Use custom approach to start cattle on feed

Cattle feeding is about risk management, providing nutrition to help the animals reach their genetic potential and caring for them in an environment they find welcoming. Animal performance starts with get­ting cattle on feed. If done correctly, quality will follow.

Producers should take a slow-and-steady approach to starting cattle on feed, being attentive to the needs of each pen. Receiving programs are not one-size-fits-most. There are specific goals for each type of cattle and certain criteria the producer needs to appreciate. Management of the diets can have long-term impacts on performance.

Considerations include:

  • Are they Health Track calves?
  • Are they bawling?
  • Were they sold through a sale barn?
  • Are they yearlings?
  • Are they local, or are they from the North, West, East or South?

The step-up program will be affected by all of the above.

When starting cattle on feed, ensure adequate amounts of clean, fresh water. The more water space, the better. If they don’t drink, they will not eat. Having a meter to mea­sure water intake is great. If calves are slow to eat, make sure they know where the water source is. It might be necessary to let the wa­terer run over to attract them to it. Make sure that the water is flowing properly and that it is good quality. If you’re unsure, have it tested at a lab for livestock suitability.

When cattle are dehydrated, there are distinct visual symptoms—both physical and behavioral—such as lethargy, tightening of the skin, weight loss, reduced feed intake, increased fecal viscosity and drying of mucous membranes. The best approach is to avoid dehydration with adequate water supplies.

Having delicious grass hay in the bunk is also good idea. Shipping and co-mingling stresses are hard on the animal and hard on the rumen. To feed the calf, we need to make sure to feed the rumen bugs. It is important to rebuild a proper rumen fiber mat and correct any disruptions caused by shipping stress. This will allow cattle to come up on feed in a healthy manner. It may not necessarily be quicker, depending on their risk factor, but it should be healthy and consistent.

The biggest thing that a manager can control is how the calves are fed every day. If you do not have a pen walker or rider, consider feeding twice a day. This gives you two opportunities daily to observe the cattle. It is important to frequent­ly check pens for morbid calves. Problems recognized early are easier to fix.

Not all cattle come up on feed the same way. A rule of thumb is to start at 1.5% of their bodyweight on a dry matter basis. As an example, start with 5 pounds of pellets and 5 pounds hay per head per day for 6-weight calves, and work up to about 2.5%, using 5 pounds of hay and 12 pounds of pellets such as MFA Cattle Charge R with Shield.

Feed delivery needs to be appro­priate. It is undesirable to overfeed, and it is undesirable to underfeed. If you deliver too much feed, expect to see reduced palatability of the bunk ration and erosion of the feed-to-gain ratio. If you don’t provide enough feed, the cattle can be short on energy, protein, medication, vitamins and minerals, resulting in reduced performance. An advantage of feeding twice a day is that you can adjust the feeding rate within half a day.

Ensure feed is fresh, whether it is silage, high-moisture grain, dry feed or liquid feed. Moldy, dusty hay, off-colored burnt corn, corn silage that has heated and so forth do not entice an animal to the bunk. No one likes to scoop bunks or pitch top spoilage, but it’s cheaper to pay for that labor than reduced perfor­mance or dead calves.

It is very helpful to calculate the daily dry matter intake. If feed intake is less than expected, look at health issues, feed quality, feed availability, water availability and quality, cattle comfort and other factors.

Monitor and evaluate the cattle every day. When doing this, don’t be on your phone when you feed or walk pens. It is important to spend time in the pen looking at and listening to the cattle. A common acronym is DART, representing four areas to be thoroughly assessed and monitored: Depression, Appetite, Respiratory and Temperature.

Remember, how you start the cattle on feed will affect how they perform for the remainder of the feeding period. The bottom line is that dry matter intake is the most important driving force for healthy, high-performing cattle and the lowest cost of gain all the way to market.

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Stretch your forage resources

Weather and growing condi­tions impact the yield and quality of forages fed to cattle. Despite all management efforts, there is an ever-present risk that adverse events will lead to a shortage of forages.

In May and June, we had a really good idea that the drought in the Dakotas would result in reduced forage availability west of the river. Throughout the Corn Belt, expect­ed reductions in forage yield were spotty. In the Western U.S., the area under drought has continued to increase.

When forage shortages do occur, there are several alternatives that may help stretch supplies. In terms of alternatives for dairy cows, we’re looking at replacements for alfalfa and corn silage. For beef cows, we typically need alternatives to fescue pastures. Usually, it is easier to replace the forage equivalent of a beef cow diet rather than a dairy diet. The specifications are more modest, and it takes a lot less to fill the shortfall.

Consider feeding crop residues, such as corn stover, to beef cows. Corn stover refers to the plant material—including leaves, stalks and cobs—remaining in a field after it has been harvested. This is a pragmatic solution, and a common expectation is to budget an acre of corn stalks per month for each cow.

For dairy cows, however, feeding stover is not always the most viable option. Mid-gestation spring-calving cows typically have lower nutrition requirements, so they may be able to handle the lower forage quality of corn stalks. However, corn stover does not have adequate nutritional value for wet milk cows.

Treating and processing corn sto­ver to improve its digestibility and/ or protein content can increase its potential as feed, particularly with dairy cows, but there are some sig­nificant limitations. Corn stover is lower in bulk density, nutrient value and digestibility. It is also relatively resistant to handling and grind­ing and has a high transportation cost per pound of total digestible nutrients.

When growing corn for grain, standability is important. Producers tend to select hybrids with a high lignin content in the stalk, which results in tougher plants that stand up better. From a corn grower’s perspective, this is desired. Lodged stalks can’t easily be picked up by the combine. As corn plants ma­ture, the amount of lignin increases, while the digestible fiber—cellulose and hemicellulose—decreases.

The high lignin content of corn stover creates a challenge when fed to dairy cattle. The lignin acts as a barrier around the fiber, which hinders digestion by rumen bac­teria. To address these challenges, mechanical chopping and chemical treatment of stover is often used to disrupt the lignin barrier, increasing the accessibility of cellulose and hemicellulose for rumen bacteria and resulting in improved overall digestibility.

Purdue University research found that using calcium hydroxide-treated corn stover can be a partial replacement for forage fed to dairy cattle without negatively impacting production. Calcium hydroxide is a common food ingredient used in a variety of applications, from pickling and preserving fruits and vegetables to adding calcium to fruit juices and baby formulas. It is formed by mixing water with calci­um oxide derived from limestone.

At Purdue, researchers used corn stover that had been chopped, hydrated to 50% moisture, treated with 6.6% percent calcium hy­droxide, combined with distiller’s grains, and fed at low rates. The study proved that the treated stover could replace up to a quarter of the alfalfa or corn silage fed to milking Holsteins while maintaining perfor­mance. That was not true, however, for the untreated stover.

Feeding calcium hydroxide-treated corn stover also resulted in more efficient feed-to-milk conver­sion compared to feeding untreated stover, and consequently income over feed costs were greater when treated corn stover was included in the diet.

Another point worth consider­ing is the final calcium content of the treated stover when adding a calcium hydroxide treatment to feed. This might be helpful in some situations, such as if you’re needing to feed a restricted forage and high-grain diet to mature cattle. For dairy dry cows, however, it could result in excessive levels of calcium.

For beef or dairy producers look­ing to expand your forage supply, talk with your MFA agronomy or livestock consultants for more information on how to effectively use corn stover in your feeding program.

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Cow-calf producers can reap creep feed benefits

Livestock production is shifting from commodity to value-added markets. It is a lot easier to sell flesh on calves than it was years ago. With calves on their dam, however, a common question is how to pre­pare them for the next step.

Dr. John Herrick, extension beef veterinarian at Iowa State University, promoted the idea of preconditioning calves more than 50 years ago. He believed that if calves were weaned for at least 30 days, vaccinated, fed from a bunk, taught to drink water from a tank or fountain, castrated, dehorned and treated for parasites before they left the cow-calf producer’s farm, they would be more properly prepared to thrive in their new home in the feedlot. Still, there has not been universal adoption of these types of programs, like MFA’s Health Track, within the cattle industry.

One of the easiest-to-implement components of a preconditioning program is to offer creep feed. Creep feeding calves is a well-estab­lished management tool that will both increase weaning weight and produce 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.

Creep feeding teaches calves to eat and prepares them for wean­ing. As calves get bigger and less dependent on milk from mom, it is important that they do not over-eat creep. The conventional wisdom is that creep should supplement the forage, not replace it. If forage is unavailable, weaning the calves and dry lotting them tends to be preferred. The objective is to use creep feed to supplement the energy intake of rapidly growing calves to support the additional growth.

The decision to creep or not to creep depends on whether it increases profit. Feed costs, price slide, equipment investment and labor are inputs that should be ac­counted for to more accurately look at the potential increase in profit.

Creep-fed calves are usually easier to wean than naive calves and experience fewer setbacks. They also tend to adapt to feedlot rations quicker. When fence-line weaning, creep feeders serve as a nutrition base station to nourish calves.

Feeding creep also reduces the variability of weaning weights. Every year—and within the year— forage quantity and quality can sub­stantially vary. If forage availability is restricted early in the year, dam milk production might be reduced. Offering creep feed will help these smaller calves. For older calves, creep feed can provide additional energy and protein when cool-sea­son pasture quality is declining and when the calves are more depen­dent on forage to support their weight gain. Creep feeding is also very effective if you need to stretch limited forage resources.

Creep-fed calves eat feed bet­ter and will more quickly recover their weight lost in weaning and shipping. They have much better average daily gain the first 28 days post-weaning than do non-creep-fed calves. The increased calf weight has a significant effect on profit­ability.

In newly received feeder calves, those that are creep-fed have reduced incidence of morbidity and mortality compared to others. Creep feeding provides an opportu­nity to use a coccidiostat to reduce the likelihood of the calves breaking with cocci when they are weaned. Creep feed is also an effective way to provide growth promotants or feed-through parasite control.

While creep feeding gives you more pounds of calf to sell, the cost of those extra pounds can vary tremendously. Using more efficient creep feeds such as MFA’s Cattle Charge or Full Throttle will give better feed-to-gain ratios than will creep feeding commodities. Re­search data indicate that higher-en­ergy creeps will result in greater marbling improvement in carcass grade compared to high-fiber creep feeds. If necessary, MFA Cadence can be used as a limiter feed if ad lib intake is excessive.

Creep feeding is one of the most practical practices to add value to calves, increasing weight and performance while reducing vari­ation and morbidity. Talk with the livestock experts at your local MFA affiliate to learn more about this practice and how it may fit your operation.

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No easy solution for tackling ticks

Ticks pose a tremendous burden to livestock production. An esti­mated 80% of the world’s cattle are affected by ticks and tick-borne diseases, both of which cause significant production losses. In addition to the nuisance factor, ticks are known to transmit anaplamosis, an infectious blood disease in cattle caused by bacteria. Anaplasmosis can result in fever, weight loss and severe anemia. Ticks are effective vectors of this disease because they often are removed from a host through grooming and attach to an­other host, spreading the pathogen from one animal to the next.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution for controlling ticks in cattle herds. Acaricides—pesticides targeted to the arachnid subclass of ticks and mites—are effective in the short term but do not offer permanent control. While very useful, acaricides have a number of drawbacks. Over time, ticks have developed tolerance to acaricides, and some strains are resistant to all types of this pesticide. As stronger and additional acaricides are need­ed to counter resistant ticks, worries about public safety become more pressing. For some of the hard-hit­ting products, there is a significant withdrawal period, making their use untenable for milk cows.

Anti-tick vaccines are an alter­native to acaricides. This method of tick control has a number of ad­vantages. There are no withholding periods for vaccinated animals, so it can be used on dairy herds. Vaccine use poses no public-health safety concerns and does not contribute to development of acaricide resistance.

Unfortunately, there are no cheap, robust vaccines that are highly effective against ticks. A vaccine against the cattle tick, Boophilus microplus, confers partial long-term control but has little immediate effect on tick burdens. This vaccine works best on breeds with average tick resistance and can help keep the population below economic thresholds without acaricides.

In animals with low tick resis­tance, the vaccine alone does not give satisfactory control. A combi­nation approach of vaccination with strategic use of acaricides is needed.

More research is warranted. New anti-tick vaccines hold great promise, and new acaricides are also being investigated. Even with these emerging treatments, control is greatest among cattle breeds that have high natural tick resistance. Host resistance is a heritable trait. Just as milk yield or growth can be selected for in breeding programs, so can tick resistance. This avenue of tick control has seemingly been under-appreciated.

Tropical breeds of cattle, such as those with Brahman genetics, typi­cally have high natural tick resis­tance. They’ve experienced selection pressure from their environment for hundreds of generations. Creating a breeding program for such a trait, however, is quite complex. Tick resistance in these breeds does not come from one, or two or even three genes—it is a polygenetic trait developed over long periods of time. Because of this, there is not a simple trait, or even set of traits, to select for during breeding.

Additionally, the goal of such breeding programs could not only be tick resistance. Producers also want cattle with high production value. What’s the point of produc­ing an animal that is impervious to ticks if it will neither produce milk nor grow well? This makes it even more complicated—even impracti­cal—to cross temperate and tropical breeds to improve tick resistance.

There is an option for tick control that doesn’t rely on acaricides, doesn’t need to wait for effective anti-tick vaccines, maintains high production values and is achievable in an economically viable time­frame. The solution is to use major resistance genes. This provides heritable resistance from a gene that exhibits substantial protection, as opposed to the polygenetic protec­tion seen in breeds long exposed to high tick burdens.

An example of heritable resistance is found in Belmont Adaptaur cattle, which were developed in Australia by crossing Hereford and shorthorn breeds. Animals were selected for increased resistance to the stresses of the tropics, particularly heat and cattle ticks. This relatively new breed didn’t have the evolutionary time to develop layers of genetic protection. Rather, when exposed to ticks, car­riers of the protective gene acquired resistance early in life. That resis­tance proved to be stable, inheritable and lasted the lifetime of the animal.

Because only one gene is being selected for, this type of breeding program is more practical for cattle producers. Crucially, breeds that have these major resistance genes are very similar to temperate breeds favored for their high production values. The bottom line is that total tick resistance in cattle via heritable traits is potentially achievable and may be the key to effective long-term control.

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Deworn cattle, control flies to get grazing season off to a good start

Early in the grazing season, worm control and fly control go hand-in-hand for cattle producers. Spring pastures can expose the herd to both internal and external par­asites that threaten health, perfor­mance and, ultimately, profitability.

Economically damaging pests such as lungworms and round­worms may have overwintered either in the pasture or in the cattle themselves. Horn flies, the primary external parasite affecting cattle, can start to show up in heavy numbers in April, depending on the weather.

Thus, controlling parasites with a multi-faceted approach is an im­portant management practice before your herd hits the pasture this year.


If you dewormed your cattle in the fall, they should have remained fairly clean all winter. However, only 10% of the worm population will be found in the animals. The other 90% is in the pasture and will emerge when conditions are right.

That’s why it’s important to treat cows and calves with a dewormer prior to pasture turnout. Consider a long-acting injectable to control worms for an extended period— enough to cover the entire grazing season. Other options include pour-on, oral and feed-through products.

Deworming cattle provides many benefits. Reducing internal para­sites improves immunity, which leads to better performance, feed consumption and conversion. With improved immunity, vaccination response should also be better.

Effective parasite control requires proper pasture rotation. Deworming causes the cows to shed parasite eggs. Producers should plan to move cows to fresh pasture after de­worming to avoid recontamination.

Always follow label directions. While you may see early-season control of flies when using a pour-on dewormer, this is not an appro­priate use of the product. In some cases, worms have become resistant to a class of dewormer because producers were using a pour-on dewormer as a fly-control method.

Fly control

Kicking off your fly-control program before grazing begins is also a smart move. Spring cattle-working tasks, such as pregnancy checks, weaning or branding, can provide a conve­nient opportunity to apply insec­ticide ear tags. They will provide several months of fly control.

Your biggest concern is horn flies. These season-long pests will show up in the spring and stay around until October. They are the most economically damaging external pests in cattle, costing producers some $1 billion in lost produc­tion annually. When horn flies are controlled, growing cattle gain an extra 1.5 pounds per week. Wean­ing weights can increase 12 to 15 pounds for calves nursing cows that have had fly control.

Horn fly pressure will be greatest in July and August. If fly tags lose potency in late summer, there are other options. Oilers or dusters can be used during peak season. They need to be located at mineral sites or water tanks where every animal will walk underneath.

Spraying cattle periodically while out on pasture is a possibility, and pour-on fly treatments can be used on cattle that can be run through a chute. Pour-ons provide up to three months of control. The economic threshold for a second treatment is 200 to 300 flies per animal.

Feed-through insect growth regulators (IGR) can be added to mineral during the grazing season. They’re particularly effective for flies that grow in manure, namely horn flies. IGRs control the insects’ development so they don’t mature and reproduce.

Stable flies and horse flies also ir­ritate cattle. Stable flies are generally seen on the animal’s legs and appear earlier in the season than horn flies. The best way to reduce stable fly pressure is to clean up around hay rings and bunk feeders.

Horse flies, on the other hand, are difficult to control. Their larvae usually develop in semiaquatic areas, making it difficult to prevent their growth. Only the females feed, and they only do it for short peri­ods of time. It’s important to control horse flies, however, because they can transmit anaplasmosis. If you want to try treating for horse flies, a pyrethroid can help. Central Life Sciences has a 6% pyrethrin prod­uct, Pyronyl Crop Spray, that can be used as a surface spray or in a misting system in barns, stables and on cattle in feedlots and pasture.

No matter what method you choose, control of internal and external parasites is one of the best investments a cattle producer can make. Talk with the livestock experts at your local MFA for advice on the right products and timing for your operation.

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