Cows carry herd profitablility

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

A herd of Cows in good flesh has more calves and weans heavier calves.

Variation in the body condition of beef cows has a number of practical implications for your herd. The BCS of cows at calving is associated with length of postpartum interval, subsequent milking performance and newborn calf health and vigor. Excessive condition is often overrated as a cause of difficultbirthing in older cows, although fat heifers are known to be prone to calving difficulty. The condition of cows at breeding affects their reproductive performance in terms of service for conception, calving interval and the percentage of open cows.

What producers can do now, a couple of months ahead of spring calving, is sort the cows according to condition. If you can see ribs, they are going to be less than a BCS 5. Feed that group to gain weight. Cows that are 5 to 7 BCS should be sorted to be fed for maintenance to a slight gain. Finally, I have not seen many cows over 7, other than some pets and ET cows. So we’ll leave that group out. (For help judging body condition, see Today’s Farmer Summer 2011, p34.)

Why is having cows in good condition important? Because it makes a difference when cows get bred. If a cow doesn’t get pregnant, she’s a cull or a real money sink. Research in Florida looked at several different measurements, and having a BCS greater than 5 drastically improved the chances of a cow surviving preg check.

In the nearby chart, you’ll see the percent of cows that reached heat within 80 days after calving was lower for cows with a body condition of less than 5 than for cows scoring more than 5. Low body condition can lead to low pregnancy rates consistent with the reports of the other four trials. When cows are thin, the calving interval increases. To compensate for increased production costs, calves from cows with extended calving intervals must have a heavier weaning weight than calves from cows with shorter intervals, or an increase in sale price must occur. Depending on either factor for profit is a questionable assumption. With thin cows, long breeding seasons are sometimes suggested. This is not the profitable answer. Even after five and six months of breeding, the cows scoring less than 5 at calving and during breeding did not conceive at an acceptable level. Until they have regained some body condition or have had their calf weaned, most thin cows will not rebreed regardless of how long they are exposed to bulls.

Getting weight back onto cows

The practical management implication is to supplement cows based on body condition score. Body condition significantly alters the requirement for supplemental energy and slightly alters the need for supplemental protein, but it is not a determining factor of mineral or vitamin supplementation.Mineral supplementation is always required in that plantbased feed sources are always multiple mineral deficient. In addition to body condition, cow nutrient requirements are influenced by weight, mature size, breed type, milk production level, travel and environmental stresses. All things being equal, younger cows are going to need more pounds of supplemental feed than older cows. If we feed to satisfy older cows’ needs, the younger cows will be shorted. Also older, bigger cows are better at pushing and shoving—that has a big impact on supplemental feed intake, especially where supplement is modest (say feeding two pounds of cubes a day on the ground). If possible, separating cows by age, size and BCS is helpful.

One of the most crucial factors influencing the calf’s survival and performance is the degree to which the calf absorbs enough immunoglobulins from the colostrum to protect it until the calf ’s own immune system becomes functional. How the dam is fed influences colostrum quantity and quality. Cows fed lower-energy diets have been shown to have reduced colostrum yield and reduced colostrum solids—in other words, a lower level of immunoglobulins. This is troublesome on both accounts, in that lower yield means less volume to feed, combined with lower concentration reduction in available immunoglobulins to the calf is inevitable. Feeding adequate vitamin E and selenium has been shown to improve colostrum quality, as has feeding beta glucans and mannan oligosaccharides. MFA Ricochet cow products have been fortified with the specific additives and nutrients to encourage higher colostrum quality.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

New Feed delivers healthy calves

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Focus on immune system increases calf survival and early growth

As I get more grey hair, I more frequently recall that, in days past, it was easier to be an animal nutritionist. Nutrition has evolved to include topics of physiology, microbiology, psychology and immunology. The explanations from immunology have been very helpful in explaining how health challenges will have a big effect on an animal’s growth and productivity.

Years ago, Dr. Tim Stahly convinced me. He demonstrated that young pigs kept away from disease exposure grew at a tremendous rate. He showed that when litters were split and some pigs were kept clean, and others had their immune systems turned on by disease exposure, the challenged pigs grew slower. Activating the immune system is metabolically expensive—upwards of 10 percent of nutrient intake can be used in an immune response. This pulls nutrients away from growth. Couple that with reduced feed intake for the challenged animal and performance suffers.

Over the years, we have used a number of health-immune system modifying compounds—feed additives such as direct-fed microbials, fermentation products, botanicals, yeast-cell wall components, beta-glucans, etc. Over the years, MFA has evaluated nutritional means of improving calf performance. And while we’ve made very successful feeds, we also realized that calf performance doesn’t start when they are weaned—it starts before the calf is born.
Work in the 1980s at Ohio State demonstrated that the vaccination status of the dam influenced the amount and type of immunoglobulins she would produce in colostrum. The quantity and quality of colostrum has a huge effect on calf survivability and performance. 

At birth, the calf is relativelyunprotected from disease organisms, and it takes awhile for the calf to develop its immune system. Until it does, calves are very dependent on the passive transfer of disease-fighting immunoglobulins from colostrum.

Fenceline weaning, less whining

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Strong fence and close weaning proximity helps calves

One weaning practice that continues to gain favor with both researchers and producers is fenceline weaning. Fencing companies also seem to be proponents—the practice requires good fences. This weaning system breaks the cow/calf bond through a fence, rather than waiting to the point the cow begins to kick the calf or physically separating the calf and dam separated by large distances. In this system, the pairs are separated but can still see, hear and have nose-to-nose contact. The result is a calf that bellows less, walks the fence less and, in general, is less stressed than a calf that is abruptly weaned. Research shows that fenceline weaned calves continue a close-to-normal growth rate and weight gain.

While this practice is relatively simple, it does require some space and a sturdy separation fence. The fenceline weaning process is a follows:

•    Cows and calves are maintained together for several days in a pasture with ample feed resources.
•    Calves are held here with dams so they can acclimate, find feed and water before separation occurs.
•    To separate the pairs, the cows are moved to the other side of the fence.
•    Pairs are kept separate until the bawling stops, usually about 5 days.

The better type of fence to have between the cows and calves would be either high tensile electric wire or woven wire with a start-your-heart electric charger on it. One of the critical keys to making this practice work is that the calves stay in a familiar place—an environment with the same feeding routine: a creep feeder full of Cattle Charge, same grass, same water. They will still have visual contact with their dams so the only change they undergo is no longer being able to nurse. Minimizing stress and change for calves is a big benefit in post weaning health and performance.

What do calves want? Just like their moms, calves want to be bored. An exciting day for a calf is one where he meets lots of new friends, gets vaccinated, ear tagged, hauled, dehorned, castrated, wormed, implanted and weaned. So you can see that an exciting day is really a bad day in terms of stress. Calves would much rather fill their rumen and contentedly stare off into space, in a semi-catatonic state and contemplate the bovine.

If you try fenceline weaning, after the initial separation, expect the calves to walk the fence for about 18 hours. After the first day, they will spend more time eating than bawling. As mentioned earlier, a crucial component of this program is the fence, it needs to be strong and tight. It virtually needs to be “hog tight.” Using a tight five-wire fence with a middle electric wire has been demonstrated to be adequate, you can bet that a single piece of electric tape is not. When the calf is weaned, the animal will have a markedly increased water intake, so it is important to ensure that the calves have adequate water.

A substantial benefit to fenceline weaning is the health of the calves. The incidence of calves needing treatment is lower for fenceline weaned calves than it is for calves abruptly weaned by hauling them to a drylot. The reduction in morbidity is attributed to the reduction in calf stress.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Beat bloat

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Aim for feed efficiency and careful grazing

Recently, a customer asked about bloat prevention in stocker calves weighing 500 to 600 lbs. He wondered if there is a mineral source for preventing bloat. And what about feed?
I have a short answer and a long answer.

To avoid a situation in which bloat occurs, I recommend feeding for maximum efficiency. Using a supplement such as Trendsetter with Rumensin (that’s my first choice) or Bovatec gets you there, and fine-tuned rumen helps prevent bloat. Likewise, I’d use Stocker BT Mineral (because calves that size will not eat enough of Rumensin 1620 mineral, and it is not a standard item).

Alternatively, I would feed Bloat Guard, either as bloat blocks or in the supplement. And, of course, I would try to limit things that encourage bloat—
alfalfa, soyhulls, wheat pasture, etc.

The longer answer in how to prevent bloat is to understand what causes bloat and how bloat affects cattle.
Animals bloat because they can’t pass gas from the rumen. While gasses from the rumen would normally back flow into the lungs and expel as belching, bloat occurs when the gasses mix with the content of the rumen (think lush grass cud) to form a foam.

The gas then becomes trapped in the rumen because the animal’s body reflexively will not allow foam back into the lungs.
I tell producers it’s like straining cream through cheesecloth. I can pour cream through cheesecloth. But if I whip air into it and beat the cream into “stiff peaks,” it will sit on cheesecloth.

To solve bloat, you need to break up the foam, or better yet, keep it from forming.
The foam is basically stabilized by protein. (Consider the bubbles baked into bread. The matrix that traps gas in a raising loaf of bread is a protein/gluten matrix.)

Signs of bloat
•    animal will be high on the left side, behind the ribs
•    animal will not want to move
•    animal exhibits distress—eyes bulge, tongue may protrude, exhibits bawling
•    animal strains during urination/defecation
•    animal exhibits rapid breathing
•    animal staggers

Essentially, an animal suffering bloat smothers because the pressure on the lungs keeps them from getting enough air. An animal that dies from bloat will have congested lungs and a classic bloat/blood line. Observing the animal puffed up like an inflated disposable glove is not proof of death by bloat, however, as a different set of gasses kicks in after death.

Practical advice for mild cases of bloat
Treat with a surfactant—something that breaks down the foam (i.e. BloatGuard, detergents) Make sure animals keep moving and provide ionophores in the feed—ionophores have been shown to reduce the viscosity of rumen fluid/foam.
I use Rumensin as the product of choice for feed efficiency, but people with horses tend to fear Rumensin. If I have had problems with calves bloating on Cattle Charge, I use Cattle Charge with Rumensin, and have not had re-occurrence of bloat. Note that while Rumensin is approved for bloat in Mexico, it is not approved for bloat in the U.S. Here, we focus on using Rumensin for performance/feed efficiency.

Practical advice for severe bloat
For severe cases, immediate intervention is needed. Treatment is usually with a trocar. In my experience the trocar is placed at the crown of the bulge, with care taken to avoid veins and arteries. But do get veterinarian consultation and help before you intervene. Sometimes the trocar doesn’t seem to punch a big enough hole and the hole is opened up with a stiff bladed knife, again, the territory best trod by a vet. Once the trocar has done its work, surfactant is introduced through the hole. The cuts will need to be cleaned up and sewn up. Using a trocar is quick, but the subsequent clean up is tedious, and not without risk of infection. Alternatively a stomach tube can be introduced. Expect a splash.

Prevention of bloat
When faced with grazing risky pasture such as legume pastures dominated by alfalfa and to a lesser degree clover (mixed grass clover swards of less than 40 percent clover are relatively bloat safe) or wheat pastures, consider these steps:
•    Restrict pasture intake through limiting grazing time
•    Strip graze by allocating a fraction of the pasture to the herd
•    Feed hay or other feed prior to putting them out on the suspect pasture
•    Use a surfactant such as Bloat Guard
•    Supplement feed with an ionophore

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Fill the feeding gap with creep feed

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Profit from creep timing and technique

Creep feeding calves is a well-established management tool that will both increase weaning weight and produce calf gain. By filling the nutritional gap created when milk and forage can no longer meet calf dietary needs, creep feed helps calves reach full genetic growth potential. As with any other management practice, creep feeding must be properly employed to succeed.

To creep or not to creep?
The decision to creep or not to creep depends on whether it increases profit, and the likelihood of profitable creep feeding is much greater in current markets than it was in the past. Creep feeding is more likely to be profitable because 1) it is easier these days to sell flesh on calves than it was 20 years ago; 2) the price slide is much narrower; 3) smaller calves are very efficient


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