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

Don’t get blinded by spring green

on .

Don’t quit feeding hay too soon in the spring. It will be tempting with dwindling hay supplies to skimp on the feeding program and hope that the cows can satisfy their nutritional needs from sprigs of grass. But don’t short your cows now. Research shows that cows that lost weight just prior to calving had weaker calves and lower conception rates later in the spring, especially those that lost weight before and after calving.

There are numerous studies that show thinner cows have lower pregnancy rates. It suffices to say that cows at BCS 4 or below need help; cows should be closer to BCS 6 for best results. If you start to graze animals too soon, they flash graze—just chasing around anything green rather than buckling down and gnawing on fescue stems.

Some producers will be prone to forget the herd’s mineral needs as pastures begin to open. But remember that cows undergoing the stress of a hard winter will utilize minerals faster than cows with little stress. To obtain optimum immune function and reproductive performance from your herds, make sure to provide sufficient levels of macro and trace minerals.
Speaking in defense of the pasture, in a spring following drought, grass roots are suffering from last growing season’s water shortage—this is the case in spite of the pastures starting to green up. To help pastures recover, grazing should be delayed by a couple weeks to let roots recover and the plant build up leaf area.

Drought weakens plant root systems, and heavy grazing on drought-stressed cool-season grasses (fescue, bromegrass, Orchardgrass) makes the situation worse. Cool-season grasses grazed heavily early in the year will lower the total forage yield, which translates directly to lower carrying capacity.
Usually the best time to begin grazing cool-season pastures is when the plants are 3 to 4 inches tall. If you start earlier than that, the subsequent yields will likely be lowered. Yet it’s a fine line: if the pastures are too wet, you might refrain from grazing until grass is 6 inches tall. But in most of Today’s Farmer country, if you wait longer than that, the pastures will rapidly “get away from you.”

Given that normal (I have the usual questions about what is “normal” weather) springs are wet, graze the best-drained areas first. Start grazing in a different pasture every year, to maintain stand persistence and control weeds.
Native warm-season pastures will be treated differently than cool-season pastures. If you have pastures of switchgrass or bluestem, the pastures should be grazed early to remove early season grasses and weeds. Getting rid of the weeds helps retain moisture and reduces competition for the warm-season species. Grazing early growth on native, warm-season pastures will not harm the warm-season grass as long as cattle finish grazing before new grass shoots get more than a couple inches tall. In northern Missouri this is the first week of May. The further south you go, the earlier this happens.

In my discussions with the MFA agronomists about when to start grazing, I jotted down the following points:
•    There is no right or wrong time. Much depends upon stand condition.
•    Many producers will be frost-seeding legumes into stressed pastures this winter. It is critically important that stressed pastures receive adequate fertility before grazing. Growers should apply their N, P and K late winter and let that take hold before aggressive grazing.
•    In areas where stands have become thin, grazing too early will stimulate weed problems. Some weeds graze well, others do not.
•    If the pasture is extremely stressed, it would be a good time to renovate. In this situation we recommend a kill-smother-kill program. No grazing should be done on those fields.
Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Feed laminitis-prone horses soaked hay

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Hay soaking is one defense against laminitis, but don’t forget supplement nutrition

Soaking hay for the delicately constituted horse works, but you need to understand the practice to get it right.
Most candidates are horses that are prone to laminitis. Onset symptoms often include overconsumption of water-soluble carbohydrates or fructans. Likewise, we have seen older, obese and sedentary horses that seem to be intolerant of water-soluble carbohydrates at greater than about 10 percent of their feed. Whichever the case, these problem horses require some kind of feed modification when it comes to hay.

Although it sounds confusingly technical, it’s worth understanding how laminitis works. In a horse’s gut, starch is rapidly broken down to glucose by amylase in the horse’s system, but fructans aren’t. Some fructans will escape the small intestine and it’s possible they will ferment in the large intestine. When that happens, the bacteria turns to lactic acid.
When large amounts of sugar, starch or fructans show up in the large intestine, fermentation is rapid. This extensive fermentation in the large intestine produces substantial lactic acid, which drops the pH. If the decline in pH is drastic enough, bacteria in the intestine will disintegrate, releasing toxins that are stored in the bacteria cell walls.

These toxins enter the bloodstream and are thought to be the principal cause of equine laminitis.
The idea behind soaking hay prior to feeding is knock out some of the water-soluble carbohydrates. Cool-season grasses such as fescue, bromegrass and timothy accumulate fructan as their growth-storage carbohydrate. Clovers and alfalfa accumulate starch rather than fructans. Warm season grasses such as crabgrass, switchgrass, and sudangrass do not accumulate fructans.
Feeding is an important factor in the onset of laminitis. Typically laminitis occurs during periods of increased or rapid intake of non-fiber carbohydrates. While we can reduce the amount of water-soluble carbohydrates by soaking hay in water prior to feeding it, some horses are much more tolerant of water-soluble carbs than others. In other words, there is substantial variation between horses and establishing minimum/maximum specs for water-soluble carbohydrates/fructans is tenuous at best.

So how effective is hay soaking, and if what works the best? Usually, removal is greater with warm water than cold. Chopped hays loses more water-soluble carbs than long-stem hay, and removal increases with length of soaking. In addition to fructans and water-soluble carbohydrates, soaking hay also reduces potassium and protein, especially during long soaks.

Research at the University of Minnesota compared soaking long-stem bud alfalfa, full flower alfalfa, mixed orchardgrass/alfalfa, vegetative orchardgrass and mature orchardgrass. Researchers there compared soaking in 70 degree water and 100 degrees at 15, 30 or 60 minutes. The hay flakes were put in mesh bags and crammed into a bucket with 6 to 7 gallons of water.

Results showed the following: Soaking reduced water-soluble, ethanol-soluble carbs and fructan content in all hays.
Generally, the 15-minute cold water soak resulted in the least reduction carbs and fructans, but it usually would cut the water soluble carbohydrates by a third or so. The 12-hour cool soak had the greatest reductions.
As expected, water temperate influenced carbohydrate removal, with warm water being more effective. But, the researchers did note a significant problem with the 12-hour soak—25 to 30 percent loss in dry matter.

Results from other researchers have also shown highly variable removal of water-soluble carbohydrates. Ryegrass probably has the highest levels of fructans for any grass, and very few ryegrass samples reached below 10 percent of water-soluble carbohydrates regardless of length of soaking.

While soaking hay certainly provides some improved safety, it is a practice that cannot be used with complete confidence.
In other words ,there is concern that soaking may not be sufficient to guarantee that hay is safe to feed to laminitis-prone equids. And soaking effects vary widely among hay types and soaking methods.
The conservative approach would be to have your hay tested for water-soluble carbs, and devise a feeding program based on the test levels of water-soluble carbs.

Complimentary MFA horse feed would be EasyKeeper Golden Years or Legends CarbControl.
As an expedient field practice, soak hay in warm water for 30 minutes, or in cold water for an hour. The Brits are over the moon about soaking hay and have a number of cute hay soakers and steamers, but they are expensive.

Check out to learn more. But if you’re pricing from that site, remember to convert from British pound to U.S. dollars.

Of course, you could hillbilly engineer one yourself for under $100 with a plastic truck box, a garment steamer, $5 of CPVC pipe and some window screen.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.


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