Spring forage management

For pasture and hay producers, spring can be the busiest and most important season in determining this year’s plans for sustainable and profitable production. The key ingredients to your spring forage management are fertilization and weed control.

Spring growth sets the stage for your overall forage production, and applying the right amount of plant nutrients at the right time is critical. Nitrogen will boost grasses at green-up, but applications can be risky in the spring no matter what type of forage you are raising. Will it be too dry or too wet at application time? After application, will we receive rain and how much will we get? It’s hard to make decisions around these factors.

One way to manage your risk is to use nitrogen stabilizers. Products such as SuperU and Agrotain are good tools to minimize losses any time you apply nitrogen.

Soil testing should always be part of your program. Without knowing what we have, it is hard to plan for the future. MFA can handle your sampling needs with either grid or composite samples. If you are looking at increasing your stocking rates, a grid sample program will help put you on track to a profitable future.

Weed control is essential to good pasture management. Weeds compete with desirable plants. They’re generally low in feed quality, and some can be toxic to livestock. Identify and plan a control program best for your farming practice. There are many herbicides available for use on grass. This list is not exhaustive, but does include most of the frequently used products:

GrazonNext HL: This potent broadleaf weed killer is my top choice for general weed control in pastures and hay ground. No license is required to buy or use it. It is safe to use on all grasses. There are no grazing restrictions, and it has 45-90 days of residual activity.

Chaparral: This is the strongest broadleaf weed control available and has the longest list of controlled weeds. No license is required to buy or use it. Fescue is sensitive to this product, but it will recover soon after application. Chaparral has 45-90 days of residual activity. This is a dry product that mixes easily with water. It’s safe to use on all grasses, keeping the caution about fescue in mind, and there are no grazing restrictions.

Graslan L: This broadleaf herbicide is a high-load version of Grazon P+D. It requires a license. Brome is sensitive to this product, and it’s toxic to fish. Leave a buffer strip of 40 feet when approaching any waterway, pond or lake. It’s safe to use on all grasses, with the caution about brome in mind. This is the first year for Graslan L, which will replace Grazon P+D.

Remedy Ultra: This potent broadleaf herbicide also controls certain woody plants. It is often tank-mixed with a Grazon product or Tordon 22K for more broad-spectrum control. No license is required. Remedy Ultra is toxic to fish. Leave a buffer strip of 40 feet when approaching any waterway, pond or lake. It has little to no residual activity and is safe to use on all grasses.

PastureGard HL: This should be your “go to” product for fencerow and spot treatments of brush. This potent broadleaf herbicide and brush killer may cost more per gallon than similar products, but it costs less per acre. There is no license required. PastureGard HL is toxic to fish. Leave a buffer strip of 40 feet when spraying near any waterway, pond or lake. It has very little or no residual activity and is safe for use on all grasses.

Tordon 22K: This potent brush herbicide is effective on many species and controls a large number of broadleaf weeds. It requires a license to buy or use it. Use caution when spraying near any body of water. Tordon 22K has 45-90 days of residual activity and is safe for use on all grasses, although it can stunt brome.

Tordon RTU: This ready-to-use product is primarily a cut-stump treatment. Do not dilute. Tordon RTU does a good job of killing the root system and preventing resprouting of most tree species. There are no grazing restrictions for cut-stump treatments using Tordon RTU.

Here are a few other points to consider:

  1. Always read and follow the herbicide label. It trumps anything I’ve written.
  2. Be sure the weeds you want to control are on the label of the product you are using.
  3. Always use Astute or Astute Extra at 1 quart per 100 gallons. This is your “spreader/sticker,” and its use is as important as using the right herbicide.
  4. Spray when the wind is 3-10 miles per hour to avoid unwanted movement via drift.
  5. Spray when weeds are small for best control.
  6. Spray brush that has at least 18 months of growth.
  7. With brush control, don’t bush hog until they are all dead. Bush hogging too early is like starting over.
  8. Consult your local MFA agronomists. They can provide valuable insight to increase your success.

Check MFA’s Agronomy Guide for grazing restrictions and more information. If you have questions, feel free to contact me. I’m the new range and pasture specialist for MFA, taking over for David Moore who has accepted a different position with the company. My wife and I operate a small cattle farm in southwest Missouri, and I have worked for the past 17 years at the Lamar MFA Agri Services location.

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Adding clovers now can benefit pastures later

Legumes increase yield, improve quality of grass-based forage systems   

This is the time of year when legumes, such as red clover and white clover, can be frost-seeded into pastures by broadcasting seeds over the frozen ground. This no-till method works seeds into the soil as it freezes and thaws during the transition between winter and spring.

Fields sown with clovers now will produce high-quality forage for livestock producers in summer. Adding legumes to grazing pastures can improve animal performance, soil health and forage production. The legumes will increase the yield and protein of the forage while fixing nitrogen.

In a well-managed rotational grazing system, the forage supply should be monitored closely and adjusted to the appropriate stocking rate during specific times. Controlled grazing is an important factor to improve utilization.
In this regard, electric fence is a wonderful thing. Here are some suggestions for success:

Choose a species based on traits
Not all clovers are the same. The type of clover used should be determined by what type of livestock you plan on grazing, your soil type and your environment. Concentrate on the quality and traits certain species offer and match them to your situation.

Monitor dry matter production instead of just plant height
Recommended pasture heights should be 4 to 5 inches for cattle, and rotational grazing systems should also focus on pasture mass. For sheep, the height can be shorter. At least 2½ to 3 inches for sheep will achieve maximum feed intake. This corresponds to around 1,350 to 1,800 pounds of dry matter per acre.
The target pasture mass before grazing correlates with the target post-grazing residual mass and rotation length. This varies by the season and livestock. In seasonally calving dairy operations, target pasture cover for dry cows is recommended to be in the range of 1,800 to 2,200 pounds dry matter per acre and generally in the range of 2,500 to 2,700 pounds of dry matter per acre for wet cows.

Give plants a rest
When plants are grazed too short, two things happen. First, the plant’s energy reserves are depleted, increasing the timeframe for a pasture to recover. So what may have been a 30-day rest period could extend to 40 days. Second, plants are less resilient and more susceptible to drought and cold weather. The rate at which livestock can effectively graze pastures also needs to be considered. Cattle have a tough time eating enough dry matter if the pastures are shorter than 2 inches.
Grasses accumulate carbohydrates in their bases and generally can be grazed closely as long as they are given enough time to recover. The recovery period is also related to rotation length, which is generally driven by the leaf appearance rate and fully expanded leaf numbers. If the plants are defoliated before recovery is complete, lack of energy will result in slower regrowth, prolonging the recovery period and eventually leading to plant death.

Time grazing when plants are at their highest nutritional value
To make the most out of a rotational grazing system, producers need to graze the regrowth when forage is at its optimum fiber, energy and crude protein contents.
There is substantial variation in the forage due to moisture, temperatures and individual pastures. Grazing management must consider needs such as pasture cover targets, feed demand requirements and pasture quality. The leaf stage of the grasses has been used as an effective indicator of when a pasture is ready to graze. As an example, in spring, perennial ryegrass produces a fully expanded leaf every eight to 10 days with a lifespan of three to four weeks. The best time to graze ryegrass pastures is at the three-leaf stage. Increasing rotation length to graze pastures after the three-leaf stage reduces pasture quality as older leaves begin to deteriorate. Grazing pastures repeatedly at the two-leaf stage will decrease forage yield and animal production.

Use clovers to increase feed intake
Forage intake of grazing animals can be restricted by the high moisture and fiber contents of the forage. High legume content in pastures is desirable for greater forage intake and animal performance. Legumes have a higher nutritive value than grasses. At the same stage of maturity they will have lower fiber concentrations, more energy and higher protein than grasses.

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Less stress helps cattle weather winter

Winter came early this year. We can expect the rest of this season to be cold; cold and wet; cold, wet and windy. While beef cattle can tolerate winter conditions pretty well, cold stress will negatively affect animal health, welfare, performance and production.

If cows are thinner than usual going into winter, they are more susceptible to cold stress. Consider sorting cows by body condition. Smaller cows, young cows and thin cows all benefit from a higher-den­sity ration, reduced competition and improved protection from the elements.

During cold conditions, cattle re­quire extra energy to regulate body temperature and maintain body condition. The colder the tempera­ture, the more nutrition the animals will need. The thermoneutral zone is the temperature range in which animals do not have to expend en­ergy to maintain body temperature.

The lower critical temperature (LCT) is the lower limit of the thermoneutral zone. Temperatures below the LCT require animals to use energy to produce heat for regu­lating body temperature. To survive, cattle must maintain basal metabol­ic function and core body tempera­ture. If necessary, they will burn stored energy reserves to meet these needs. Thus, to maintain body con­dition, cattle must receive enough daily energy to maintain body temperature in addition to the en­ergy required to meet maintenance requirements. For each degree of cold stress below the LCT, cattle require approximately 0.7 percent more energy just to maintain body condition. (I use 1 percent rather than 0.7 percent because it makes the math easier.)

The LCT is variable and depends on numerous factors such as hide thickness, coat thickness, wind speed, moisture, etc. The LCT for an animal in good body condition with a heavy, dry winter coat could be as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alternatively, if an animal is thin or the hair coat is thin, wet or mat­ted, the LCT could be as great as 50 to 60 degrees. When estimating cold stress, try to think in terms of effective temperature or wind chill. In other words, how cold does it feel? Wind exposure can have a dra­matic impact on effective tempera­ture and LCT.

Keep a particularly close eye on thin cows and lactating females. Thin cows lack the insulation of fat cover and could benefit greatly from windbreaks and protection from precipitation. They may also need greater energy supplementation as compared to cows in adequate body condition.

For each degree of cold stress below the LCT, thin cows may require as much as 1.5 to 2 per­cent more energy to maintain body condition. Even more than that will be necessary for them to gain body condition.

Fall-calving cows lactating through the winter may need extra supple­mentation as well. These mamas often lose some body condition as they support a calf through winter, but this effect can be more dramatic when weather conditions are severe.

Dry matter intake is usually great­er during cold stress. Keep in mind, however, that severe cold stress, es­pecially in combination with mud, ice, extreme wind, etc., may lead to lower dry matter intake.

Additionally, there is a relation­ship between water intake and dry matter intake. If water freezes or becomes inaccessible, cattle are not only at risk of dehydration, but lower water intake may cause a secondary decrease in dry matter intake. Cattle need adequate dry matter intake to help with regulat­ing body temperature and maintain­ing body condition.

Beyond feeding additional energy, it is important to think about cattle comfort. To mitigate cold stress and improve cattle comfort, consider providing windbreaks to reduce the wind chill effect. Bedding also pro­vides a layer of insulation between the cold ground and the animal’s body, similar to the sleeping pad issued to me when I was in the U.S. Army. It wasn’t a cushion but served as insulation, so the sleeping bag didn’t freeze to the ground.

Shelter can protect animals from precipitation, helping them to stay dry and improving the insu­lation properties of the hair coat. Pay attention to the footing for cattle. High-traffic, muddy areas that freeze create rough terrain to traverse. Mud, ice and deep snow are difficult to navigate, and cattle dislike slippery surfaces. Try to improve these surfaces.

Proper nutrition will go a long way toward mitigating the nega­tive effects of cold stress. Evaluate your winter feed supply in terms of quantity and quality. Test forages for nutrient content. The forage test results provide significant help in developing winter rations. Visit with your local MFA or AGChoice livestock specialists to ensure your herd has everything they need to weather the winter.

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Star of the show

WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF MFA’s Ring Leader Show Feeds, livestock exhibitors will have new options in high-quality rations for their show animals.

Although MFA has offered show feeds for swine, cattle and goats in the past, the Ring Leader brand will be the company’s first complete line formulated specifically for show animal nutrition and performance, said Mike Spidle, MFA Incorporated strategic feed specialist.

“Show animals are different from production animals, and that’s why we have different feeds for them,” Spidle said. “We’re looking at what’s best for the animal, what will help them perform best in the ring and what will give them the best appearance—the whole nine yards. Ring Leader is all-encompassing nutrition.”

First to be launched in the Ring Leader line are swine feeds, which replace Ralco products that MFA previously carried. The two companies ended their business relationship in 2018, and Ralco feeds are no longer available through MFA Incorporated.

Instead, the MFA Ring Leader swine feed lineup will provide comparable products with superior formulations, Spidle said.

“We wanted to make sure that our producers are still able to get show feeds from MFA that will keep them competitive in the ring,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about going someplace else to get a different product. Ring Leader feeds will perform as well or better.”

Ring Leader swine feeds will be available in eight formulations for various stages of a show pig’s life, including starter feeds, grow-finish feeds and gestation-lactation feeds.

“We’ve made huge improvements in swine diets over the past few years,” said Tom Lattimore, MFA Incorporated senior swine specialist. “With our Evolution feeds, we’ve seen increased performance in average daily gain, number of pregnancies and overall health of the animals. Evolution is the foundation for Ring Leader feeds, but they’re the next step up specifically formulated for the show animal.”

MFA’s Ring Leader Show Calf and Superb Goat feeds will be available under the new brand in early 2019, Spidle said. The Feed Division also plans to add poultry, rabbit and sheep feeds under the Ring Leader umbrella.

All Ring Leader feeds will contain MFA’s proprietary Shield Technology, an all-natural blend of essential oils and additives to help prevent sickness, mitigate stress and promote performance in livestock.

“Shield is important for keeping animals healthy in the show circuit,” Spidle said. “By moving animals around, getting them out of their habitat and exposing them to other animals, there’s always a risk of them getting sick or going off feed. Having Shield Technology in these show diets will help minimize those problems.”

Like other MFA premium feeds, Ring Leader formulations will be “locked in” for quality and consistency, Spidle added.

“When you look at value-added products, you want performance,” he said. “These show diets are set up for performance and to enhance the genetic capability of those animals. The formulas will stay consistent, so that you’ll get the same thing from any MFA feed mill.”

Ultimately, the development of the Ring Leader brand of show feeds is an example of MFA’s commitment to building long-term relationships with its customers—in this case, young livestock exhibitors and their families, Spidle said.

“We have a whole group of young people out there showing, and we want to help them win,” he said. “More thanRingLeader that, we want to help them understand the concept of raising an animal, taking care of an animal and getting the most performance out that animal. Those skills will help them later on in life, especially if they go back into farming.”

Ring Leader show feeds are available at any MFA or AGChoice location. For more information, visit with your local feed specialist or online at

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Ease the transition from farm to feedlot

When calves go from the farm to the feedlot, the transition can be quite stressful. Both weaning and shipping stress the animal, and then they are subjected to a new and different environment. Freshly weaned calves are more susceptible to respiratory disease and nutrition-related illness than preconditioned calves that have been given vaccinations, a nutritional background and time to adjust to weaning before being shipped to a new location. In fact, freshly weaned calves have double the treatment costs at the feedyard than preconditioned calves, which have lower rates of morbidity and mortality.

A preconditioning program starts before weaning. Many calves receive their first round of vaccinations at “branding,” around 60 to 100 days of age. The recommended vaccinations are outlined in the MFA Health Track program. These vaccinations should be repeated 14 to 21 days before weaning to provide higher antibody titers, a measure of the concentration of antibodies in the blood. These vaccinations help the immune system be ready to face diseases the calf is likely to encounter in the next phase of production.

Creep feeding is a tool that can be used prior to weaning. It helps ensure calves receive proper nutrition and eases the transition of calves from one feed source to the next. Creep feed during the last 45 days before weaning to prepare calves for post-weaning rations. Creep feed should contain about 14 percent crude protein and 70 to 75 percent total digestible nutrients. In MFA’s feed lineup, examples of appropriate creep feeds are Cattle Charge or Full Throttle.  

Calves should have unlimited access to forage at this time for proper rumen function. You can introduce calves to creep feed by giving a limited amount of the ration to their mothers first. Scatter some of the feed around the creeping area so mama cows will loiter. Plan on weaning and preconditioning approximately two months prior to shipping, typically 45 days. This reduces separation stress and provides time to monitor for illness.

Weaned calves walk fencelines, trying to escape to their mothers. Placing feed and water troughs perpendicular to fencelines will help maintain their intake and start bunk breaking. “Spilling” feed, such as hay, over the bunk edges will catch their attention, leading them into the bunk. Ensure proper bunk space, which is one to two feet per animal. This particularly helps timid calves.

Calves may struggle to find water in troughs, especially if they are accustomed to rivers or streams as a water source. If so, overflow your water troughs, flooding the area around the trough and encouraging the calf’s curiosity. Having fresh clean water for calves is important for rumen development.

In both pre-weaning and post-weaning phases, provide calves with a high-quality mineral supplement. Critical trace minerals are copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. They are important to proper immune function and vaccination response. Providing some minerals in chelated form can improve mineral status of calves during preconditioning. Vitamin A, D and E will need to be supplemented. The same is true for sodium and perhaps calcium, phosphorus or magnesium.

By being introduced to concentrated feeds and feed bunks, calves will experience less stress at the feedyard, and they can adapt quickly. Calves that come in prepared are more likely to perform better and have a carcass with a better quality grade. Make the transition process as easy as possible for the animal by using a preconditioning program that covers vaccinations, nutrition management and environment. Along with raising healthier and happier calves, they will also be more productive and profitable.

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