Feature

External forces challenge agriculture

Sow gestation stalls still a target

Chris Chinn’s family uses gestation stalls to keep pregnant sows separated on their farm near Clarence, Mo. She contends that the stall system her family adopted in the 1990s provides more safety for the sows and their offspring than group housing. Yet the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups have successfully led battles in seven states to ban the stalls, also called crates.

“Gestation stalls prevent injuries from sows fighting,” explains Chinn, who has addressed hundreds of audiences across the nation in recent years as part of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program, which she chaired in 2007. “They also allow us to make sure that each animal gets adequate food and water. Before we had crates, the sows were in a group setting, and dominant sows ate all the feed.”

In groups, overweight sows ended up with babies too big to birth, she added, and underweight sows’ offspring were often stillborn. Beyond production, nutrition and safety benefits, the stalls allow farmers to keep individual records on each animal’s feeding habits and health, and provide easier access for farm workers and vets. It represents an evolution of hog production that affords both efficiency and careful husbandry.

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Take Care of those first-calf Heifers

Good nutrition and time of calving will earn you more beef

In future years the beef cattle industry will have to make some significant changes and become more businesslike in its approach to owning cattle. The move will be necessary to cope with interest rates, tight capital and a fluctuating cattle market. One of these changes will be an increased level of management in the beef cow herd.  alt

Aside from plain frugality, there are a couple calculations cattle producers must be aware of to increase productivity. One is a simple formula: the percent net calf crop is equal to the number of calves weaned divided by the number of cows in the breeding herd times 100. Calculation of net calf crop in this manner gives a true measure of production.

Primary factors affecting percent net calf crop are:

• Failure of the female to become pregnant.
• Calf losses at or shortly after birth.

These two factors, in a survey of 12,827 calvings at Miles City, Montana Research Station, accounted for 82 percent of the net calf crop reduction.

The second formula to be aware of is pounds of calf produced per cow, calculated as the total pounds of calf weaned per year divided by the number of cows in the breeding herd. The Montana data showed one herd had the highest net calf crop but the lowest pounds of calf per cow, causing it to be the least productive. In that study, poor reproductive performance was 28 percent and calving loss at birth was 14 percent of the reduction in pounds of calf weaned per cow. Weaning weight and growth rate are important, but if you lose 42 percent of the potential calf crop along the way, it is time for an honest evaluation of your program.

Since failure of the female to become pregnant accounts for 60 percent of the total reduction in net calf crop and 28 percent of reduced pounds of calf weaned per cow, let’s have a closer look at how you can increase pregnancy rates.

1. Effect of time of birth on weaning weight

0-20 Days

21-40 Days

41-60 Days

Avg Daily Gain

Age at Weaning

Weaning Weight

70%

24%

6%

1.68

207

417

42%

39%

9%

1.49

195

360

19%

33%

48%

1.28

181

301

Beef Digest Dec-Jan 1980

Heifers calving as two-year-olds early in the breeding season wean heavier calves and continue calving early throughout their productive life. The nearby table shows the effect of time of birth in the calving season on weaning weight with heifers that calve earlier and wean older, heavier calves.

Late-calving heifers exhibit erratic reproductive performance, producing calves sporadically and missing some years. Therefore, selection of replacement heifers based on pregnancy and especially early conception may be an excellent tool for increasing profits. A study at Miles City with 140 yearling Angus heifers was conducted to examine this possibility. Two groups were evaluated:

2. Production Efficiency of New management vs. Controls New Management

 

Estrus

Pregnancy

Control Estrus

Pregnancy

First 21 days (%)

95

70

77

46

First 45 days (%)

100

87

96

75

End of breeding Season (%)

100

87

--

90

Weaning weight (lb.)

433

 

396

 

Miles City, Montana Experiment Station

• A control group with a 90-day breeding season and selection into the cow herd on pregnancy, adjusted weaning weight and conformation.

• The “new management” group. Heifers in this group were bred 21 days earlier, selected into the cow herd entirely on early pregnancy and had a 45-day breeding season.

Seventy-percent more heifers were exposed than were needed as replacements and estrus synchronization was used on the new management group. Table 2 shows the results with more heifers in the new management group exhibiting early estrus and pregnancy and increased weaning weight.


3. Influence of weight of cattle of different on proportion cycling
 

85-90 percent

65-70 percent

50 percent

Angus

650

600

550

Hereford

725

700

675

Shorthorn

600

550

535

Charolals

750

725

700

A &  H Cross

675

760

625

Simmental x English Breeds

750

700

675

Limousin x English Breeds

750

700

675

Brahman x English Breeds

750

725

700

Wittbank, J.N.

These data show that getting heifers cycling and settled early in the breeding season is important for early calving the first and subsequent calvings. This emphasizes the importance of heifers reaching puberty by 14 months of age. The weights needed for 50, 70 and 90 percent of the heifers to cycle for several breeds are shown below. By knowing your weaning weights and target breeding weights, rate of gain may be calculated and a management plan and nutrition program formulated.

Heifers on straight roughage usually do not have the rumen capacity to meet energy needs and can’t compete well with older cows for available feed. In addition, protein and mineral requirements are higher for heifers than for cows and often are not met. Therefore, heifers should be separated from the cows and fed to meet their needs.

Heifers in a trial at Kansas State University were divided into three groups to study the effect of energy level on cow and calf performance. Energy levels were based on the NRC requirement of 8.4 lbs. TDN and altered as shown Table 4.

 

 

4. Influence of weight of cattle of different on proportion cycling
 

Group 1

Group 2

Group 3

Energy Level

     

Phase 1 (70 dys.)

NRC

70% NRC

70% NRC

Phase 2 (50 dys.)

NRC

NRC

70% NRC

Weight Change (lbs.)

     

Phase 1

60.3

-15.5

14.6

Phase 2

85.7

130.9

75.6

Total

146

115.5

90.2

       

Milk Production  (lbs.)

11

12

9.5

First Service Conception (percent)

37

48

25

Conception - 60 days Breeding Season

80

82

68

Corah, et al.

As the research shows, management and nutrition of heifers are extremely important for the beef producer. Ideally, heifers should be separated from cows and fed to meet their higher nutrient requirement and increase the number cycling for early breeding.

Light-weight heifers at weaning require more grain to reach puberty by breeding season and may need to be separated from heavier heifers. They should be bred 20 to 30 days before the cows and bred at 14 months if calving as two-year-olds is desired. More heifers should be kept back for replacements and emphasis of selection into the cow herd on early conception.

You’ll never catch me claiming that ruminant nutritionists have rhythm. But we sure can bang on a drum. I’ve been banging this one a long time. In fact, I penned the bulk of what you’ve just read 30 years ago. It’s all still true. Bang, bang, bang…

Dr White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

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MU's AgEd department shines Nationally

It’s gratifying to have someone give favorable notice to your efforts; doubly so when the plaudits come from your peers, people in the same line of work.

MU’s Agricultural Education Department was recently named a distinguished program in a nationwide survey conducted under the auspices of the American Association for Agricultural Education Research. Out of 82 colleges and universities with similar programs, MU ranked fourth, coming in behind the University of Florida, Texas A&M and Ohio State, respectively. In the study, MU received 35 top 10 votes; eight of the survey respondents ranked Mizzou as the No. 1 program in the nation.

“We’re proud of our high ranking,” said Dr. Rob Terry, professor and chairman of Ag Ed. “Our faculty made the top 15 in the study, and we were the only school with three faculty members listed on top.”

Faculty were cited as a distinguishing feature of each Ag Ed program surveyed. Other characteristics considered in the MU's Ag Ed department ranked high in a surveystudy included research, graduate programs, range and scope of programs, communications and teacher education.

“But a big share of the credit goes to our students,” Terry continued. “We have some fantastic Ag Ed students; many of them come from outstanding high school agriculture classes.”

The praise goes both ways. “I’m glad I chose Mizzou Ag Ed,” said Kelin Kruse, now a senior majoring in Ag Ed, with a teaching emphasis. Kruse grew up on a farm near Fairview, Mo., where the family raises broilers, beef cattle and row crops, graduating from East Newton High School in 2006. “The Ag Ed faculty provides us [students] with a good foundation to promote and educate others about agriculture, both in and out of the classroom.

“I plan to teach high school agriculture and serve as FFA advisor somewhere in Missouri,” Kruse continued. “My goal is to eventually teach in southwest Missouri close to where I grew up.”

While a big part of the task of the Ag Ed faculty is to prepare agricultural educators, they also focus on enhancing communication and leadership skills for future professionals in other ag-related careers.

“We offer a teaching option and a leadership option as areas of interest for Ag Ed students,” said Rob Terry. “Two dozen of our students are student-teaching this spring. In addition, we have several students who are pursuing careers other than teaching. We try to serve the needs of all students by planning and conducting educational experiences that promote learning, whatever profession the student plans to enter after graduation.”

And, some students are considering both.

“After college, I plan to pursue a career teaching secondary agriculture in a Missouri high school,” said Megan Dohrman, currently an Ag Ed junior. “And I’m considering a career in the ag industry at some point, but I would like to teach for a good portion of time before that.”

Dohrman grew up on a diversified crop and livestock family farm near Sweet Springs, Mo., and attended Sweet Springs High School. Like many other Ag Ed students, she came to Mizzou with strong leadership credentials on her resume.

“In elementary school, I was active in the Pettis County 4-H,” she said. “While in FFA in high school, I was treasurer, vice president and president of our chapter. I was FFA Area VI vice president and in 2007-2008 I was state FFA vice president from Area VI.”

Katie King, who was raised on the family’s cattle and row crop farm in northeast Missouri and is now an Ag Ed senior, started in 4-H at the tender age of 8. As a freshman at Adair County R-I high school at Novinger, Mo., she helped charter the FFA chapter there and went on to serve as reporter, vice president and president.

Rob Terry commended the Ag Ed student body for its help in building the high-ranking program.

“All Ag Ed faculty are first and foremost teachers,” he said. “But each of us takes part in student organizations and we all serve as academic advisors for both undergraduates and graduate students.

“Another distinguishing characteristic of our program is the amount of outreach and service we do,” he went on. “We spend a lot of time working with high school agriculture teachers and their students across Missouri. We also serve as liaison for FFA and for state agriculture teacher meetings. And we are well supported, both here on the campus and across the state.”

Terry added that the Missouri Ag Ed Department is going to have to learn to do more with less in these tough economic times.

“But the school is building on its success and reaching out in innovative ways,” he concluded. “The role of teachers and leaders as advocates for our food, fiber and natural resource systems has never been more important. Through practice and research, we are exploring innovative ways to get the positive message about American agriculture out to all people.”



Robert Torres earns Kemper Fellowship

Missouri’s Robert M. Torres received the 2009 William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. Torres, Ph.D professor and director of graduate studies in the Agricultural Education Department of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), is the third of 3 Ag Ed professors to earn the award: Rob Terry, Ag Ed Department chairman, received the fellowship in 2008, and Bryan Garton, Ph.D professor and CAFNR associate dean in 2004.

Torres came to MU in 2002 and has been dubbed a “teachers’ teacher” by many of his colleagues. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New Mexico State University, and his doctorate from Ohio State.

The Kemper Fellowships were established in 1991 by a $500,000 gift from the late William T. Kemper. The trust fund is managed by Commerce Bank, and includes a $10,000 award.

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History in a cornfield Steamboat Arabia

Stewart Morris farms along the Missouri River near Levasey, Mo., just east of Kansas City. When David Hawley contacted him in the 1980s about a steamboat called Mars lying under his cornfield, “I thought it was a bunch of bull,” Morris says. He figured Hawley was searching for oil.

But Stewart’s respect grew in 1987 when David discovered the steamboat Arabia under another farmer’s cornfield nearby. Since 1856, when the Arabia launched from St. Louis, the Missouri River had shifted, eventually burying the 171-foot side paddle wheeler a half-mile from the river’s current course and 45 feet beneath the earth.  

It took the Hawley crew more than a year and a million dollars to excavate the Arabia, but she eventually yielded over 200 tons of cargo. You can see more than 100,000 of those treasures, including hatpins, silk and perfume, and Indian trade guns and beads, in the Arabia Steamboat Museum near the river in Kansas City, Mo.

“I take all of my out of town guests to the museum, and they’re flabbergasted,” Stewart said. “It’s just unbelievable that all that stuff was underground.” The venue attracts about 100,000 visitors a year.

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