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Troubled waters? Find an alternative

Droughts have a nasty way of decreasing water levels. This means that the streams, ponds, or even shallow wells that your cattle depend on may not be sufficient during dry spells. When this hap­pens, supplemental water is needed for grazing cattle.

One of the cheapest options, if available, is to use other wells, ponds or streams on the farm. Be­fore you do this, ensure the quality and quantity of the water source. Be careful when considering the use of shallow ponds during warm weath­er. Low water levels in warm ponds are ideal conditions for cyanobac­teria growth that can release toxins into the water.

If you are putting an old well back into use, make sure the pump you’re using is appropriate for the job. If electrical power isn’t available at the well, engine-driven, solar or battery-powered pumps are an option. Look at storage capacity re­quirements here as well. From per­sonal experience, I can assure you that it is easy to inadvertently get a pump that exceeds the capacity of the well to supply water. Match the well’s capability to the pump, rather than using whichever pump was lying around unused.

When using alternative watering options, often the most straightfor­ward strategy is to move cattle to the new source. The specifics will depend on your operation, but tem­porary lane fencing can be helpful in cases like this. If moving cattle to the water source isn’t practical, the other option is to move the water to the cattle.

If the new water source is within 1,000 feet, consider piping it into the pasture. You’ll need to consider the terrain, the pipe size, pump capacity and storage capacity to determine if this is feasible. Tem­porary above-ground piping works well until sustained below-freezing temperatures. You can lay polyeth­ylene pipe along fence lines and protect it when it cuts across gates or roads.

If neither moving cattle to the water source nor piping water to the pasture is possible, the final option is to haul water. Hauling water is effective but gets old very quickly. If you’re loading water from a non-pressurized source, you’ll probably need a transfer pump. Don’t load water into tanks that have held liquid fertilizers, fuel, pesticides, etc. Make sure that tanks are ap­propriately secured to the vehicle or trailer and that towing vehicles have sufficient hauling power and braking capacity.

While hauling water with a vehi­cle, try not to brake sharply. When you start to brake, the water moves forward in a wave. The water hits the front of the tank, and then the wave reverses and thumps the back of the tank. The harder the braking, the more pronounced the effect. This can be a source of anxiety.

Getting water to the pasture is often the greatest challenge, but it is also important to consider what to do with the water once it’s at the pasture. If you’re connecting a new supply to an existing water distri­bution system, remember to first disconnect the old water supply from the system. If the flow rate or pressure of the new supply is too low, consider using a surge or supply tank with a second pump to feed the distribution system.

When you’re hauling water to pasture, you’ll need a supply tank. Don’t use the original well as a supply tank. While at first glance it seems like a good idea, doing so risks contaminating the well and often results in significant loss of water. There are several options for how to hold water in a pasture. The transport tank can serve as the supply tank, or you can offload it into a separate supply tank. Above-ground tanks such as firefighting supply tanks or swimming pools work well. Shallow dugout ponds lined with plastic can also work. Re­gardless of the type of supply tank, the minimum volume should be the complete water requirement for the cattle between deliveries.

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When animals can’t take the heat

Summer is hot on our heels here in MFA territory. For any livestock operation, heat abatement is critical. Heat stress decreases animal com­fort, health and performance. When temperatures and humidity rise, it’s essential to ensure adequate shade and plenty of water, no matter what type of animals you’re raising.

Here are some important consid­erations by species:


Compared to other animals, cattle cannot dissipate their heat load very effectively. Cattle do not sweat effectively and rely on respiration to cool themselves. As a compounding factor on top of climatic conditions, the fermentation process within the rumen generates additional heat.

Typically, pastured cattle are not as susceptible to heat stress as feedlot cattle. Pastured cattle have the ability to seek shade, water and air movement to cool themselves. In addition, radiant heat from dirt or concrete surface is increased for feedlot cattle. At temperatures above 80 degrees, cattle endure physiologic stress trying to deal with their heat load. Although cattle at this temperature are not at risk of dying, they will have increased maintenance requirements.

In addition to shade and water, nutrition can help in heat abate­ment. Provide a product with MFA Shield Technology or MFA FesqQ Max mineral. These products have been shown to reduce the effect of infected fescue and increase blood flow, helping the animals stay cooler and out grazing longer.


Hot weather can bring a long list of problems for dairy producers. When cows are heat stressed, they eat less, produce less milk, have re­duced immune function and higher somatic cell count, and experience reduced fertility. A spike in lameness often follows warm spells. In severe heat waves, cows can even die.

Recent work from the University of Florida emphasizes the impor­tance of providing heat abatement for non-lactating animals. The studies show cows pass the neg­ative effects of heat stress to their offspring and produce less milk during lactation if they experience increased heat in the dry period.

Providing shade, fans and misters to dairy cattle will promote profit­ability and increased milk produc­tion in your herd across multiple generations. Nutrition also plays a role. In addition to feeding products with Shield, evaluate feeding at least 1.5% potassium in the diet. Do not overfeed nonprotein nitrogen (NPN) supplements. If milk urea nitrogen values are greater than 17, reconsider the amount of NPN fed and evaluate the possibility of pro­viding additional fat in the diet.

In the summer, it is common to see a decline in butterfat test. Feed­ing buffer, such as 4 ounces bicar­bonate with 2 ounces magnesium oxide, will often help, as will feed­ing soluble fiber such as soyhulls, beet pulp and fuzzy cottonseeds.


Birds are subject to heat stress when the air temperature and humidity uncontrollably increase their core body temperature. Heat stress can result in panting, increased water intake and eventually death. Severe heat stress can cause drops in production efficiency and increased mortality rates in your flock. You may notice reduced growth rates, egg production and hatching rates.

Access to cool, fresh water, venti­lation and adjusted feed schedules can help provide relief. Digestion generates heat, and birds will be less likely to eat during the hotter parts of the day. You can supple­ment lost electrolytes by adding them to their water source, if neces­sary. Make sure your flock has plen­ty of space so they aren’t crowded. And keep your birds calm. Don’t let children, dogs or other pets chase or disturb your flock.

Heat stress can also cause a change in egg quality. You may no­tice smaller eggs, thinner shells and overall poor internal egg quality. A hen’s eggshell is made up of more than 90% calcium carbonate. The immediate result of inadequate calcium intake is an increase in cracked eggs and eggs with very thin eggshells. When such prob­lems appear, evaluate calcium intake and utilization. Calcium concentration in the feed, should be 4%. In general, hens require at least 4 grams of calcium per day at the beginning of their cycle and as much as 4.5 toward the end. Using MFA Quality Egg 16 or 18 feeds will reduce the incidence of soft shells in the summer.

Visit with your local MFA feed specialists for more information on how to mitigate the effects of heat stress this summer.

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Timing is everything when harvesting alfalfa

There are two schools of thought for when alfalfa should be harvest­ed. One method is to increase yield, but that comes at the expense of quality. The second method aims for high-quality forage but comes at the expense of yield.

The higher-yield strategy typi­cally starts at or near full bloom, with cuttings every 40 to 45 days through the season. The higher-quality strategy typically starts at late bud, with subsequent cut­tings every 32 to 35 days through the season. Both approaches have applications. The higher the animal performance, the more pressure is placed on forage quality over quantity. Quantity is the priority for high-production animals.

The quality of alfalfa is especially sensitive to harvest schedule. Tim­ing is crucial, particularly for the first cutting. Producers aiming for quality alfalfa should focus on the ideal harvest conditions to maxi­mize quality without damaging the stand’s longevity. This, of course, is easier said than done. Spring weather often doesn’t allow for ap­propriate drying in the windrow to get to proper bale moisture. Delays in drying can then lead to delays in subsequent cuttings. Thus, un­cooperative weather in the spring often has ripple effects that cause significant decreases in feed quality and stand longevity.

Making haylage is one strategy to deal with spring weather and har­vesting the first cutting in a timely manner, rather than trying to dry the crop in the field. The result can be very advantageous. With hay­lage, growers can manage the start of the harvest season. This produces a quality first crop without nega­tively impacting later cuttings.

When making first-cut alfalfa haylage, target wilting the crop to 55% to 65% moisture or 45% to 35% dry matter (DM). Putting up an alfalfa silage at more that 70% moisture (less than 30% DM) tends to make it susceptible to a clostridia fermentation, which produces bu­tyric acid and breaks down proteins into ammonia. This type of fermen­tation is associated with greater DM losses, reduced animal intake and decreased animal performance.

Depending on weather, it may take a day or more to get to the desired DM content. If the alfalfa is too dry—more than 50% dry matter—it is difficult to pack in a bunker. This increases porosity, which means more air in the mass, heat damage and fungi growth, greatly decreasing the quality and quantity of the feed.

However, if worst comes to worst, it is easier to work with haylage be­ing too dry than too wet. I can feed soybean meal to compensate for heat-damaged protein, but I can’t get cows to eat haylage with a lot of butyric acid.

In addition to moisture content, the length of the chop is important for producing high-quality alfalfa silage. Alfalfa should be at least between 0.75 inch to 1 inch long, depending on your goals. Shorter length increases packing density, while longer length favors physical­ly effective fiber and rumen health.

Alfalfa has a well-deserved reputation for being more difficult to ensile than other forages such as wheat, sorghum or corn. This is because alfalfa in particular, and other legumes in general, have a high natural buffering capacity, due principally to their organic acid content. The higher ash and protein content of alfalfa contributes a small amount to the buffering capacity. The sugar content of alfalfa will be lower than that of corn chopped for silage. The lower sugar and higher buffering capacity make it more difficult for the ensiled crop to quickly achieve a terminal pH, which preserves the crop.

Wet conditions or soiling of the crop at harvest encourage a clos­tridial fermentation and production of butyric acid. To avoid this, use an effective silage inoculant. This will encourage an efficient fermen­tation and reduce DM losses due to ensiling. A silage inoculant can be an effective oxygen scavenger. The inoculant speeds the creation of an anaerobic environment that allows lactic acid-producing bacteria to grow efficiently and results in more lactic acid, less acetic acid and a lower terminal pH. Inoculants de­signed for improved aerobic stabil­ity will produce volatile fatty acids that inhibit yeast and mold growth when oxygen is reintroduced at feedout.

Timing alfalfa cutting is the most important management practice to maximize tonnage potential, quality and profitability. For more information and recommendations on alfalfa production, talk with the crop and livestock experts at your local MFA.

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Deflate bloat with good forage management

The positive benefits that le­gumes provide to pastures and ani­mals include better protein content, higher mineral levels and greater energy than grasses alone—plus the fertility value of nitrogen fixation. However, a potential drawback of many pasture legumes is the chance of bloat.

Bloat is the result of rumen gas production exceeding the animal’s ability to eliminate the gas. Alfalfa and many clovers are all highly digestible. The protein in these legumes is readily accessible to the rumen microbes. When these microbes digest the forage, they re­lease gas. As the rumen swells with gas, it can eventually interfere with respiration. Depending on the diet, a large amount of foam or froth develops in the rumen and inhibits the release of gas, which causes the animal to bloat. Death from bloat is the result of suffocation.

Discontinuous grazing, such as the removal of animals from legume pastures overnight, is often associat­ed with bloat issues. Problems may also occur when grazing is inter­rupted by biting flies or adverse weather, such as storms. Anything that alters normal grazing habits will increase the incidence of bloat.

Environmental factors also contribute to bloat risk. That’s why animals may be fine for weeks and then experience a high degree of bloat overnight while grazing the same or similar pastures. Daytime temperatures around 70 degrees coupled with a cool overnight tem­perature will lead to a greater risk of bloating. High soil moisture, which results in high plant moisture, will also elevate the risk.

Alfalfa can cause bloat in the spring, summer and fall. Fall bloat conditions are caused by frequent heavy dew or fall frost. Following a killing frost, after enough time has passed, alfalfa has a reputation of being bloat-safe. However, if the plant stays green, or the leaves ap­pear glassy-shiny, the potential for bloat remains.

Pasture forages have different levels of bloat risk, as shown in the chart above.

To prevent bloat in pasture cattle, manage pasture for no more than 50% legumes. This becomes trickier if animals can selectively graze. Turn out cattle only after letting them eat dry hay or grass before grazing legume pastures. And don’t turn out cattle on wet pastures. Wait until the dew is burned off or the rain has dried.

The feed additive Bloat Guard (poloxalene) will prevent pasture bloat if consumed in adequate amounts. Begin to feed poloxalene for several days before turning cattle out on legume pastures. If using blocks, do not put them close to the water source, which tends to be less effective. Ionophores, such as Bovatec or Rumensin, will reduce the viscosity of the rumen fluid. This will reduce the incidence of bloat.

Frosted alfalfa will have an increased risk of bloat. When frost occurs to the initial spring growth of alfalfa, it’s best to wait at least several days to a week before mak­ing an evaluation of plant damage. Freeze damage and plant recovery are influenced by factors such as the actual overnight low temperature, soil temperature, field topography, possible snow cover, stand age, plant maturity and stand vigor. Frost damage will cause wilted leaves and stems.

If the freeze damage was slight— affecting less than a quarter of the upper stems—the wilt will dissi­pate in a couple of days. There is no need to do anything other than wait. Severe damage usually shows up later. If most of the top stems are damaged, and if the plants are less than 10 inches tall, the plants will recover without mowing. If the stand is taller than 12 inches in height, the damaged alfalfa should be harvested and allowed to re-grow.

Pasture bloat is a mostly prevent­able disease of grazing cattle. Fol­lowing these recommendations will help reduce chances your herd will experience the issue this spring.

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Healthy as a horse? Only with proper nutrition

With so many feed, supplement and hay choices available, many equine owners may find themselves wondering exactly what their horse needs for good health and nutrition. When feeding horses, there are six basic nutrient categories that must be met: carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water.

If using a quality complete feed, the first five nutrients are likely bal­anced for you. But it is critical not to forget about water—the most im­portant nutrient. A horse will need more pounds of water than pounds of feed. Typically a 1,000-pound horse will drink 10 to 12 gallons of water daily.

Horses will need more water when temperature, humidity or ac­tivity increases. Thus, it’s important to always provide unlimited access to clean, fresh water. Keeping water between 45 and 65 degrees encour­ages consumption.

Beyond water, nutritional require­ments for horses differ from indi­vidual to individual. While body mass, age, physiological condition, activity level and metabolic efficien­cy all factor in to an equine feeding program, there are some general considerations to keep in mind:

Maximize the amount of forage

Horses are, by nature, consumers of forage. Whether it’s fresh pasture or harvested hay, silage or haylage, for­ages are the ideal energy source for horses. Most mature horses should consume 1.5% to 2.5% of their body weight as dry matter forage. Monitor the amount of concentrate a horse eats. Owners frequently feed cereal grains when horses need more energy than forages can provide. To reduce the chance of colic and gastric upset, do not feed mature horses more than 0.25% to 0.5% of their body weight in cereal grains per feeding.

Meet mineral and vitamin needs

Horse supplements are great ways to ensure you are meeting nutrient requirements of your equine when they’re not receiving a complete feed. It is important to establish a balanced ration for horses that includes the right ratio of energy, protein, minerals and vitamins. Some producers will also provide free-choice salt. Horses may get enough vitamins in feedstuffs or microbial production in the gut. However, most horses respond to vitamin supplementation, particu­larly vitamin A, vitamin E, ribofla­vin and biotin.

If you’re feeding one of MFA’s Easykeeper products according to label, your horse will be receiving adequate minerals. MFA Horse Mineral is a good option to ensure unsupplemented horses have the minerals and vitamins they need. Owners and managers are strongly encouraged to work with your MFA key account manager or feed spe­cialist to ensure that horse nutrient needs are met.

Monitor body weight and body condition score

When deciding a horse’s nutritional needs, it is necessary to know its body weight and body condition score (BCS). Body weight can be determined by weighing on a scale or estimated using weight tapes or mathematical equations. Body condition scoring determines the amount of fat deposit under the horse’s skin in certain areas. For most horses, a BCS between 4 to 6 is ideal. Body weight and BCS should be tracked monthly.

Routinely care for your horse’s teeth

A horse’s teeth continually erupt and are simultaneously ground down as they chew feedstuffs, especially forages. Sharp points occur on the teeth, which can cut the inside of the mouth or cause gum irritation. Routine filing down or floating of teeth by a veterinarian or equine dentist will alleviate the problem and make an even grind­ing pattern for the horse’s chewing, which aids in digestion.

Change feeds gradually

When changing hay or grain types, replace only 20% to 25% of a horse’s current feed every other day. This will allow for a complete change over a week or more. A gradual change from one feed to another provides enough time for microbes in the gut to adapt.

Remember, some horses are easier to feed and require fewer nutrients. Other horses are very difficult to feed and require special attention. It is important to know how to feed your horse and to make sure it gets all the nutrients it needs.

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