Control costs on winter feeding

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Feed values and the right shelter blunt the cost of winter feeding

Cold stress costs money. How much it costs depends on how you prepare for cold weather. The best management approach is to balance sound nutrition with mitigating the cold with good resting environments. 

Cold stress in beef cattle results when the effective temperature an animal endures is low enough to cause the animal’s metabolic rate to increase. This compensation requires more energy to keep a cow’s critical functions going.

A cow’s “thermoneutral” zone is the temperature where the animal does not use additional energy to cool or warm herself while maintaining basic metabolism: eating, sleeping, etc. Broad research indicates a temperature of 18°F is the lowest temperature a cow with a heavy, dry winter coat will tolerate before she becomes cold stressed. 

The principal factors responsible for cold stress are fairly obvious, but they do work in combination to affect total amount of cold stress. They are: lot conditions, physical activities and weather conditions.

In the barn lot, poor conditions such as wet, muddy, unprotected resting and feeding areas mean extra work for your cows to stay warm. It takes extra energy to maintain body temperature with a wet or matted hair coat. Polar bears might burrow into deep snow to stay warm, but the same trick does not work well for cows. To compensate for this fact, cows will increase their feed intake to meet the increased energy need.

Years ago, when unrolling hay for cows on the Dakota/Minnesota border, I would sometimes see cows lay on the hay before they ate. There seems to be a point where, for a cow, it is more important to rest than to eat. The absence of dry resting and feeding areas can be a significant factor in cold stress. Providing adequate bedding reduces the animals energy requirement. It saves feed and keeps weight on cows. 

In addition to lot factors, cow body condition can erode when the animals are not meeting their required nutritional needs. Sometimes this occurs because a producer might have used the nutrition algorithm of “the feed that is cheapest wins.” The result of that plan is that you might be unable to meet the herds’ nutrient needs because feeds were bought according to cost rather than nutrient value. Feeds that can’t meet nutrition requirements in cold weather can be the beginning of a fix that ends up costing more than better feed would have to begin with. If it is cold, wet and windy, I can end up with cows really deep into the Cattle Charge bin—and really quick.

If adequate feed energy is not provided during extremely cold conditions, the cow will use body fat to meet her requisite energy needs; additionally, it is likely that she will also mobilize body protein out of muscle tissue, losing both body fat and muscle. If this happens for an extended period of time, cows use up excessive body fat and muscle. After that, they might end up in the mortality column. 

Wind chill and lower temperatures are major players in determining a cow’s energy needs. Wind chill effects can be reduced by providing windbreaks. Having at least a 50 percent solid break is requisite, and having it covered to help keep them dry will further reduce the amount of feed required to keep their body temperature where it needs to be. 

As an example, let’s assume a mid-gestation beef cow that weighs 1,350 to 1,400 pounds. She is going to need about 24 pounds of dry matter and 12 pounds of TDN per day if it is a comfortable 30 degrees F and dry. However for every two degrees F the temperature drops, she will need another half pound of TDN, or, for rough figuring, a pound of hay.

As the temperature drops, there soon comes a point that she will not be able to eat enough hay. At that point, the higher energy needs will only be met by feeding additional concentrates. And that too will hit a limit. 

To budget for winter feeding (both economically and in terms of feedstuffs), it is important to know the nutrient value of forages and feeds on the farm. By using feed analyses you can more closely match the nutrient needs of the cow and reduce winter feeding costs. You certainly do not want to underfeed cows. Overfeeding is wasteful. Knowing the nutrient content and feedstuff inventory gets you closer to matching their nutrient needs without overfeeding or underfeeding them. 

Feed sample analysis is a nominal cost in the expense column for a livestock operation. And, knowing the nutritional value of the feed and forage on your farm can potentially save substantial expense. It will cost you to overfeed. And it’ll cost you if you underfeed. But if you know what you’re putting in the feeders and keep your cows in condition, they’ll calve easier and breed back better. You’ll get a better paycheck for your effort.

Dr. White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

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.



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