for the first feeding, they can be transitioned to a milk replacer.

Look for a milk replacer made specifically for lambs or kids. Many options of milk replacer may be available to you, but calves, lambs, kids, pigs, alpacas, puppies and kittens all have different nutrient requirements. Milk replacers formulated for lambs are better able to provide the nutrients lambs require because they closely mimic the composition of ewe’s milk. The same is true with kid-specific milk replacers for kid goats.

4. Choose the right feeding system

Bottle feeding, free-choice feeding or an automated system are the three primary means of feeding lambs and kids on milk replacer.

Select which system is the best fit by considering the facilities, size of operation, labor situation and performance objectives. Make sure the system provides enough nutrition so lambs and kids at least triple their birth weight by 28 days of age. Clean and disinfect the system as often as possible.

5. Stimulate rumen development

The rumen is the main site for nutrient breakdown. Absorption in mature ruminants and in other species has been highly correlated to health and performance of the animal.

When a lamb or kid is born, the rumen is not fully developed and neither are the papillae inside the rumen. Growth of the rumen papillae and rumen development can be correlated with what the lamb or kid eats pre-weaning.

If the rumen is not developed appropriately, weaning can be delayed or unsuccessful. Water is a critical ingredient in the development of bacterial growth and the beginning of rumen fermentation. Always provide free choice water.

6. Promote a smooth weaning transition

Lambs and kids are ready for weaning when they consume an equivalent of 1.5 percent of their body weight in high-quality creep feed along with adequate water. Usually this will occur near 30 days of age or 35 pounds of weight. At weaning time, each lamb should have consumed at least 25 pounds of lamb milk replacer powder.

Follow these steps to weaning:

  • Plan weaning protocol, timing and facilities 14 to 21 days prior to weaning.
  • Ensure animals are consuming creep feed and utilizing water.
  • Gradually remove milk replacer or remove ewe.
  • Feed a high protein ration (18 to 25 percent crude protein).

Following these six steps provides a total management system for successfully raising lambs or kids, especially when on milk replacer. Setting goals, providing a high-quality colostrum and milk replacer, comfortable housing, and ready access to high quality feed and water will help lambs and kids thrive.

Stocker health is stocker profit

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Stocker cattle health has always been a challenge, but the challenge seems to have increased over the years. We have some of the best vaccines and technology, but the mortality number has continued to rise.

Any number of things can influence stocker calf health. I have been told by backgrounders that the feed I formulate doesn’t influence calf health nearly as much as other variables. They tell me where the calves come from is important. How they were previously managed, weaned, bought and transported is a big factor. And how they were managed when received is important, too. Somewhere in the discussion, I usually try to point out that Cattle Charge really does help get calves off to a good start.

While variables other than feed are important in the health risk equation, the feed/ration that formulated is of absolute significance to how the calf will perform as soon as they hit the facility. For example, with long-haul, weaned-on-the-truck calves, the first few days is very important to offer a highly palatable and nutrient-dense pellet/ration that will compensate for low intake. Getting them to eat and having sound bunk management is absolutely key to prop up immunity status of the calf. You can have the best vaccination protocol, but if the calves do not eat a fully fortified/balanced diet for the expected intake, any amount of vaccine/medicine will not work as expected.

The vaccine to use will depend on the targeted pathogen, as well as the complexity of where the pathogen resides in the calf and the level of protection that can come from the vaccine. Your veterinarian should make specific vaccine recommendations based on your operation, the risk level of your cattle, and the past disease issues they have experienced.

The real cost of sick calves is reduced performance and death loss, not the cost of medication. Yes, some medications are expensive upfront costs, but the cost of poor performance or losing a calf is greater. Whittling away at costs of medication is to lose focus on the real cost—one dead calf buys a lot of medicine.

If you bring calves to the farm and don’t have a detailed knowledge of what you are bringing in, you’ll have little control over how they were weaned. You won’t know vaccination history or the what exposure to pathogens the animals have had. Nor will you know how they were handled, sold or transported. Somewhere in this discussion, I usually try to point out that buying Health Track calves assures you of previous management, ability to handle stress and generally improved performance.

Regardless of where you get backgrounders, it is important to match the available resources to the calves once they are settled and go onto grass or the backgrounding yard. The objective is to manage for performance.

If the calves are on a pasture, forage allocation/stocking rate is key. Animal performance will tend to improve as forage availability increases, but only up to a point. And increasing stocking rate tends to increase pounds of gain per acre, but only up to a point. The right forage availability/stocking rate depends on forage production, forage quality, cost inputs and value of weight gain.

Calves on a forage base will need to be supplemented. They will need added protein if the forage base is corn silage. They will need energy if the forage base is cool-season grass. Supplementing energy to energy-short forage rations improves calf performance and improves efficiency of feed utilization. In all situations their performance can be improved with feeding an approved feed additive—ionophores such as Rumensin or Bovatec and fly control when needed. If you do not feed a supplement, at least feed a mineral. Feeding mineral on pastured calves usually shows about a 0.25-pound improvement in average daily gain for calves compared to calves without access to mineral. Feeding an ionophore is worth about 0.2 pounds of average daily gain.

Consider using implants when feasible. In feeder cattle, estrogenic growth-promoting implants improve feed efficiency and daily gain 5 to 15 percent. Implants that include TBA can provide an additional 3 to 5 percent improvement in feed efficiency and daily gain. A good re-implant program can sustain implant-associated performance beyond the payout that would be expected for a single implant. If you are looking for a high quality grade, the most important thing is to never have an implant dosage that exceeds what the caloric intake can support at any stage of production. If they are eating enough to gain 3.5 lbs per day, that boost is 0.5 lbs per day. If they have enough calories to gain 1.5 lbs per day, the improvement is only 0.15 lbs. When the implant is going full-tilt and the calories aren’t there is what may negatively impact grade potential. Proper implant administration can improve the response to implanting. Proper use of disinfectants, using sharp needles, and proper placement are important. The principal problems of getting it wrong will be abscesses and crushed or missing implants. While some implants come with antibiotics, this is not a substitute for good implanting technique.

At weaning, calves not intended for breeding should be implanted with a “feeder”, or low-to moderate-potency implant. The feeder implant can be either an estrogenic implant or a combination estrogenic/TBA implant.

It is important to finish the feeding period with the most potent implant selected in the implanting program. Therefore, if a combination estrogenic/TBA implant is selected as the first implant, it should be used again in subsequent implantings. If an estrogenic implant without TBA is selected as the first implant, a similar product or an estrogenic/TBA implant can be selected for subsequent implanting.

You can delay implanting if the days on implant program do not fit with the expected days on feed. If the animals are high risk, implanting them increases nutrient requirements when their intake is already low.

Delaying implanting 20 to 30 days after they are placed in the feedlot has proven effective. For example, if a group of calves arrives at the feedlot weighing 500 pounds, and the expected days on feed to reach market weight is 240 days, delaying 30 days would allow for use of two implants rather than three.

Cold weather and cows

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

By the time you see this, the world-famous weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil has trundled out to do his job. We’re either in for six more weeks of winter or not. Regardless of what the rodent indicates, weather records tell us that it’s about the coldest time of year. And that means spring-calving beef cows are getting close to dropping calves.

For feeding plans, that means its important to remember that the days just before Christmas, when cows were in mid-gestation and had lower nutrient requirements, are gone. In these cold, pre-calving days, there are a couple of things that certainly require attention: 1) how weather affects the cow’s nutrient needs; 2) barns and their proper ventilation. If you’re calving outdoors, on pasture or in the woods, lack of ventilation obviously is less of an issue. It’s excessive ventilation that you’re worried about.

When cattle are in an environment where they do not need to spend energy to warm themselves (cold stress) or cool themselves (heat stress), they enjoy what is called the thermoneutral zone. The colder end of the thermoneutral zone is the “lower critical temperature.” At points below this effective temperature, a cow requires additional energy to maintain its body temperature. If cows have a dry winter coat, the threshold at which they begin spending energy to stay warm is considered 32º F.

As a general rule, when the ambient temperature drops below the lower critical temperature, cattle will experience a 1 percent increase in energy requirement for each degree the temperature, or wind chill, drops below 32º F.

As an example, if it is 26º out with no wind and a cow is dry, she will require a 6 percent increase in energy requirements (32º - 26º = 6). If you are unable to protect the cow from getting wet, the math can get ugly. A wet coat increases the lower critical temperature to 60º. A cow outside in sleet at 26º suffers a 34 percent increase in required energy (60º - 26º = 34). And because her coat is wet, instead of every degree raising the energy requirement by 1 percent, it goes to 2 percent. Her energy requirements are fully two thirds higher when wet. She can not eat enough feed to maintain her weight.

The best that can be done from a feed perspective is to increase the amount of dietary energy available to cattle during cold weather. The most direct way to increase energy is to add concentrate/ionophores to the diet. In a pinch you can allocate your hay supply, saving higher energy hay for colder times of the year. Or saving it for expected wet periods. You’ll have to make the call depending on your hay supply and weather conditions. Regardless, protecting cattle from adverse weather conditions drastically influences the animal’s feed needs and reduces your feed bill.

Temperature is not the only factor to consider. Earlier in my career, I worked in Iowa, where we worried more about air quality for cattle enclosed in barns. Up there, ensuring adequate air exchange was a critical issue. In tight barns, adequate air exchange is required to control humidity, condensation and ammonia levels. Poorly ventilated barns typically increased health challenges for the herd.

In a peaked-roof barn, the simple solution is to make sure there is an open ridge at the peak. The opening allows warmer, moisture-laden air to rise up and out of the barn. The concept applies to mono-slope barns as well. An opening high in the barn allows warm air to carry moisture out.

The trick is to allow for good air exchange without causing cold drafts. In my experience, it is better to minimize barn humidity than maximize barn temperature. You should protect cattle from the weather, but not at the expense of air quality.

Another factor to consider in winter feeding is the cow’s protein requirement. While protein requirements won’t increase in the drastic manner that energy requirements do, feeding protein is still important in winter. A cow needs protein for her growth, maintenance and fetal development if she is gestating. Moreover, rumen function is influenced by nitrogen/crude protein. Nitrogen/protein deficiencies cause reduced fiber digestion, which tends to amplify energy deficiencies during adverse weather conditions. When forage digestibility is reduced, forage intake will be limited.

More in the Feb 2016 Issue of Today's Farmer Magazine



Supplement poor forage

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Feeding a protein supplement maintains animal performance

About every year there are periods when the forage on hand isn’t high enough quality or in adequate quantity to meet your cow herd’s needs. You can’t be sure just which time of year, but you can count on challenges from pasture dormancy, drought, pest infestations, blizzards, all things that can make you operation short on the energy component of feed.

Of course, as a beef producer, it warms your heart to see cows out making a living grazing forages—just turning grass into beef without interventions from management or your checking account. But that warm heart sometimes gets in the way of cold business sense. You will usually benefit economically by correcting nutrient deficiencies sooner than later. For example before you begin to see body condition losses. Doing so substantially improves animal performance. And poor animal performance gets into the checkbook, too. Poor performance from a deficit in energy for your herd leads to decreased conception in cows; reduction in milk production and lactation length; loss of body condition scores; and reduction in fetal growth.

It can also bring on a reduced tolerance to stress, which invites disease, parasites and calving challenges.

Addressing forage/energy deficiency can be tedious. A straightforward solution is to feed a supplement which is low in protein and high in energy. Corn, for example. You can supplement the additional energy in a number of ways: tubs, blocks, liquid, cubes, pellets, mash, etc.

Your cost will vary. And your herd’s potential for shrink and the ease of handling will vary. Fundamentally the objective is to get supplemental feed that directly addresses the limiting factors in the cows’ diet. Of course, you have to consider your labor costs, time and delivery options. These are too often ignored to the detriment of your payday. Still, if you study the economics of these factors are combined with the a range of feed nutrient values, you can find the best value for the money. For example, a 20-percent protein hay might have a lower unit-of-energy cost and/or protein cost than a supplement tub. But, if you are driving 50 miles to do chores, tubs make a lot of sense.

Also consider how the cows will handle the diet. Ruminal forage digestibility can be reduced when high starch levels are introduced to the diet.

Fiber digestibility increases as an all-forage diet increases in starch. Fiber digestibility reaches a peak/plateau at about 0.25 percent of bodyweight. If you are feeding corn, that means feeding 0.375 percent of body weight to get to the right spot. At higher levels, the energy concentration increases, but the fiber digestibility declines. At ever higher levels of grain, this becomes less of an issue because the amount of forage in the diet is dropping.

However, one concern with lower forage digestibility is that the rate of passage through the animal will take a lot longer.

In turn, the rumen fills with forage that can’t be pushed through the system fast enough for adequate forage to be consumed. You can help the process by mechanically chopping the forage.

Another constraint to forage digestibility can be a forage with a low crude protein content. When forage protein is below 8 percent, the protein/nitrogen in the rumen can limit rumen bacteria growth, which in turns limits forage digestibility. The rumen microbial population needs adequate nitrogen to function well. They get that nitrogen from protein/nitrogen feeds. Therefore, adding a protein supplement to the diet can increase forage intake in many cases and alleviate or reduce the energy deficiency problem. This is particularly the case where your forage inventory is abundant but slightly high in fiber and low in protein. Controlled studies indicate that the intake of lower quality forage can be increased 20 to 60 percent, and forage digestibility can be increased by 5 to 15 percent by supplementing rumen-available protein.

Early weaning tips

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Early weaning can be a strategic benefit to your herd, giving cows a quicker rebound and earlier breedback. Research shows, too, that calves fed earlier in their life have increased carcass quality.

In simple terms, early weaning beef calves is a management practice that removes calves from the dam and replaces her with direct feed. This allows cows to scavenge to meet their reduced nutrient needs with the intent of maintaining, if not increasing, body condition.

Recent research on early-weaned beef calves has focused on the carcass quality of calves following early weaning (at about 90 to 150 days). Results indicate that more rapid growth in early-weaned calves results in higher marbling scores compared to calves weaned at 205 days. Early-weaned calves will be slaughtered at a younger age. And, aside from higher carcass quality, they tend to have better feed-to-gain ratio.

Marbling development in calves is influenced by management and nutrition. Given that fat cell development is influenced by nutrient intake, intramuscular fat formation may be stimulated during periods in which nutrient intake exceeds what can be used for muscle growth. This is likely the cause for increased marbling scores in early-weaned and well-fed calves.

When I mention these results to producers, I get the question: “With these benefits, why not always wean calves early? If the practice saves feed in a drought, then in a normal year, I could run more cows, right?”

I remind producers that the benefits of early weaning are accompanied by some challenges.

Removing calves from the dam early, coupled with nutrient-dense diets can result in lighter carcass weights, greater number of days on feed and increased feed costs. This is particularly the case for medium- to smaller-framed cattle. In light of the dramatic increase in feed costs from about 2008 to 2013, producers actually went the other direction. They sought to use forage and by-products during a post-weaning growing/backgrounding/stocker phase before putting the cattle in a feedlot.

The goal in that case was to exploit slower growth rates and decreased inputs. Producers wanted to be able to afford the feed bill. Feed costs, at least for now, have realigned, and early weaning may fit more operations.

To use early weaning as a management strategy, you should focus on a few objectives. In your forage-based cow/calf production plan, you want to 1) increase marbling; 2) achieve desired replacement animal growth and development; 3) improve mature cow reproductive efficiency.

To achieve these goals consider these management practices:

  • Early weaning must occur before the start of the breeding season to achieve all possible reproductive benefits for the dam.
  • Calves should be at least seven weeks of age when weaned.
  • Aim for breeding the yearling heifers 30 days before the mature cows. That way their calves will be old enough to early wean at the start of the regular breeding season the next year.

Early-weaned cows will voluntarily consume about 30 percent less dry matter after the calf has been removed. Their decrease in dry matter intake coupled with their concurrent decrease in nutrient demands translates to a 45 percent increase in nutrient efficiency.

Early-weaned calves grow well on forages. Forage should be readily available, of high quality and combined with concentrate supplementation at 1 percent of body weight per day. MFA Cadence is a good option. When high quality, grazable pastures are not available, consider using Cadence 25C or 50C to provide the required intake of energy and protein.

Keep in mind that early-weaned calves are vulnerable to parasites. You need to provide adequate fly control and treat for parasites.

Depending on conditions, it might be advantageous to move the early-weaned calves to a drylot and feed them. And implating is beneficial.

When received into the feedlot at the time of normal weaning, early weaned calves will be heavier and have greater feed efficiency compared to their normal-weaned herd mates. This is an important factor if you are considering whether to retain ownership through finish.

Here are specific feeding guidelines offered by Oklahoma State University’s David Lalman.

  1. Follow the 10 percent rule. Never increase or decrease the amount of feed offered by more than 5 to 10 percent.
  2. Always allow one day between increases or decreases in feed offered to allow animals an adjustment period.
  3. If the bunk stays empty more than an hour for two consecutive days, increase the amount of feed by 5-10 percent.
  4. Dry feeds may be fed once daily.
  5. High moisture feeds may need to be fed twice daily to avoid spoiling in hot weather and freezing in cold weather.
  6. Animals not being fed enough will engorge when fed. This leads to acidosis and the “yoyo” effect of overeating and under-eating. This dramatically decreases animal performance and animal health.
  7. Before cold fronts, animal feed intake increases dramatically and decreases after the front passes.
  8. Feed should be fresh!
  9. If animals rush the bunk when fed, they are probably being underfed.
  10. If animals have no interest in coming to the bunk when they are fed, they are probably being overfed. Same if the bunk contains spoiled feed.
  11. Bunks containing spoiled feed or “fines” should be cleaned out.
  12. If fines are constantly a problem, consider adding molasses, silage or other wet feeds to the diet to decrease the sorting of mineral and vitamin supplements.
  13. Clean waterers are necessary to maximize feed intake.
  14. Many of these rules also apply to self-feeders.



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