Battle bacteria with good hygiene, nutrition

Livestock producers work hard to keep their herds healthy, but illness is often unavoidable. Some very easily transmitted but serious ailments can be traced back to one source: clostridial bacteria.

Clostridia are spore-forming bac­teria often found in the soil, manure or contaminated feedstuffs. Unlike many other disease-causing bacte­ria, clostridia are not contagious or passed from animal to animal. Cat­tle either get clostridia by ingesting it or through a cut or open wound. It can remain dormant in the ani­mal’s body until something creates favorable conditions for the bacteria to thrive—if the animal eats too much starch or carbohydrates, for example, or experiences an internal or external tissue injury.

In replacement calves fed milk, the rapid onset of symptoms such as abdominal pain, depression and feed refusal can be associated with clostridia, specifically Clostridium perfringens. This type of clostridial bacteria is particularly concerning to cattle producers. It can have a major impact on an animal’s gut health, especially calves that are less than 2 months old. If a clostridia infection is not treated quickly and reversed, toxins get into the bloodstream and the calf goes into shock. Death can follow in a matter of hours.

Over a number of years, uni­versity researchers collected and analyzed 1,200 dairy calf fecal samples from the seven big dairy states. Three out of four samples were positive for clostridia, and its presence was most prevalent during calf’s first 21 days in the hutches. These young animals don’t yet have a strong immune system because they have not developed a fully functioning rumen or a complete gut flora to combat the dangerous bacteria. Being on a milk-feeding program tends to encourage clos­tridia to proliferate.

If a calf has a clostridia infection, the initial response is to follow your veterinarian’s advice. Actions often include providing fluids, electro­lytes, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics and analgesics. However, the prognosis of success­ful treatment response tends to be poor. Reducing the likelihood of clostridia infections gives the big­gest bang for the buck.

The most effective practice is to maintain squeaky-clean hygiene and sanitation. In dirt, clostridia are ubiquitous. That is where they live. They also like to take up residence in the animal’s gastro-intestinal tract. If there is dirt present on equipment, instruments, bottles and udders, there’s a good chance clostridia could be on them, too.

This calf-feeding checklist can help mitigate the risk:

1. When collecting colostrum, initially wash, disinfect and wipe the udder and teats clean.

2. As soon as possible, preferably within the first couple of hours, hygienically milk the dam, using sanitized equipment.

3. Unless the colostrum will be fed that day, refrigerate or freeze it.

4. Adequately wash and sanitize all milking, storage and feeding equipment. Ensure that no fat film or residue is on feeding equipment surfaces.

Most calves from properly vacci­nated dams have good maternal im­munity to clostridial diseases, with blackleg being the most significant for animals at 3 to 4 months of age. Ideally, calves should be vaccinated around that 4-month time period with a clostridial vaccine.

While clostridia vaccines have certainly been helpful, there are a large number of strains that may not be controlled as successfully. That’s why vaccines should be com­bined with good sanitation, hygiene and nutrition to reduce the risk of clostridia. Using a product that con­tains MFA Shield Technology can also be beneficial. The all-natural blend of essential oils and additives includes prebiotics and probiotics that improve an animal’s gut health. Taking care to prevent health chal­lenges is always more effective than treating outbreaks.

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Slowing swine growth during market disruptions

The pandemic’s impact on live­stock production, harvest and sale has been in the forefront. Processing plant bottlenecks and a decrease in consumption because of restaurant and school closures have prompted producers to re-evaluate feeding programs.

In late spring 2020, there was a need to hold pigs back from growing too quickly to allow more time at the processing plants. This was a big paradigm shift for swine producers. Usually, they are laser focused on average daily gain, feed efficiency, cost of gain and return on investment. The ripple effect of COVID-19 throughout the industry changed those objectives.

It takes approximately six months from farrow to finish to produce a hog with a final weight of 280 pounds. Kansas State University swine researchers conducted a trial that produced a pig 14 pounds lighter at the end of that period by feeding a diet reduced in amino acids. These are the building blocks for animal protein, or muscle, and critical to a pig’s growth. Lysine is an important amino acid often used in swine diets. The objective of the K-State study was to slow growth while the pigs are consuming feed ad lib (available at all times).

Four test diets were formulated to evaluate the effects of lowered lysine content on pigs’ growth:

  • Diet 1 included normal amounts of lysine in the diet for the entire late finishing phase.
  • Diet 2 was a “slow diet” with the normal amounts of lysine until the final two weeks of feeding. Then, the pigs were fed a corn-based diet that included only vitamins and minerals.
  • Diet 3 was a “slow diet” with a 25% reduction of lysine during the entire late finishing period.
  • Diet 4 was a “slow diet” with a 25% reduction of lysine until the final two weeks of feeding. The pigs were then fed a corn-based diet that included only vitamins and minerals.

Findings showed that the slow di­ets resulted in substantially reduced growth rate. Just by lowering the level of amino acids, the pigs were 14 pounds lighter at the end of the 44-day finishing period. When the slow corn-based diets were fed, there was an additional 12-pound decrease in body weight, resulting in a pig 26 pounds lighter.

It is important to not start the low-protein, low-amino acid diet too soon because early growth provides more muscle deposition. The reduced levels of protein amino acids work best when the pig is over 200 pounds.

By reducing amino acids, the researchers achieved their goal of slowing the growth rate of pigs with a “holding” diet while influ­encing feed efficiency. They were able to buy 3.5 to 4 weeks of extra time to get those pigs to market, which allowed producers to keep the animals on the farm during the packing plant slowdowns while not getting them too heavy.

When producers have to hold onto pigs that are already close to market weight, the goal is to mini­mize costs of keeping those animals on the farm. In the K-State study, the price of a corn-based holding diet and reduction of lysine sup­plementation actually lowered the cost of feed per day. Even though the trial diets resulted in poor feed efficiency, the cost was much lower without protein (amino acids) included.

Researchers said these findings could be important any time markets are disrupted, whether it’s a global pandemic or other industry chal­lenges. These diets help protect the animal’s welfare and the producer’s bottom line while providing a safe supply of pork to the food chain.

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Minimize forage damage to winter pastures

Over the last 20 years, the most profitable beef herds have been the ones that use some sort of extended grazing system. Proper planning and implementation of winter grazing can dramatically reduce annual cow costs without sacrific­ing productivity. But this practice can also result in damaged pastures. There are measures producers can take to reduce the negative impact of grazing on winter pastures and encourage better forage growth in the spring.

A common forage management tenet is the “3-inch rule,” which is to maintain a residual of at least 3 inches. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule, such as leaving more grass when pastures are stressed in the summer and using different cutting heights for different species. For example, you cannot manage alfalfa like you do grasses. Alfalfa stores more reserve carbohydrates in the roots, but grasses need residual leaf area and are much more likely to restrict regrowth from close grazing or clipping.

One mistake producers often make in managing winter forages is grazing grasses to the ground, thinking residue isn’t important during the dormant months. How­ever, perennial forages go through a process called “nutrient resorp­tion,” in which they move nutrients and energy from old leaves back to storage locations within the plant. Warm-season grasses, cool-season grasses and legumes do this.

In grasses, leaves stay attached during the dormancy period and are a source of nutrients for grazing. Moisture is required to relocate the nutrients. As long as the leaves and stems have moisture, nutrient resorption can occur. Legumes store energy in the roots; perennial grass­es store energy in stems near the base of the plant. This is the source of the rationale for the 3-inch rule.

While all grasses store energy in stems, some grasses have under­ground stems, or rhizomes. Ber­mudagrass, Reed’s canarygrass and Johnson grass all have rhizomes. Hard grazing over winter will favor these species over species with­out rhizomes, even with adequate residual during the growing season. Species such as orchardgrass are less likely to be able to withstand hard grazing pressure and tend to decline over time.

If animals are kept in the same spot all winter, it is likely the area will be gnawed down to the dirt. Spring growth in this heavily used area will be significantly delayed. A possible mediation strategy is to use a specific paddock as a sacrifice feeding area during the winter. The best candidate for a sacrifice pad­dock is one that will be rotated next spring. This sacrifice field will have a concentrated feeding area and will protect the other paddocks from being damaged.

An effective strategy to minimize damage and mud accumulation is to change where the hay feeders, mineral feeders or feedbunks are located in the sacrifice pastures. This encourages livestock to go to different and unpopular parts of the paddock.

If there aren’t any fields to be rotated, then rotate animals, not leaving them in a given paddock long enough to cause excessive defoliation. Monitor the residual, again maintaining at least 3 inches of forage. Of course, the defolia­tion will not be uniform. The grass around the hay ring will be pound­ed down, while the forage 200 yards away may be untouched.

If you’re not satisfied with the performance of your pastures, there are still a few things you can do this winter to improve grazing next year. Assess the number of forage species in your pasture. If legumes are limited, consider frost seeding red clover when the freeze-thaw cycles begin in late winter/early spring. Typically, 3-5 pounds per acre of red clover should be broad­cast every two or three years. The clover will help with nitrogen fixing for the surrounding grasses and will also provide some extra tonnage and energy during the summer when cool-season grasses slow their growth.

There is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer to reducing pasture damage during winter feeding. Producers should analyze their individual op­erations and determine if there are small steps they can take to reduce the damage incurred annually while feeding in the winter. Reach out to your MFA livestock specialists for more information or assistance in developing a forage management plan.

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Fall deworming keeps cattle clean until spring

There used to be a time when we could look at cattle and know that they most likely had parasites. Today, most of the signs of parasites in cattle are subclinical, not read­ily observable, and may point to a number of other conditions. Calves aren’t growing like you think they should, weaning weights are down or the gains just aren’t what they used to be. Perhaps reproductive efficiency isn’t what was expected or pregnancy rates are lower.

Think of parasites as an iceberg. Most of the problem is unseen, but performance is affected. Parasitism is a numbers game. Cattle can toler­ate a few worms, but heavy infec­tions are detrimental. Worms are more devastating in young animals because they haven’t yet developed much immunity.

If you’ve done a good job pre­venting disease but have not taken a look at your deworming protocol, it’s time to talk with your vet. The conversation may go something like this: “Doc, I’ve been deworming the same way with the same product for years. Do you think there’s a value in making a change?”

Your vet may suggest a fecal egg count reduction test to see how well your dewormer is working and assess the efficacy of your current program. Then you can make an informed decision on what products to use.

Avermectins, such as Ivomec, and benzimidazoles, such as Safe-Guard, are the two general categories of deworming products on the market. Each has different modes of action. A general recommendation is using a benzimidazole formulation either in rotation with or at the same time as an avermectin to prevent parasites from developing resistance. Recently purchased cattle with an unknown dewormer history should receive a benzimidazole dewormer before being added to the herd.

The type of deworming prod­ucts and how they are used may be contributing to an increase in resistance. Cattle producers used to deworm once or twice a year. With the advent of products that doubled as fly control, producers started using them more frequently and seeing less control. If we keep using dewormers indiscriminately, we may lose the efficacy of these tools. To help reduce resistance, proper dos­age is crucial when using products like these.

So, when should producers use dewormers, both to maximize effica­cy and minimize resistance? While every operation will differ, there are general guidelines to follow.

Deworm when it’s best for the cow, not when it’s most convenient for you. It is recommended to deworm cows prior to the breeding season or prior to calving. When the cow has the highest nutrient needs, that is a good time to deworm.

Deworm all new animals so they do not have a chance to contam­inate the herd. Ideally, the new animals are isolated for a few weeks before commingling with the other animals.

Deworm cattle that are on pas­tures heavily infected with parasites due to overcrowded conditions or extended periods of moist, cool weather. Deworming of young stock (weaned calves, replacement females and yearling bulls) is important in the fall because animals less than 2 years old are much more susceptible to negative effects of parasitism.

If you effectively deworm cattle coming off pasture in the fall, they should remain clean all winter. Many effective options are available, including pour-on dewormers, feed-through products and injectables. Consult with your veterinarian and MFA livestock specialists to set up a deworming program that fits your production and management goals.

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The grass isn't always greenest in Missouri

Feeding hay in August is never a good sign. 

However, in a drought year like 2018, many cattle producers in Missouri could be seen unrolling hay, getting water to pastures where ponds dried up and putting out abnormal amounts of feed. To make matters worse, the available hay was scarce and low quality after the subpar forage crop. To survive the winter, many growers were forced to dip into their “fence line stockpile” of bales, and some even pur­chased poor-quality, high-priced hay from southern states, such as Oklahoma and Texas.

Farmers are accustomed to facing adversity. If it’s not drought, it’s flooding. If not insects, it’s disease. Every year, there is always that one variable that throws a wrench in the gears. Just look at 2020. There were monsoon rains in parts of the Missouri, and drought conditions in other areas. Meanwhile, places in between are on track to have a bumper crop.

A backstop for forage

When it comes to forages, particularly those produced for grazing, standard crop insurance products are generally not an option due to difficulties of quantifying price and yield. That’s where Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage (PRF) insurance comes in play. This federally reinsured product allows producers to insure acreage used for grazing and haying. PRF provides pro­tection against a single peril—lack of precipitation.

Producers may select from various coverage levels, produc­tivity factors and two-month index intervals to personalize their plan (they are required to select at least two 2-month intervals). The Rainfall Index program uses data from the Na­tional Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine precipitation levels. When the final grid index falls below the trigger grid index, producers may receive an indemnity.

Protecting price

This year, we may not have experienced murder hornets as warned, but most farmers—big and small—felt the sting of COVID-19. Livestock producers were left with declining markets or the lack of a market to sell their animals, especially late winter and early spring. Many sold their livestock as scheduled, taking a substantial loss at the sale barn. Others kept their livestock to feed out to sell at a later date, increasing feed expenses and foregoing revenue their lenders and pocketbooks were expecting.

These challenges highlight the importance of Livestock Risk Pro­tection (LRP), which insures your herd against a decline in market price. This federally reinsured product provides protection when the national cash price index, as reported by the Chicago Mercan­tile Exchange (CME), falls below the price coverage level. Produc­ers may select from a variety of coverage and insurance periods to match the time animals would normally be marketed.

This insurance may be purchased throughout the year. Pre­mium rates, coverage prices and actual ending values are posted online daily. LRP does not insure against death, loss or poor performance. At the end of the insurance period, if the actual ending value is below the coverage price, an indemnity will be paid for the difference.

Examples of livestock that can be protected under LRP are feeder cattle, fed cattle and swine.

Farmers never know what challenges they will face. This leads to an important question: Is your operation financially prepared for 2021? If you raise forages and livestock, these insurance options should be consid­ered along with other risk management strategies.

Contact your MFA location or visit online at to find your local MFA Crop Insurance agent.

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