Lush pastures can equal lung problems for cattle

This time of year, it is possible to move cattle off mature, dormant warm-season pastures onto cool-season pastures, which are lush, high in protein, wet and rapidly growing. However, in this situation, acute bovine pulmonary edema (ABPE) might be a concern. ABPE is more common in the fall than in the spring. This form of pneumonia typically occurs when cows are fed an all-dry dormant stage of growth forage and then are turned out on high-protein, wet pastures. A typical scenario is a grazing change in the late summer or fall from dry pastures to lush forage regrowth following haying.

ABPE can be avoided by introducing cattle to cool-season pastures over time. For example, limit their access to a few hours for a couple of days, then allow them to graze for a couple of mornings before letting them run full time on the pasture. This is much less of an issue if the pasture is mixed with small grains.

However, grazing management—not the forage—dictates the prevalence of ABPE. Swathing a section of the grass and allowing it to wilt before the animals eat it reduces the incidence. Feeding an ionophore, something with Rumensin or Bovatec, also helps reduce the chances of ABPE and improves the diet’s energy value. Consider feeding a couple pounds of MFA Full Throttle to balance the energy-to-protein ratio and add vitamins, minerals and an ionophore. Preventing ABPE is crucial because there is no effective treatment for affected animals.

Technically speaking, here’s why it happens. The lush, rapidly growing pastures contain an amino acid called tryptophan—a normal component found in protein. Rumen bacteria metabolize the tryptophan, converting it into a compound called 3-methylindole. This compound, in turn, is converted into another toxin that creates edema in the lungs. This fluid interferes with the breathing process and exchange of oxygen and can lead to animal mortality.

Because of the way we feed dairy cows, ABPE usually only occurs in beef cattle. Clinical signs of ABPE usually occur one to 14 days after an abrupt change in pasture, and death may follow in two to four days. Clinical signs are progressive. Animals may exhibit labored, shallow breathing, panting, an open frothy mouth and extended neck and head—all signs that the animal is having trouble breathing.The elasticity of the lung tissue is reduced, so the animals’ inhalation and exhalation are difficult.

Cattle that have been allowed to remain on dry, overgrazed range land are prime candidates for contracting ABPE. These animals will tend to be hungry and will often overeat when presented with lush, green pastures. Research has demonstrated that after two or three weeks of poor-quality forage with protein less than 6.5 percent and acid detergent fiber greater than 50 percent—something like corn stalks—the rumen conditions become conducive for elevated 3-methylindole production.

If an outbreak of ABPE occurs, all animals should be removed from the lush pasture and fed good-quality hay with at least 11-percent crude protein and 58-percent total digestible nutrients. Animals with ABPE have breathing problems and should not be chased nor spooked nor handled in any manner that will increase their oxygen needs.

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Winning the weaning games

Spring calves are frequently weaned this time of year. Weaning and/or arrival at a new home can be particularly hard for a calf. Most beef calves are weaned by abrupt separation of calves and dams, according to National Animal Health Monitoring System data. While this is the most common approach to weaning, it’s also the most stressful.

It’s easy to see why. Calves are removed from their mothers and a known social structure and placed into a different environment with new friends, different feed and a new water source.

The stress calves experience through weaning is the No. 1 issue that impacts their performance. Stress can depress their immune systems, making freshly weaned calves susceptible to infections. Stressed calves also have lower feed intakes. 

Some producers have limited facilities for drylot weaning or do not have the ability to place dams out of auditory range of their calves. Fence-line pasture weaning provides the opportunity for calves to remain in a familiar environment. Contact weaning allows visual and auditory access to the cow but does not allow calf nursing.

When given a choice, cows will remain within visual and auditory proximity of their calves post-weaning. A common observation is that calves tend to be attached to their mamas for a longer time than cows are to their calves.

But a number of things can be done to reduce stress at weaning and help calves stay healthy and adjust to their new environment.

A good herd health program can help reduce sickness at weaning, improve the treatment response of calves that do get sick and increase the performance of calves during weaning. Preconditioning programs such as MFA Health Track, which involve both vaccination and nutrition protocols, are becoming more popular because they help reduce stress of weaning and increase calf performance and value.

Mineral supplementation when the calves are with their dams prior to weaning may be beneficial for getting good immune response. MFA Ricochet Gold Star minerals have chelated trace minerals—copper, zinc, selenium and manganese—which are important to immune system function. Feeding Ricochet has been shown to improve immune response and reduce calf morbidity. Additionally, feeding Ricochet has been shown to increase the quantity and quality of the dam’s colostrum, which gets the calf off to a better start.

Introducing new feeds to calves while they are with their dams prior to weaning can help calves start on feed more quickly when they are weaned. Feedstuffs should be palatable with minimal fines and dust. MFA Cattle Charge is a good option for a creep feed.

A number of studies have shown calves that were fence-line weaned have lower morbidity compared to those that were weaned through immediate separation from visual and audio contact with their dams. Studies have also shown a significant increase in average daily gain for calves that were fence-line weaned compared to those weaned on a trailer.

Fence-line weaning should be in an environment that allows both cows and calves to spread out along the fence. There should be minimal dust present, and feed and water resources for the calves should be familiar and close to the fence.

A less-stressful weaning method is to put the cows in a corral adjacent to the calves on pasture for three to five days and then remove the cows. Another option is to keep both cows and calves in adjacent pastures for three to five days.

Weaning so that cows and their calves can see and hear each other will decrease bawling and reduce the time calves spend walking the fence looking for mom. Less time walking the fence means more time calves can spend eating.

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Sizeable Difference

 As a pre-algebra and algebra teacher in Lexington, Mo., Mary Jo Cramer knows numbers. And she knows the formulas she teaches correlate to real-world scenarios.

For example, on the nearby cattle operation she owns and manages with her husband, Steve, Mary Jo meticulously gathers birth, weaning and implant weights of each cow and calf on their ranch. From those numbers, they track the growth of every animal. Recently, that growth has been impressive, especially since the couple began using ABS genetics combined with their existing MFA Health Track program two years ago. During that time, the Cramers have seen a massive 33-percent increase in weights.

“We are recognizing that these AI-sired animals are a third bigger than those bred by the bull,” Steve said. “At 9 months of age, the AI animals are a month older but 300 pounds heavier. We didn’t realize it would be that big of a deal. We won’t go back to having just bulls.”

In 2010, Steve and Mary Jo began retaining their own heifers and began artificially inseminating in 2013. They work with Tera Black, an independent sales representative for ABS Global, a world-leading provider of bovine genetics, reproduction services and technologies. MFA recently partnered with ABS Global to launch ABS Alliance Advantage, which combines the vaccination and nutrition protocols of MFA’s Health Track preconditioning program with ABS’s proven genetics. 

“We’ve had cows off and on this place all my life,” Steve said. “Most of those years, we operated on automatic pilot. We would just load them up and sell what was there. We decided we were tired of the cattle not re-breeding, and that’s what started all of this.” 

In mid-April, Tera helped MFA Livestock Consultant Chad James tag the first set of ABS Alliance Advantage calves at Cramer Farms in Waverly, Mo., with distinctive purple tags representing the partnership and the animal’s qualifying attributes. Chad has also worked with the Cramers for many years through their participation in the MFA Health Track program.

“These calves are from our AI sire, Absolute,” said Tera, who offers ABS genetics and breeding services through her business, Elkhart Cattle Company, LLC. “He’s known for balance. His strong carcass proof, maternal traits, docility and documented feed efficiency made him a good fit for the Cramers’ operation. The first things you see between the purple-tagged calves and the others are size and performance. You can see a couple hundred pounds difference in some of these calves. From the top side, you can see how wide they are. We are stacking these genetics over time and really getting a powerful calf that we can expect to perform better throughout its lifetime.”

Tera said this combination of genetics and health will ultimately give Steve and Mary Jo a more profitable end product.

 “We can’t manage what we don’t measure,” Tera said. “Steve and Mary Jo are doing the right thing by recording weights to see how these animals grow. It’s a big initial investment, but they are really starting to see how AI can pay off.”

In fact, in late July, the Cramers’ AI-sired steers were finished and ready to be shipped at 1 year of age, unlike their bull-bred steers that would need additional time and expense to feed and finish.
Mike John, MFA director of Health Track Operations, said the partnership between MFA and ABS Global is synergistic.

“It’s a program where we can tie and document some genetic value to the already value-added components of Health Track,” Mike said. “Now you not only know what you’re buying from a health standpoint, but the purple tags should give you some idea of what these cattle are capable of doing in the feed yard.” 

According to Brian Brace, district business manager for ABS Global, the bulls qualifying for this program are part of the Circle A Sire Alliance and place in the top 35 percent for total profit index. The Circle A Sire Alliance was developed to determine actual profitability based on the costs and return of a sire’s progeny. Feed efficiency, performance and maternal data are collected along with carcass weights. This data is then used to help guide selection and mating.

“Matching up with MFA gives us a great opportunity to add value to customer’s progeny,” Brian said. “MFA is doing that with the Health Track Program. ABS is doing that with artificial insemination, delivering high-accuracy, quality bulls. It’s just the natural fit to marry the two together and work as a partnership.” 

While there is an initial investment to what the Cramers are doing, Steve said owning and feeding a bull and maintaining fencing would be just as expensive for his modest herd of 100 cattle.

“We don’t cut corners,” Steve said. “I learned that a long time ago. I did everything the cheap way for 25 years because I was broke. But when I finally got on my feet, I found out going first class was the cheapest, and in the end, it is. Cutting corners doesn’t work. If you put something on automatic pilot, you’re going to pay for it.”

And Mary Jo is proving the old adage that numbers have power.

“Data can provide you with a lot of information,” Mary Jo said. “There are things you cannot physically see. You can’t look at a calf and tell how he’s going to grade or how he’s going to grow, but you can look at the numbers and they will tell you.”

For more information on ABS Alliance Advantage and requirements, visit or contact your local MFA Agri Services or AGChoice location.

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Turning down the heat

Heat can be hard on the feet—of cattle, that is. It’s well known that heat stress can negatively affect milk production, calf growth and reproductive performance, but did you know it can also lead to lameness?

Hot cows stand more to try to cool off. When cows are standing, blood does not flow as effectively to the feet, and there is naturally more pressure and compaction on the hoof structure. The cow’s internal cooling mechanisms also cause blood to be redirected away from extremities, including feet and legs, and poor circulation can cause a host of hoof-related problems.

Needless to say, providing relief from the heat is important. Beef cattle are most productive in temperatures between 41 and 77 degrees. When temperatures exceed this range, cattle are less productive and at greater risk of heat stress. However, cattle can tolerate summer temperatures and remain productive when managed properly.

Available water and adequate shade can effectively reduce the effects of heat stress. Water is the most important nutrient and should be clean and abundant enough to meet summer demands. The amount of shade required is 30 to 40 square feet for mature cattle, 20 to 25 square feet for feeder cattle and 15 to 20 square feet for stockers. Heat stress is compounded by animals crowding, which happens when shade is limited. If natural shade is inadequate, construct permanent or portable structures.

Permanent structures are more suitable for feeding pens but are frequently placed in pastures, too. Portable structures are more expensive to construct but can be moved with the cattle. Advantages of portable structures include more uniform grazing, less pasture damage and better manure distribution. Locate shade structures in areas to take advantage of prevailing winds during the summer. Select areas with minimal slope to prevent erosion from animal traffic.

All shade structures should allow adequate airflow. Permanent structures will require manure removal in some situations. Inexpensive UV-resistant shade cloths that block at least 80 to 90 percent of light or two offset layers of snow fence provide adequate shade and allow for good airflow. Solid coverings are more expensive and last longer but are more susceptible to wind damage. If a solid covering is used, then the structure will need to be taller.

Summer nutrition also plays a role in helping cattle handle the heat. First, reduce forage to minimum effective fiber levels. Practically, this is a difficult task since many beef cattle primarily eat forage diets and dairy rations usually push the lower limit of fiber feeding. The best tactics are to feed the highest-quality forage available and use additives to alleviate heat stress.

We recommend MFA Ricochet FesQ Max products. Ricochet minerals have been tremendously successful, are easy to use and offer several significant benefits. Feeding a yeast culture helps with the heat as well. Feeding rate depends on the product. All MFA Gold Star Minerals and dairy feeds have yeast culture as do Trendsetter, Cattle Charge and Full Throttle feeds.

Proper amount of potassium in the diet is also a consideration. Usually beef animals on mostly forage diets are long on potassium, but when concentrate is fed, potassium content declines. Under heat stress, potassium is added to make up 1.5 percent of the entire diet. The potassium source that works best is potassium carbonate, but since this is an expensive mineral, many producers use potassium chloride.

Adding fat to the diet is another hot-weather strategy. Feeding fat increases energy while reducing fiber content and heat increment load but does not increase acidosis risk. Overfeeding fat, however, especially vegetable fat, will reduce fiber digestion and intake. That’s exactly what we don’t want for milk production in heat-stressed cows.

When heat stress is a possibility, avoid overfeeding urea or soluble protein. Evaluate the amount and degradability of the protein/nitrogen fed. Excess nitrogen-protein needs to be excreted; it is an energy drain, and tough on their kidneys.

Other nutrition strategies to beat the heat include altering feeding times to coolest parts of the day, pulling unpalatable feed from the ration and using higher-quality feedstuffs to encourage intake.

A proactive approach is best for dealing with heat stress in cattle. Once animals are severely affected, it may be too late. Before extreme temperatures arrive, be prepared to provide proper shade and water and adjust your feeding program according to your herd’s situation.

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Cattle can suffer from too much sulfur

Thirty years ago, I routinely checked the nitrogen-to-sulfur ratio in feedlot diets to see if there was adequate sulfur. Cattle diets deficient in sulfur result in decreased microbial populations, microbial protein synthesis and lactate utilization. Severe deficiencies can cause lethargy, weight loss and potentially death. Nowadays, however, it is far more likely that there is too much sulfur rather than too little. Allegedly, famed actress Mae West once postulated, “Too much of a good thing is marvelous.” Too much sulfur is not. Excessive sulfur intake by cattle decreases dry matter intake and average daily gain and can lead to potentially lethal diseases.

An essential macro mineral, sulfur is a necessary component for many organic molecules. Beef cattle require 0.15 percent dietary sulfur for adequate growth. That percentage, for the most part, comes from sulfur amino acids in protein. Rumen bacteria, especially cellulolytic bacteria, also require sulfur for adequate growth.

While the appropriate amount of sulfur is vital to normal performance and productivity, excessive amounts can cause sulfur toxicity. In the rumen, bacteria reduce sulfur to sulfide or hydrogen sulfide. The balance in the rumen between sulfide and hydrogen sulfide is pH-dependent. As ruminal pH decreases, the proportion of hydrogen sulfide increases. Large amounts of hydrogen sulfide is believed to cause the negative effects of excess dietary sulfur, including decreased cattle growth, reduced copper, diarrhea, muscular twitching, and polioencephalomalacia, a potentially fatal neurologic disease of ruminants. In cases of sulfur-induced polio, the excess ruminal hydrogen sulfide—which is similar to weak battery acid—“chews” on nerve tissue.

The National Academy of Sciences suggests that 0.3 percent sulfur is the maximum tolerable level in beef cattle diets with less than 15 percent forage. For diets containing greater than 40 percent forage, the maximum tolerable level is 0.45 percent. Higher concentrations may result in sulfur toxicity. Therefore, the risk can be decreased by increasing the forage fraction of the diet.

A feedlot ration commonly has 8 percent of its dry matter as forage. That’s why sulfur toxicity problems are often found in finishing animals or in situations where an excessive amount of corn co-products, such as corn gluten or distillers grains, are used in the diet. When corn co-products are fed at more than 1 percent of body weight, they are being overfed. The feeding value decreases, with reduced average daily gain and gain-to-feed ratio. Excessive sulfates in the water source can also be a problem.

Not only does decreased ruminal pH increase the risk of sulfur toxicity, but it also negatively affects dry matter intake, fiber digestibility and increased risk of acidosis, a common nutritional disorder in beef cattle. Acidosis is caused by rapid rumen fermentation of carbohydrates, which results in an accumulation of rumen and blood lactate/lactic acid The lactic acid load is hurtful, not helpful.

There are three common approaches to address acidotic challenges that can lead to sulfur toxicity: feed a buffer, increase forage and manage feed intake.

Including dietary forage increases ruminal pH, but not all sources have an equal effect. The neutral detergent fiber of roughage does not account for physical characteristics such as particle size and shape, moisture and density that affect digestion. These combined measurements are defined as effective neutral detergent fiber.

Increasing forage intake adds to time spent chewing, which stimulates saliva secretion and increases the amount of buffers in the rumen. Thus, more forage in the ration will increase rumen pH, decrease the daily fluctuation in ruminal pH and lower hydrogen sulfide.

However, feeding greater amounts of roughage and other prevention practices are not always economical for cattle feeders. Increasing forage lowers the energy level in the diet, which tends to reduce average daily gain and efficiency. The opposing economics related to management practices known to decrease the risk of acidic pH and the goal to increase cattle performance pose a question of how to best optimize forage concentration to avoid sulfur toxicity and maintain cattle performance.

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