The perfect mix

Written by Mark Epp on .

Creating a total mix ration (TMR) is a thing of beauty. If you don’t have a TMR wagon, that’s OK—MFA offers many great complete and limiter feed options for weaning calves, forage extension and protein/energy boosts where the mixing is already done for you. However, if you are an operator with a TMR wagon, it’s likely you recognize many advantages you receive with MFA/AGChoice bases or commodity blends and your local-favorite forages.

The objective in using a TMR vehicle is to deliver a thorough mix of all ingredients to the entire group on feed. A well-mixed ration ensures that every bite has the nutrients you expect to give your investment. Depending on your operation, you may use you TMR wagon every day or just seasonally. No matter how frequently you use it, here is a review of some items to keep in mind to ensuring smooth and reliable feeding.

Maintenance Plan: Depending on use level, have a periodic, recordable plan (or a monthly reminder) to service and inspect the mixer. The Feed equipment require regular maintenance for conisistnant feed.plan should include housekeeping periodically inside the mixer to remove twine/plastic and buildup on the augers. For mixers with hay processing, check for missing or dull blades; auger flighting/paddles/kickplates. Make sure none are bent or missing.
Load cells: If pulling the wagon out of the shed after summer, inspect and test to make sure rodents haven’t damaged wires. If using daily, periodic testing is recommended to assure the right amount is weighed for nutritional consistency and to indemnify ingredient inventory. Try to avoid excessive bouncing of the mixing vehicle which can lead to damage of load cells.

Particle size of forages: Smaller and consistent particle size of forages will enhance mix uniformity and reduce sorting in the bunk. It is important, however, to keep enough forage length to ensure appropriate rumen function and health, particularly for diets that are less than 25 percent effective fiber. The appropriate length of forage is one-half to three-quarters of an inch for most production systems.
Fill order of ingredients: Follow manufacturers recommendations. Be aware of scenarios such as wet co-products (for example, wet distillers grains) added behind ground corn and protein/mineral mix. This can often lead to feed balls containing high levels of protein and mineral.
Inclusion rate of ingredients: Be aware of the size of smaller additive ingredients, such as vitamin and mineral packages. Ensure they can be appropriately mixed throughout the batch. The size will be dependent to match the capacity of the mixer. As a general rule, the smallest additive size should be at least five times the scale accuracy. For example, if the scale weighs in five-pound increments, the minimum addition would be 25 pounds.

Over-fill: Exceeding the mixer’s capacity will create segregated pockets of feed that can float on top of the feed mix and/or get trapped in corners or other voids. These unmixed pockets will not be properly dispersed throughout the batch, thereby altering the nutrient content within the batch. Consequently, the feed being delivered will be inconsistent across the bunk. Dairy cattle typically feed within the same area of the bunk line every day. If the wagon is always over-filled, some may be consistently receiving more nutrients/medication daily, and the balance of the group will be getting below-expected dosages.

Under-fill: Always try to follow the manufacturers recommendation for minimum batch size as too-small batch size may not allow thoroughly mixing.

Mixing time: Establish a consistent and appropriate mixing time to ensure thorough mixing and consistency load to load.

Super magnets on discharge chute: It is amazing what kind of metallic junk you can find on the end of a discharge chute. Having high quality magnets at the discharge is highly recommended to prevent hardware disease. Consistently clean magnets for maximum effectiveness.

To ensure a perfect mix, you can take samples immediately after delivering to the bunk and test for markers such as monensin and minerals such as salt, calcium or magnesium. As a service, ask one your MFA or AGChoice representatives to gather this data for you.

Marc Epp is a ruminant nutritionist serving MFA’s AGChoice locations in Kansas.

Feed mineral with a goal in mind

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Mineral can provide much more than minimum maintenance

When a beef producer feeds supplements, he’s trying to achieve a specific goal. He feeds energy or protein for specific results. And those results pay off for him or he wouldn’t spend the money. With mineral, producers often times consider it necessary, but don’t link it to specific health or gain goals. But like other supplements, mineral feeding should have specific goals.

First, of course, you want to cover the animal’s mineral and vitamin requirements. And most of the time, you’ll be targeting a secondary goal such as providing a beneficial additive like an ionophore, probiotic, insect control, etc.

Given that most pastures contain a relatively high component of endophyte-infected fescue, using a fescue additive nets big gains. MFA uses several different technologies in our fescue additive, including silicate clays, which have been shown by MU researchers to bind alkaloids; mannans to help on the alkaloids; and essential oils which improve grazing intake and reduce heat stress by acting as a vasodilator.

We have seen improvements of 0.15 to 0.20 pounds of gain per day on infected fescue. The magnitude of the response might not be as great compared to using an ionophore, but it is significant. And the response is cumulative in the sense that if you do use an ionophore, you’ll get an even larger response. Adding an ionophore increases net energy value of the entire diet by 5 to 8 percent.

Another goal for feeding mineral can be calf health. Improving immune response and colostrum quality of cows has a potentially significant influence on the health and performance of the calf. We have demonstrated significant improvements in cow and calf performance along with improvements in cow reproductive efficiency when we have been able to feed Ricochet products to cows 60 days prior to calving and for 60 days after calving.

Effective horn fly control has resulted in better animal performance when they are grazing pastures. Combining Altosid with CTC has been effective in getting help on horn flies and providing an effective antibiotic.

To achieve these mineral-feeding goals, we have worked hard to formulate mineral that brings the best nutrient and additive value for the money. And, with any free-choice mineral product we focus on keeping high mineral bio-availabilty and top weatherization. For weatherization, we use Rain-Off components.

When we put these factors together, we call the mineral Ricochet FesQMax.
Cows will eat more free choice Ricochet FesQMax—about twice as much as they would of Super 10. However, they are getting a lot more than just the mineral and vitamins they would consume through Super 10. Ricochet FesQMax delivers insect control and medication. Its fescue additive makes your forage base more useful by providing mannans, glucans, aggressive selenium and Vitamin E to help on immune response and colostrum quality. The nutrient profile is substantially stronger and the payback for using Ricochet FesQMax looks to be at least four or five to one.

When I recently was visiting with a producer, I said that when you consider MFA’s mineral portfolio, you can simplify your choices and still meet all the goals for your animals if you buy a Ricochet product for each season.

In the winter, you can cover all your bases using Ricochet. Later in the year, when you move into endophyte-infected fescue and have fly pressure, Ricochet FesQMax is the better choice—it helps reduce damage from flies and grass tetany. Magnesium levels in Ricochet Max are sufficient enough that it can replace Magade or Hi-Mag products. Meanwhile, the levels of fortification that we add to Ricochet products, it makes a superior breeder mineral.

My advice for this winter is that if you have spring-calving cows with an expected calving date of March 1, you ought to start feeding Ricochet mineral no later than Jan. 1.
With its medication and fortification Ricochet Max will boost colostrum production from the cow and immune response in the calf. Feed it at least 60 days prior to calving

At calving, move to RicochetFesQMax. That will give you coverage for fescue and fly issues.  For fall-calving cows, I’d recommend the same products but in reverse order. For August-calving cows, start feeding Ricochet Max no later than June 1. Feed it until the end of October (or well after frosts that are hard enough to knock back the flies). Then switch to Ricochet and feed it through the winter.

Following this protocol, you can expect your herd to consume about one bag of Ricochet and one bag of Ricochet Max per cow per year.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Take caution on frost-damaged sudangrass and sorghums

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

A good frost will release prussic acid from growing sudangrass, Johnsongrass and sorghums. The prussic acid is poisonous to livestock.

I often get a simple question: “How much just frozen sudangrass/sorghum/Johnsongrass can I feed?”

This question is similar to asking, “How many chambers do I load when playing Russian roulette?”

The right answer is, “Don’t play Russian roulette.”

If the producer asking doesn’t quite like my flip answer and presses on, I have a simpler way explaining how much frost-damaged sudangrass and sorghum cattle should eat: zero. Once the frost has hit growing sudangrass, Johnsongrass or sorghum, you must wait for at least a week before allowing cows on it. You will be glad you did.

Most of the prussic acid in plants exists as a bound, non-poisonous chemical called dhurrin. Dhurrin is a glucoside. When dhurrin reacts with the enzyme emulsin, extremely toxic compounds form. We call it HCN for hydrocyanic acid, prussic acid, cynide. The production of prussic acid is drastically increased when plant tissue is damaged, and freezing is particularly conducive to prussic acid formation. Moreover, chopping, stomping or chewing plant tissue will increase prussic acid release.

When prussic acid is absorbed the animal, it combines with hemoglobin, depriving red blood cells from taking on oxygen. The blood is actually able to transport oxygen, but the body tissue can’t get it. Animals smother. Affected animals will have bright red, oxygen-saturated blood—a distinctly different color than the chocolate brown blood of animals with nitrate problems.

Straight sorghums will have the highest levels of dhurrin, and, as a general rule, the shorter the sorghum, the higher the level. In other words, grain sorghums have more than dhurrin thanforage sorghums. sudangrass will have the least, and Johnsongrass is between the sorghums and sudangrass. Millets seem to not have the problematic concentrations. Wild cherry is known to produce dhurrin, and animal problems have been reported when the wilted leaves are eaten—particularly if the leaves had been either storm damaged or pruned.

HCN-dhurrin concentration will decline with age of the plant. In forage sorghums, this can be particularly frustrating because forage quality drops rapidly with maturity. HCN concentration will be higher in leaves than in stalks. The highest levels will be found in short, young, sorghum regrowth, particularly in the sucker as those are pure leaf tissue. A common recommendation is to let plants reach at 24 inches high prior to using. Plant stress and increased nitrogen fertility tend to increase HCN-dhurrin concentration, consistent with what is seen with nitrate concentrations in sorghum species. Maintaining adequate potassium and phosphorous fertility helps lower incidence.

Challenges with nitrates and prussic acid are often confounded. The plant species involved, the animals affected, the visible symptoms, and the growing conditions are similar. However the compounds collect in different parts of the plant, prussic acid is highest in the leaves, nitrates are highest in the lower stalk. Prussic acid is very labile, it dissipates from the forage quickly after harvest-insult. Nitrates do not. Thus, we generate recommendations of manageable nitrate levels in rations, say 0.25 percent for milk cows. With prussic acid, 0.1 percent or 1,000 ppm is toxic, but we will have drastically lower prussic acid levels in the forage by the time we get the lab results back. Instead of developing manageable prussic acid levels for rations, we wait for the levels to decline. When munching on standing sorghums, cattle select for the leaves and against the lower stems. Grazing behavior biases against the animals eating more nitrates. Grazing behavior biases toward them eating more prussic acid.

Ruminants are more susceptible to prussic acid poisoning than horses or swine. Toxicity symptoms: include anxiety, progressive weakness and labored breathing— followed by death. Animals may show increased rate of respiration, increased pulse rate, gasping, muscular twitching and convulsions. Some deads may have no visible symptoms. If a relatively large amount is eaten quickly, the animals will die suddenly. A more likely scenario is that cattle eat smaller quantities of the forage over a longer time. First observations for symptoms are: salivation, then a gradual increase in respiratory rate followed by staggering, falling, severe convulsions and death. Veterinarian colleagues have told me that animals that survive two or three hours after onset of symptoms will most likely recover. If you see any symptoms, immediate veterinarian intervention is the order of the day.

Action items to avoid/reduce prussic acid issues:

Do not to graze sorghum, sudangrass or heavily infested Johnsongrass fields with young, short growth. Plants two feet tall should be low-risk. Grain sorghum regrowth can be especially troublesome. Saying that we should have some sheep come in to clean up the sorghum regrowth on the frost is similar to saying that we need distemper to come in and clean up the barn cats; expect high mortality.

Delay grazing sorghum species pastures for a week following a frost; it will frost first on low-ground fields. Frost kill may be uneven, the sure visual trigger is that the forage is dried out, and brown in color (brown as in paper-bag brown).

Do not allow such pastures to be grazed when initial frosts are likely.

Do not turn hungry cattle onto a pasture of sorghum species. Feed them prior to turn out. The best thing to feed them is a concentrate, say at least half a percent of body weight as Cattle Charge.

In standing plants, after a killing frost, the prussic acid will usually have dissipated after two days. That is about quickly as you can expect the dissapation. Waiting a week is a better recommendation for the field. Harvested sorghum silages and hay will release prussic acid over time. In hay, it will usually occur by the time it has finished the sweat, and in silages at terminal pH (two to three weeks) the prussic acid has dropped off.

Consider restricted grazing via a strip-graze configuration for the pasture. This increases the proportion of lower plant that the cattle consume, which reduces the proportion of leaf in the diet (where prussic acid concentrations are highest).

Culling for profit

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

If she costs too much to keep, make the most you can on the cull

In a year like this, when forage supply is low, it is an expensive proposition to carry unproductive cows. Moreover, the value of lean beef is currently high and corn crop projections have reduced the price of corn. It might be an opportune time to add profit to cows who aren’t paying their way.

Selling cull cows tends to be an activity that producers allow to happen on its own. You don’t strategically time the sale; you tend to sell when you preg check and wean. Of course, that’s the same time everyone else is doing it. If you can move the sale of the cow a couple of months either way, the market might be better due to lower supply.

Given market conditions, commodity prices and general market timing, it can make economic sense to put cull beef cows into a feed yard.
One path toward generating more value for cull cows is to fatten the cow for about three months for the “white fat” market. To do that, put cows on a high-concentrate diet, and feed as if they are feedlot heifers. The time it takes to put gain on moves the marketing of the cows from the typical lower prices at weaning to a time of the year with typically higher prices paid for cull cows.  

Your forage requirement is dramatically reduced for feeding out cull cows compared to carrying cows. Gestating cows will often get 20 pounds of hay per day. A cow on a finishing diet gets two to five pounds of hay, with the balance of her diet consisting of a grain ration. The amount of finishing ration that a thin cull cow will eat in a dry lot can be surprising. Cows on finishing diets will eat 20 to 30 percent more pounds of dry matter than you might expect. But from an efficiency perspective, this is gratifying—their ADG will also be higher than expected.

Making feeding cull cows work
Know your market—when and where cattle are going to be sold. If the market demands that they be white fat, they need to be fed with as little forage as possible for at least 10 to 12 weeks. And, they need to be sound—not lame, no broken-mouth cows. At best they will be thin, having just weathered the nutritional drain of a nursing calf. This provides a big frame to hang a lot of flesh on, and in this condition, they’re more efficient at gaining than if they were already fleshy.

Have them gain fast and as efficiently as possible. A typical backgrounding ration will have an energy level of 0.48-0.50 Mcal. Cull cows would be expected to gain three pounds per day on that. If you push the energy level to that of a typical finishing diet, say 0.61-0.62 NEg, you would expect cows to gain over four pounds per day. High rates of gain reduce yardage. In a forage-short year, high energy diets spare forage. Finish with high energy rations, 0.61 to 0.62 mcal NEg which roughly corresponds to eight to 10 percent forage; eight to 10 percent of a 40-percent feedlot supplement; and 80 to 85 percent corn.

Use growth promotant feed additives where possible (Bovatec or an ionophore).

Aggressively implant. This will tend to increase the protein requirement of the cows along with the average daily gain and feed-to-gain ratios.

Use several steps over a two to three week period to get them on full feed.

You can start them on Cattle Charge or Full Throttle. Add corn at roughly 0.75 to a pound up to two pounds. Keep them on that for two to three days, then increase another two pounds. Stop when they don’t clean up the ration.

If using a self-feeder

If you wish to exploit a forage base and self-feeder, use Cadence 50 C. Here you can expect approximately the upper two-pound range to close to three pounds average daily gain.

If you have no interest in restricted feeding, you can finish on Endpoint at 200 pounds with 1,800 pounds of corn. Here you would be targeting 3.5 pounds of average daily gain on cows.

If bunk-feeding, bunk space is critical. Remember cows are much bigger than the usual feedlot calf—10 inches of bunk space is not enough. It’s better to double bunk space. Shoot for 20 to 24 inches per cow.

Don’t feed the parasites. Vaccinate and treat for parasites. And as you are figuring your return on investment, don’t forget that you need to budget higher transportation costs. You’ll get 29 to 31 head per pot load.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.


Silage questions and answers

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

I get questions. And silage questions are among the top. I’ve gathered a few (and left off the names to protect both innocent and guilty).

Q: Is it true that high nitrates can kill cows? What dose? And why?
A: Smothering can kill cows. Excessive nitrate consumed can become nitrite in the rumen, and nitrite really holds on to oxygen. Nitrates are not always toxic to animals; most forages contain some nitrates (plants like handling nitrogen as nitrate). When feeds containing nitrates are consumed by ruminants, nitrates are changed in the rumen to ammonia that is used by rumen bacteria.

That is the good news. The bad news is that nitrite is one of the intermediate products in the breakdown of nitrate and is the cause of nitrate poisoning.

Some nitrite is absorbed, and nitrite in the bloodstream changes hemoglobin to methemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen, but methemoglobin is incapable of carrying oxygen. The toxic level depends both on the amount of nitrate in the feed, and how fast the feed that contains nitrate is consumed.

Nitrate concentration will spike up for a couple days after a drought-breaking rain. When drought-stressed plants get water, they try to make up for lost time, and nitrate levels increase.

Although nitrate levels in drought-stricken corn may be high, ensiling usually reduces more than half the nitrates. For this reason, nitrate toxicity rarely occurs when feeding ensiled drought corn. However, if drought damage was extreme and high levels of nitrogen were applied to the soil, a nitrate test on the silage should be conducted. Rate of nitrate intake is the most critical factor influencing possible toxicity. Cows grazing corn stalks are unlikely candidates for nitrate issues—they do not eat the part of the plant that has the nitrates. Nitrates accumulate in the lower base of the plant, the part cows want to leave behind if they have a choice.

Likewise if you have to get safe green chop right away, raise the chopper to take the plants just under the ear. Green chop should be fed the day it is harvested. As mentioned earlier, the nitrate breaks down to nitrite, and it is the nitrite that hogs up the oxygen in the blood as greenchop nitrite levels grow higher.

Q: What is the best moisture content to ensile drought stressed corn?
A: If you had the chance to chop corn at the best moisture content for silage, it would be 65 to 68 percent moisture. Moisture levels lower than 50 percent are low for silage. Below 50 percent is workable, but excluding air becomes a challenge.
The silage will mold if air is able to get in, so adequate sealing is important. Excluding air reduces spoilage, which saves feed (which this year saves you big money).If the corn plants did not set ears, it will tend to stay wet until it dries up, dies or a good frost comes.

Q: What is the feeding value of drought-stressed corn silage?
A: Corn silage drought stunted to less than 20 bushels per acre will have about 75 to 80 percent the total digestible nutrients of normal silage. So, if normal silage has a TDN of 72 to 75 percent on a dry matter basis, drought silage will be 54 to 60 TDN, which is adequate for many applications. It could be supplemented with energy in some cases.

Absence of ears does not imply that corn silage lacks fermentable energy. It’s actually the contrary—the kernel was not a glucose sink, and there are a high level of soluble sugars with nowhere to go. As the corn plant matures, the energy level and dry matter yield increases.

I recommend allowing corn to develop as fully as possible, even if ears and grain are lacking. There are wide variations in the nutritive content of drought-stressed corn silage. Get it tested so you know what you have to work with. If you get the forage test back that shows high potassium, expect high nitrates, which you should expect on stressed plants.

If the plants were very young, say waist high, tasselled out and dried out, you might see a protein level in the mid teens. And, in that corn, nitrates might get as high as 0.9 to 1 percent, which means that you would need to limit-feed the material. Feed at levels to keep rations below 0.25 percent nitrates for wet cows and 0.44 percent for growing animals or mature adults at maintenance.

Q: Adverse weather conditions present me with major challenges. First, I am not able to produce enough forage. Second, the forage quality is hit and miss. It is either really good (the drought-stressed alfalfa has a relative feed value over 200), or it is really bad (the corn with no grain in it). My questions are: should I buy more forage? Or, should I keep forage at a minimum, and bring in concentrates of higher fiber?
A: A common question these past two years. First, it is essential to evaluate your particular situation, including effects on cash flow. The other day I was talking to an accountant. I was whining about how they had costed out some inputs. And I asked, “Why did you do it like that?”
The accountant said, “To get the right answer.”
That seemed a good reason—the way I wanted to do it was to not consider some costs. Sure, that made for cheaper feed, but it was an inaccurate number, which would have projected more income-over-feed cost than there really was.
If you can get additional price-competitve forage, then importing forage is certainly a viable option. But consider what you’re buying. Work with a known dealer, or have an agreement for minimum quality. Also consider the forage’s availability, palatability and suitability. Drought-stressed material might also have high levels of nitrates or increased incidence of poisonous plants.
If you hold down the amount of effective fiber fed to milk cows, you will tend to want to feed lower amounts of starch-NSC to them.
When faced with a true shortage of forage, feeding lesser amounts of coarse material is a tactical approach to the inventory problem. As the pounds of NDF fiber from forage declines, the minimum diet ADF increases and the minimum diet NSC decrease.
To achieve the energy level in the diets that your cows need, you can consider supplementing MFA Dairy Heartland feed to take pressure off the shortage of forage availability.


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