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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Intake matters when maximizing feed efficiency

Knowing how much a cow eats each day is the single-most important element in formulating cattle diets, but consistently and accurately measuring dry matter intake is a challenge. When livestock producers are asked how much the cows are eating, a common answer is often “all they want.”

Many factors affect how much feed a cow eats. It could be management, such as crowding at the feedbunk, cow comfort, time cows spend standing, feed quality, abrupt diet changes or water availability. It might be the weather: rainfall, temperature changes, humidity, wind chill and mud. Production factors and activity level also affect the amount cows will eat.

To make calculations more challenging, dry matter intake is a continuous variable. Just when we have determined the DMI for a particular time, something changes—such as cow movement, breeding, heat stress or forage moisture content—and the DMI changes, too.

Maintaining and monitoring dry matter intake are critical because cows have nutrient requirements that need to be covered to support their milk production and metabolic functions. Plus, feed cost is a principal expense, so producers don’t want to under-feed or over-feed cows.

Inaccurate moisture determinations on high-moisture feeds can also be a challenge. If using wet byproducts, haylage and corn, it is not uncommon to have 90 to 100 pounds of as-fed wet feeds in the diet. Moisture determinations that are 2 to 3 points off represent a couple pounds of dry matter difference. This can be significant.

Suppose that the ration has 50 percent corn silage, as fed, and we think it is 62 percent moisture, but it is actually 65 percent moisture. This means the cows will be eating less corn silage dry matter and more dry matter from the other forage and concentrate. If we are 2 pounds short on the corn silage dry matter, those 2 pounds would support somewhere around 4 pounds of milk production. Protein should not be as big a problem, but if the corn silage needs to be an effective fiber source, and we are short on effective fiber, this also might be troublesome for the percentage of fat and rumen function.

The more feed a cow can consume, the more milk she can produce, and maximizing the nutrient density improves the herd feed efficiency. A common benchmark is to have the average milk-to-feed ratio above 1.5 to 1. Fresh cows should have efficiencies of 1.7. Ratios below 1.5 could mean that feed intake is limiting and that improvements are likely.

Scales on feeding equipment must be accurate and checked and/or calibrated on a timely basis. Weighbacks of feed refusals are also critical in assessing nutrient intakes. Cows eat fairly predictable amounts of feed depending on their size and stage of lactation.

Neutral detergent fiber level and digestibility (NDFd) will have a profound impact on total intakes. Changes in NDFd can impact how much forage a cow is able to consume and digest every day. There can be significant differences in NDFd from one forage to another even if neutral detergent fiber and protein levels test similarly.

While computer modeling is sophisticated enough today to deliver very accurate calculations in support of a given amount of milk production, the models don’t always agree on predicted dry matter intakes. Errors in predicted and actual intakes make quite a difference in ration costs. Accuracy of dry matter intakes can also be improved with multiple production groups. These groups have smaller variation of milk production, so there is less variation in feed intake.

Bottom line, it is imperative to watch feed intake and milk-to-feed efficiency. The best strategy is to find the point where both are maximized.

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Feed to fuel your hunt

Training, exercise and correct nutrition are essential to ensure your working dog’s optimal performance. Food is fuel, and working dogs will run far better and avoid fatigue on a premium, highly digestible diet designed to keep the muscles working and the blood flowing.

Working dog breeds are typically strong, agile and enduring. However, they may run greater risks of injury and stress. The correct nutrition ensures that the digestive system works as efficiently as possible, enabling the immune system to play its primary role in protecting the body, rather than dealing with food ingredients that hinder metabolism.

Promoting healthy growth through an appropriate diet from puppyhood allows adult working dogs to develop strong bones and joints and a well-muscled frame. Strong neck and shoulder muscles allow for a greater lung capacity, better endurance and necessary power for carrying out his duties or sporting activities. Sensible feeding may not prevent injury but may reduce incidences or alleviate symptoms. A strong, healthy body that is protected by an equally strong, healthy immune system has greater healing capacity, too.

For working dogs, the immune, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems are stressed during any period of prolonged physical exertion. Mental health, too, should not be overlooked, and the nervous system may also benefit from nutritional support to help to promote alertness and improve concentration levels.

Fitting feed

Timing and frequency of feeding is important to ensure that your dog has sufficient energy at times when he needs it. Avoid heavy meals immediately before and after exercise.

In the stomach, digestive enzymes start breaking down the food to enable nutrients to be absorbed later in the digestive sequence. As the food moves through the small intestine, proteins and fats will be absorbed. The large intestine further breaks down nutrients—in particular, dietary fibers and carbohydrates. Finally, water is removed in the colon and the last amounts of fat absorbed.

You will know if the diet is not suitable. For example, digestive odors and poor stool quality are early signs. Loose stools or diarrhea may suggest that the feed is causing digestive upset. Coat condition can suffer if the fat level and fatty acid balance are not suitable, and skin conditions and ear problems can indicate food allergies.

When moving to a new diet, it is important to switch slowly to be sure that changes are accepted well. Try the new diet for at least a month before making a final decision on how it is working. Some changes will take this long to appear in the coat and general condition.

Balancing act

All dogs require a balanced diet that provides sufficient energy for the work they are bred to do. Naturally, a working dog will require more calories than a family pet. For peak performance, the diet must not only provide the fuel for energy but also optimal levels of essential nutrients that the body requires to function efficiently.

The energy requirement of working dogs depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise as well as environmental conditions. Energy-dense foods allow increased nutritional demands to be met during the season without having to feed large volumes of food that take longer to digest and metabolize.

Fats contain approximately twice the energy of proteins and carbohydrates, and studies on canine athletes have shown that fats improve endurance. In dogs, 70-90 percent of the energy for sustained work comes from fat metabolism, and only a small amount from carbohydrates. This is why it is important to provide optimal levels of high-quality fat for fuel.

Protein is a crucial nutrient, and again must be highly digestible. Chicken has one of the highest biological values, meaning that it is easily broken down to support the body’s structural and functional demands.

Working dogs may also benefit from functional ingredients such as natural antioxidants. The adverse affects of stress on both human and canine health are often underrated. Working dogs are particularly subject to physical stress due to the demands of their sport. When the body is under stress, free radicals are released. Antioxidants work against these potentially harmful effects.

Moderate levels of carbohydrates are needed for working dogs to promote sustained energy. Human athletes often dramatically increase carbohydrate intake to improve the availability of glycogen for anaerobic energy metabolism in muscles.

Research in dogs is limited, but studies so far have concluded that such glycogen loading is ineffective in canines.

High-performance dogs require higher levels of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin, due to increased demands from oxidative stress. Make sure your working dog’s diet includes an optimal level.

Commercial complete diets are the most popular for working dogs due to their convenience and economy. It is an absolute must, however, to ensure that only high-quality, highly digestible ingredients are incorporated into the working dog’s diet.

More information about choosing the right food for your working dog is online at Visit your local MFA or AGChoice retailer for a trusted selection of nutrition and pet health products such as the Victor Super Premium Pet Food line.

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Consider these steps to ‘drought-proof’ your farm

It’s no secret that Missouri has been at a rainfall deficit since late summer 2017. At press time, nearly 70 percent of the state was still in drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor for Sept. 13. Drought intensity and resulting impacts vary widely, but every producer in Missouri likely experienced some decline in production due to drier-than-average conditions. Whether it’s reduced hay yield, dormant pastures, decreased crop yield or lack of water for livestock, many farmers and ranchers had to alter short-term plans in response. When the drought breaks, it will be time to think about long-term recovery in preparation for the next drought.

I spent quite a bit of time across the state this summer talking to producers about drought impacts on their farm and mitigation strategies to consider. Many producers told me they weren’t feeling the effects quite as much as their neighbors. For these folks, the common theme was that they used the 2012 drought as a learning experience and have worked to “drought-proof” their operation since then. It’s not that they didn’t have any ill effects this summer, but the situation wasn’t as serious for them as it was for so many.

In contrast to western states where water is severely limiting, we are typically spoiled with more than 40 inches of rainfall on average each year in Missouri. Because annual rainfall of 40 inches is more than enough to grow a bumper crop and plenty of forage, we aren’t forced to be as efficient at capturing and using that moisture as we should be. Improving water infiltration into the soil, establishing reliable water sources for livestock and keeping forages healthy and diverse are all things to consider when thinking about guarding your operation against drought.

Keeping residue and actively growing plants on your fields and pastures at all times will reduce runoff and increase the amount of water that makes it into the soil profile. No-till, minimum-till, cover crops and rotational grazing are all practices that will increase infiltration over time.   

If you rely on ponds to water livestock, you would be wise to add a few water tanks that are fed by a well or rural water. Even if you don’t use them all the time, at least you have an alternative when the ponds get low. Frost-free waterers can also save you time and hassle during the winter by keeping you from chopping ice. If you only have ponds, consider getting them cleaned out to increase the volume of water they can hold. The Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) have programs right now to assist with the expense of cleaning out ponds that were built with cost-share money originally. Contact your local SWCD Office for more information.

Diversifying forages to include some native warm-season grasses or warm-season annuals is a good idea for any livestock operation to fill the cool-season grass “summer slump.” Warm-season forages are beneficial every year but are especially valuable during a drought. Their extended root system can access water deep in the soil profile.

Having a grazing and fertility plan for your pastures will keep them healthy and productive and,  as a result, they will be impacted less by drought. A fertility program such as MFA’s Nutri-Track utilizes grid soil samples to make fertilizer recommendations that get the right product in the right place. This increases the health of your plants on every acre, making them more productive and improving their stress tolerance.

A rotational grazing system also helps pastures be more productive and resilient. It keeps the plants from getting grazed too short and gives them periods of rest so they can recover before grazing again. Among other benefits, this allows the roots to stay robust for better access to water and nutrients.

None of these things are the silver bullet to drought conditions, but if implemented they will slowly make your operation more “drought-proof” for the future.

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Strategies to deal with forage shortage

Hay season ended early for many cattle producers in MFA country this year, mainly because there wasn’t much of it to cut. Cold, dry weather didn’t provide the spring growth cattlemen needed, and May was the hottest on record for Missouri. Compounding this year’s forage shortage, long-term precipitation deficits going back to summer of 2017 have made the hay supply situation even worse.

There are several means of addressing the situation. One is to bring in hay. While very effective, this can be difficult due to supply and availability issues. Reducing forage requirements and improving forage utilization are more viable options.

Reduce forage requirements

First, consider culling animals. If culling is inevitable, don’t put it off. Delaying the sale of at least part of the cattle inventory further reduces forage supply and potentially exposes you to greater market risk if the drought persists.

Wean calves early. Many dairy replacements are taken off milk or milk replacer at 1 month old, which is a bit young, but 60-90 days of age is certainly an effective solution. Weaning greatly reduces the cow’s energy requirement and helps her keep body condition, which means she is more likely to get bred. If you’re relying on pasture to put weight on cows, hold the quality pasture for calves. A better option is to put them in a yard and feed them. A calf under 400 pounds has a tough time gaining 2 pounds a day exclusively on forage, and putting the calves in a lot will further stretch forage for the cows. Small calves have excellent feed conversions. We routinely see feed conversions of 3.8 to 4 on calves fed MFA Cattle Charge or Full Throttle.

To reduce forage requirements, you can also feed concentrate to replace total digestible nutrients (TDN) and protein as well as provide adequate vitamin and mineral fortification. Feeding 6 to 7 pounds of forage extender cubes/pellets will replace 10 pounds of hay. I recommend MFA Forage Extender Cubes to help stretch forage supplies. A limit-fed concentrate program means cows are always happy to see you.

Consider tactics of maintaining the body condition score (BCS) of cows. The winter months are the most expensive time to put body condition on cows. Cows are not going to gain weight just after they calve and most likely not until they get adequate spring grass. Keeping cows in a BCS of more than 5 and heifers above 5.5 will allow them to use fewer total calories.

Improve forage utilization

Treating low-quality forages with oxides, such as ammonia and calcium oxide, improves fiber digestibility and energy value. The ammonia treatment raises the crude protein equivalent. Keep in mind, there are handling issues when oxide-treating forages, so be sure to know what you are doing before you start.

Start feeding hay and/or supplements before pastures become too short. This will stretch pasture forages, reduce the incidence of overgrazing and ensure that cows do not become thin before winter. Lower-quality hay could be fed now and pastures grazed during late fall and early winter, assuming we get some moisture to stimulate fall regrowth. But as we know, in the Midwest, a normal August is hot and dry.

To improve forage utilization and harvest efficiency, strip graze or rotationally graze pastures. Likewise, feeding a total mixed ration in a yard improves harvest efficiency.

Feed a balanced supplement, making sure you don’t overfeed starch, protein, etc. 

Provide an ionophore such as MFA 14% Stock Grower BT or Super Beef Supplement with Rumensin. The higher the energy of the feed, the bigger the response to using an ionophore. On a rough forage base, the best rate of Rumensin might be 100 milligrams per head per day for brood cows. On an all-they-can-eat, 200-bushel-per-acre corn silage buffet, they will take 300 milligrams per day and think it is a good start.

The National Drought Mitigation Center’s long-term and short-term drought models are online at If you’re looking for ways to stretch your forage supplies, talk with your MFA feed specialist about recommendations for your farm.

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