Let your grass grow

Written by David Moore on .

Spring of 2016 came early this year, giving a jump-start to summer annual weeds. The summer of 2015 was ripe with rain, weeds and the inability to get them sprayed. Many of those weeds matured enough to set seed, significantly increasing the seed bank. That is creating weed problems now. Pasture and hay meadow weeds are significant profit-stealing problems that affect grazing patterns and decrease tons of usable forage per acre. Anything that decreases tons of desirable forages also reduces pounds of beef per acre and negatively changes the bottom line of your operation.

The most efficient plans for weed control target the early life cycle of the target species. Efficiency has become somewhat of a “buzzword” as we contemplate a blossoming population and increased need for the beef people will want to eat. Efficiently increasing the pounds of beef per acre on your operation contributes to feeding our population.

For biennials (thistles, spotted knapweed, etc.) and winter annuals (henbit, chickweed, etc.) I recommend spraying in late fall through very early spring. Just choose a day with temperatures over 45 degrees and unfrozen ground. Two pints of GrazonNext HL per acre plus Astute at one quart per 100 gallons of solution will control emerged weeds—and the residual activity will help to control weeds not yet germinated.

Most summer annuals can be controlled with a herbicide application at the very beginning of their life cycle, even before some have emerged. For example, if you had a severe problem with ragweed (our biggest thief of moisture and nutrients in the summer) in a particular pasture last year, it has likely returned this year. Spraying a product with residual at the first sign of ragweed, or even slightly before, will control that weed population for most of the growing season. For this application to be most effective, grass should be grazed short so that herbicide can reach the ground. It will quickly regrow if moisture and plant food are available.

Another important management practice that will add to efficiency is to move cattle to new pasture when grass is grazed down to about 3 inches. This rotation strategy applies during the growing season. Obviously, during times when grass isn’t growing (winter or severe drought) you are better served to hold them in one paddock and feed hay until grass growth resumes.

There are three reasons to move cattle at that 3-inch mark. First is that regrowth is much quicker when starting from the 3-inch mark. Imagine that each blade of grass is a solar panel. Continuously grazed grass tends to be about three-quarters of an inch tall and about quarter-inch wide. That provides a surface area of less than 0.2 square inches of “solar panel”. Three-inch tall grass tends to have a width closer to a half inch. The taller grass provides a surface area of “solar panel” closer to 1.5 square inches (more than seven times larger). If moisture and fertility are the same, you can grow grass from 3 inches to about 12 inches faster than you can grow grass from three-quarters of an inch to 3 inches.

The second reason to move cattle at 3-inch grass is it allows the root system to recover carbohydrates more effectively. The result is a healthier stand of grass. You’ll benefit from pulling cattle at the 3-inch height in one other way—fewer ongoing weed problems, which will lengthen the interval between spraying.

Efficiency and a proactive management of grass does require some time and resources. Investment in your pasture/hay forages will pay off. In the words of a wise man that I admire: you can’t just save your way to a profit; you have to grow your way there.

A non-antibiotic path toward livestock performace

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

By now you are familiar with the Veterinary Feed Directive that will be implemented by the FDA this year. The directive will require new thinking about when and how to treat livestock with antibiotics. Alternative paths to animal health are growing in popularity. Pharmaceutical companies are removing growth promotion and feed efficiency claims from bovine drug labels, and regulatory oversight for antibiotic rescue treatments is increasing.

Under the new rules, producers will be required to obtain a Veterinary Feed Directive to administer controlled antibiotics. Only veterinarians can issue VFDs and they must do it within the context of what USDA is calling the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. In other words, the vet will be required to engage with the livestock producer, know and visit the operation and provide for follow-up care. Furthermore, the vet will be required to document VFDs, which will make antibiotic use traceable up and down the sales chain.

With an eye on export markets and knowing that changes were coming in domestic antibiotic rules, last year MFA introduced Shield Technology to the market. Feeds with Shield Technology have been well-received by the cooperative’s customer base, and MFA’s feed team is at work to document the success of individual producers as they try Shield Technology on their farms.

Shield Technology employs a research-tuned blend of essential oils and other additives to enhance animal performance and health.

The goal for feeds formulated with MFA’s Shield Technology is multifaceted. The unique ingredients are designed improve animal health, but also to extend shelf life and bunk freshness, which improves feed intake.

As it is ingested, feed with Shield Technology improves the function of livestock immune system through improved gut health, eases the effects of heat stress and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria in the gut, which, in turn, benefits populations of beneficial bacteria.

There is a vast amount of research on essential oils used for feed in multiple livestock species. Scientists believe that such compounds benefit livestock through inhibition of non-beneficial microbes in the gut by disrupting the organisms’ cell membranes. Aside from directly antagonistic effects on non-beneficial bacteria, the increase of beneficial bacteria creates competitive exclusion—the “good” bugs out-crowd the “bad.”

In fact, these plant-based compounds are called “essential” oils because of the role they play in plant health, providing certain antioxidant, antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties. They are essential to a plant’s natural defense system.

Research has also shown that certain blends of essential oils function as antioxidants. Antioxidants work to counteract free radicals which can lead to multiple health concerns. You’ve probably read about the benefits of antioxidants in human health.

MFA’s Shield Technology focuses on the right blend of essential oils and a patented process that makes them more effective once in the digestive track. The focus is on efficient absorption and the ability of the animal to properly metabolize the ingredient. The formulations also focus on proper dosage. These factors put Shield Technology on the positive side of research results.

MFA Shield Technology also employs probiotic additives that act as immune modulators. Immune modulators activate white blood cells in the immune system, which then more effectively fend off parasites, fungus and non-beneficial bacteria.

Finally, the addition of specific carbohydrates brings additional benefit to gut health. The digestive tract is not only the largest group of organs; it is its own cosmos of billions of microorganisms. That’s especially the case in ruminants, which depend on fermentation for digestion.

The right balance of beneficial bacteria improves feed efficiency and overall performance of livestock. And specific carbohydrates such as Mannan Oligosaccharides have been shown to bind with bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, helping reduce toxins in the gut.

Shield Technology is being implemented across the MFA feed portfolio. For more information, contact your local MFA feed representative.

"Phytogenic" feeds are a growing market.

Whether it is driven domestically by new regulatory oversight or by export customer preference, the demand for non-antibiotic-derived growth promotion is a catalyst for new formulations of livestock feed. The general classification for naturally derived beneficial ingredients is “phytogenics." 

According to studies from Market Research Technology, MFA’s Shield technology is leading the way in a growing market. Phytogenics are poised to take off.

One driver is strong demand for meat production. Global demand for meat is more than 310 million tons (2014 data) with year-over-year growth at 1.8 percent. In aggregate, meat consumption has expanded more than fourfold over the past five decades.

The second driver is regulatory. Changes here in the US and existing rules in the EU and other markets have called for a reduction in antibiotics use in livestock production. In fact, the EU has banned antibiotic use in feed since 2006 and our FDA’s new regulations will arrive at the end of this year. These regions are promoting the use of natural additives, particularly plant extracts.

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.


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