Keep her in condition

Written by TF staff on .

Tracking a cow’s body condition score has become a standard method in judging general breeding soundness. A cow that is too skinny or too fat is prone to more difficulty at breeding, conception and at raising a healthy calf. And, given today’s cattle and feedstuff prices, it’s more important than ever to convert the costs of herd maintenance and your labor into marketable pounds of beef.

Over the years, beef experts have settled on a few times of year that are optimal for checking body condition. These times are significant in the breeding cycle and if you pay close attention, you’ll have time to help cows recover body condition through feeding and sorting. Typically, it’s a 90- to 120-day schedule, with particular scrutiny at 30 days prior to breeding, 90 days post-breeding, weaning, 100 days prior to calving, and calving.

Taking a look at breeding cows multiple times during the year is important because changing an animal’s body condition score takes time. To move up a score, you generally need to add 60 to 80 pounds of body weight on

Make it while the sun shines and keep it under cover

Written by Allen Huhn on .

A quick guide to tarping hay

Everything is more costly when energy and commodity prices run high. Hay is no exception, so it’s worth taking a little extra time to stack it and tarp it properly.

Stored outside without cover, the average big round hay bale will lose about 20 percent of its mass to spoilage. That 20 percent is consumed by a mere 3-inch band of spoilage around the perimeter of a 5-foot diameter bale. When you figure the cost of that spoilage, the time and resources invested in covering bales become more attractive. I’ve penciled out the following costs using a bale that measures 5 feet in diameter by 4 feet wide.

You can see from the math, the value of the hay being tarped is a positive gain per bale. And, with the life expectancy of 3 to 5 years for a properly installed tarp, it would be pure profit after the first year. If these same 72 bales were stored outside in a row, considering a 20 percent spoilage rate, you would have lost approximately 14 bales.
But to save money and keep hay from spoiling, you need to keep the tarp on the bales through the non-feeding season, which means you’ve got to have the tarp secure and prevent it from blowing into the fencerow.

28-foot by 48-foot hay tarp will cover 72 bales pyramid stacked 3-2-1
Tarp Cost: $250/72 bales= $ 3.47 per bale per year
Tie-down Rope: $19.50/72 bales = $ 0.27 per bale per year
Total Cost: $ 3.74 per bale per year
Spoilage Loss: 20 percent @ $25 per bale = $ 5 per bale per year loss
Net gain of hay tarp use: $ 1.53 per bale

Here are some tips to follow while stacking and tarping hay:
Be sure to size the tarp properly. A smaller tarp is better than too big. A proper sized tarp should be at or just below the widest portion of the bales on the bottom row.
Ropes under bales work best. This allows the tarp to be tightened securely against the stack preventing wind from getting under the tarp and creating a big sail on a windy day. A 25-foot span of quarter-inch poly propylene rope placed every 3 feet under the bales while they are being stacked works well.

Plastic pipe is better to use than steel as it will follow the contour of the bales more closely, thus creating a tighter fit.

Ropes securing tarp need to be kept tight at all times. You need check the ropes frequently as the hay settles. Slack in the rope from settling bales invites in the biggest culprit in tarp damage—wind. The main objective while securing the stack is preventing the wind from getting under the tarp. If this is accomplished you should get several years out of your investment.

Allen Huhn is a farm supply product manager for MFA Incorporated.

Cows head for fewer weeds

Written by Steve Fairchild on .

MU study shows investigates cows’ grazing preferences

Keeping pasture in condition in the Midwest is a perennial challenge. And it’s one that often falls low on the priority list for diversified farms. But research from the University of Missouri shows that modest weed management on continuously grazed pasture can pay dividends in forage production and certainly makes a difference from a cow’s perspective. She likes fewer weeds.

That cows prefer grass over weeds may seem like a good dose of common sense. The idea behind a three-year study from University of Missouri Extension weed scientist Dr. Kevin Bradley and graduate student Bryan Sather was to better understand the effects of a mid-grazing-season herbicide application on a herd’s grazing habits.
Bradley and his student used GPS collars on representative cows in several herds to see where they spent time grazing throughout the season. Across three sites in Missouri, the research team split continuously grazed pasture into herbicide-treated and untreated sections. They took care to make sure the topography, water sources and shade availability were as equal as possible in each section.  And, before the project started, herd movement was tracked to get a baseline of grazing habits for each pasture.

McCann's bullish on beef

Written by Nancy Jorgensen on .

Jason McCann spent last year promoting the beef industry as president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. You’d think he’d be ready to relax at his spread in southwest Missouri. Yet he remains excited about sharing his views on the business and how it contributes to the region’s economy. 

“Beef prices are the best they’ve ever been,” said McCann, who raises 135 head of mostly Angus and Simmental near Miller, between Joplin and Springfield. “New records are being set for every sector from calves to steers headed to the packer. Record-setting prices will continue, and may climb faster if a few international markets open up and bolster imports even more.”

McCann sensed the trend and recently expanded his own herd for the third straight year. He runs up to 220 stocker cattle from December to July. As with most Missouri cattle growers, his is a cow-calf operation, and his cattle mostly feed on grass pasture and hay, except for a few calves he finishes out with corn to put in his freezer for his family’s use.
Beef tops Missouri ag sales

Jeff Windett, executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, paints Missouri as a big green nursery full of mama cows raising babies. “We are a grazing state,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of rolling hills unsuited for growing crops, and we have more moisture than other states, which makes for good grass.”

Surrounding states like Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas also raise cow-calf pairs, but host more feedlots. Missouri calves frequently end up in the feedlots, where they’re finished with corn and soybean feed that makes beef taste like what most American consumers expect.

Ron Plain, an agricultural economist with the University of Missouri, specializes in the beef industry. “The largest source of farm income in the state is cattle sales,” he said, pointing to 2007 Census of Agriculture data showing that Missouri’s farms sold $1.7 billion in cattle compared to $1.4 billion in corn and $1.3 billion in soybeans. Of Missouri’s 107,800 farms, more than half—59,000—raise cattle. Overall, agriculture ranks as the state’s second-largest industry, after the service industry.

“Only Texas has more farms that raise cattle,” Plain said. “Texas has more beef cows than Oklahoma and Missouri combined.” But then Texas has more land—you could fit about four Missouris into Texas.

Commodity prices nip pasture
Until recently, Missouri ranked second only to Texas in terms of the number of cow/calf pairs, but Oklahoma recently overtook Missouri. McCann thinks he knows why. “In one word, corn,” he said. “The corn bonanza has made people sow corn in the median strips around here.”
Plain and Windett back him up on the trend. “The high price of corn and soybeans is causing farmers to convert pasture to cropland where feasible,” Plain said. “Missouri has more acres of pasture suitable for cropping than does Oklahoma.” He cites statistics showing beef cow numbers dropping faster in crop-growing states like Missouri and Iowa than in Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. 

If it ain't country

Written by Mitch Jayne on .


Every now and then, somebody tackles the question of what “country” music is, as opposed to other varieties. Does it mean “the music of our country”—meaning America, or just “from out in the country,” as opposed to “city music?” 

I’m no expert on this, but I’d guess that country music is what you could make for yourself in case the need came up. Sort of like everything else rural folks had to do in the days before you could buy “boughten” fence posts and factory gates, much less a pre-assembled school house. Country people made these things, from which we got the words “homemade.” 

Most rural people didn’t make musical instruments, but you could always send off for a guitar, harmonica, fiddle or banjo from Sears and Roebuck—things little and light. Then you could produce “homemade country music” yourself. 

Obviously, you had to keep the weight down for shipping, so we didn’t go in for pipe organs, tubas, accordions, or harps much—and very few trombones because you could put an eye out with one of those. You hardly ever saw a Sousaphone or kettle drum in a parlor, because they took up more room than the piano, heating stove or Uncle Globus. 

In the Ozarks of Missouri, we had additional problems. The steep hills, rough roads and creek crossings made delivering even a mandolin hard, let alone a piano, which would arrive sounding like it had come off a bluff and was full of channel cat, which was sometimes the case. 

So, what we did down here, when the need for music became urgent, was make our own instruments like the smackola—an octave of different-sized chickens played with a hand paddle. We also invented the swinette, which you could make from a young pig and a section of inner tube. And there was the shotophone—a wind instrument played by blowing over the barrels of a shotgun with corncobs in the breech to vary the notes. We used a number of percussion instruments that are still popular, like washboard, spoons, jawbone, knife whetting and slat-clapping. We have come up with others such as the Buford swat (also called the “stop that!” by some musicians), and a fingernail ticking rhythm called “poly-tickin,” which some say was inspired by listening to speeches on the radio. 

I really think that “country music” depended on what we had to play at the time, which would leave out things like those Swiss horns that were longer than a political administration, and, like an administration, played just one note, or high tensioned things like harps that had more wire than a bicycle and were always threatening to implode and hurt somebody. 

My take on the music argument is that if you hum it all day, it’s “country;” if you know all the words, it’s “pop music;” and if the kids like it, it shakes the ground, breaks the windshield in your truck, stunts the crops and sours milk, it’s “city music.”

Longtime Today’s Farmer contributor Mitch Jayne passed away in 2010. We run this column in his honor.


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