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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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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