Are your steers up to the challenge?

SteersHealth Track cattle, such as these on the farm of Jim Novinger in Kirksville, Mo., may be eligible to compete in the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Profitability Challenge. MFA is among the contest’s supporters.There is a new game in town that promises genuine insight into the world of beef production. It is a “Profitability Challenge” that will use the latest beef industry technology to identify Missouri’s “Top 100 Steers.”

MFA Incorporated is dedicating considerable resources in support of this valuable project, also supported by the Mis­souri Cattlemen’s Association, the University of Missouri, GrowSafe, Idexx, Elanco and Valley Oaks Steak Company.

This is a great way to promote MFA’s com­mitment to young beef producers, highlight the value of Health Track preconditioning and pro­mote Missouri beef in a way that hasn’t been done before. In the end, the winning steers will be the ones with the highest total profitability.

The science

Renovations are being made at the MU South Farm in Columbia, Mo., to provide indoor housing for 100 steers that will be monitored using the latest GrowSafe technology. This equipment will measure individual feed intake and weight gain each time the cattle eat or drink from delivery to finish, which allows individual feed efficiency and overall performance to be determined. This system will also decide an optimum harvest date, and the steers will all be harvested at the Valley Oaks facility in Lone Jack, Mo., where carcass value will be determined on a standard grid.

The contest

The steers will be ranked in order of their overall profit­ability, which is a combination of performance and carcass value. There are cash prizes for the winners, but more im­portantly, producers earn bragging rights and the ability to measure genetics. All data will be shared with participating producers, although ownership of each steer will only be known by the participant during the contest.

As data is collected every day, a “Fantasy Football”-type contest will be available to local FFA chapters. The FFA members will be able to see each steer’s progress, build their “teams” and rank the steers. The final tally will occur after all of the steers have been harvested and carcass value is added to the profitability calculation.

The terms

Entry deadline is Sept. 13. All steers entered must have been preconditioned and approved through the MFA Health Track program. In addition, they must test persistently infected (PI) negative through IDEXX Laboratories prior to delivery. De­livery will be accepted only on Nov. 9 at the MU South Farm Beef Research Center. The weight after a settling-in period must be between 618 and 840 pounds. To get detailed data at the end of the contest, producers are required to donate half the value of the delivered steer to Missouri Cattlemen’s Asso­ciation to help protect the viability of the beef industry.

For more details, visit For more information on how to enroll calves into the Health Track program, contact your local MFA retail location or MFA livestock sales repre­sentative.

UPDATE - the 2020/2021 contest information and sign-up forms can be found here:



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Help horses keep their cool when heat is on

Summer will soon officially arrive, bringing the challenge of managing horses during hot weath­er. Horses can acclimate to hot and humid environments. A 15-day to 21-day acclimation period is recommended for horses originat­ing from cooler or drier climates that are traveling to compete or reside in hot, humid conditions. The acclimation period results in an increased tolerance to both heat and exercise. However, acclimation does not reduce the need for close moni­toring of horses during training and competition in these environments.

To help reduce the effects of heat and keep horses comfortable, con­sider the following:

  • Provide turnout during cooler times of the day—early in the morning, late at night or over­night.
  • Provide relief from the sun through access to shade from trees or buildings. Remember that shade will change throughout the day, and constructed buildings may block natural air flow.
  • Watch for signs of sunburn, especially on white or light-col­ored areas. Use masks to protect the horses’ faces.
  • Fans help to improve airflow, but be sure to keep cords and plugs out of the horse’s reach to prevent electrocution.
  • Ensure access to clean, cool water at all times. “Cool” is de­fined as being 45 to 64 degrees. Depending on feed, an adult horse in a cool climate will nor­mally drink 6 to 10 gallons of water each day while at rest and much more while working or in situations with high heat and humidity.
  • Water buckets and tanks may need to be cleaned more regu­larly in hot weather as algae and bacteria grow rapidly in warm water. Blue algae toxicity is more common in ponds or slow-run­ning streams during hot, dry weather.
  • Free-choice access to salt will encourage drinking. The two electrolytes that most often need to be replaced from sweating are sodium and chloride, which make up salt. Loose salt is pre­ferred to a salt block. Offering free-choice MFA 5% Horse Mineral with Shield also helps to mitigate heat stress. It contains salt as well as essential oils and a proprietary blend of botanical extracts and synbiotics, all of which help boost the horse’s health and immune system.
  • Consider providing electrolytes to horses that have been sweat­ing heavily or are expected to do so. If electrolytes are added to drinking water, also offer plain water since some horses dislike the taste of electrolytes and will drink less. This situation is sim­ilar with people—some like to drink Gatorade. Others do not.
  • Reduce riding intensity and length. Heat stress can affect any horse but is especially common in older, obese and out-of-con­dition horses. Young foals also tend to be more prone to heat stress and dehydration.
  • Clip horses with long hair coats, such as horses with Cushing’s disease, to enhance cooling.
  • Transport horses during the coolest part of the day. Ensure that trailers are well ventilated. Offer water frequently. Do not park in direct sunlight with horses inside.
  • Horses that have little or no ability to produce sweat have a condition called “anhidrosis-hypohidrosis,” and are prime candidates for heat stress. Re­search shows 2% to 6% of hors­es can develop this issue. They may require additional manage­ment strategies to mitigate the effects of heat stress, such as electrolyte therapy.
  • Avoid riding a horse when the combined temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and percent relative humidity is greater than 150. For example, if it is 80 degrees out, a relative humidity of greater than 70% exceeds the 150 calculation.

If a horse must be worked during hot and humid weather, consider adjusting your schedule to ride ear­ly in the morning or late at night. Work the horse in shade when possible, and keep the work light. Include frequent breaks that allow the horse to cool down and regain a normal respiratory rate. Do not work the horse beyond its fitness level. Watch for normal sweating. Inside the stable, create airflow, use fans and exploit the “chimney effect,” in which rising warm air forces cooler air to infiltrate through doors, windows or other openings. Provide access to cool, clean water at all times and offer water fre­quently during work.

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Fix your mix for ration uniformity

How consistent is the ration you are feeding? Inconsistencies can set cattle up for nutritional issues or lead to disappointment when performance suffers. Either out­come has economic consequences. Mixing efficacy, or lack thereof, can have just as much impact on the outcome of the ration as the formulation.

Ultimately, the main goal of mixing a ration is to blend ingredi­ents in a way that delivers the same amount of ingredients and nutri­ents to every animal in each bite of every feeding. Evaluating variation in nutrient or ingredient levels is one of the most cost-effective and reliable means of monitoring ration consistency.

To evaluate ration consistency, collect five samples from the bunk, spaced evenly from the beginning through the end of distribution. These samples should be collected as soon as possible of delivery to the bunk, and sample collection should be replicated across three to five separate batches or feedings.

If possible, follow the mixer through feedout. Avoid collecting samples after cattle have had time to eat, as the results obtained from these samples will mislead you to believe there is an issue with mixing efficacy when there may not be.

Once the samples have been collected, they should be submitted to a laboratory for analysis. Sodium, crude protein and fiber—either neutral detergent fiber or acid detergent fiber—are often used as markers.

Another marker often used is an ionophore, such as Rumensin or Bovatec, or a micronutrient such as a specific vitamin or trace mineral with a known target concentration. It is usually cheaper to test for sodium, which is added in a rela­tively large amount from a single source. The sodium content in plant materials will be low and have little variation.

If there is an issue with ration uniformity, it can usually be addressed by troubleshooting the source and uniformity of ingredi­ents, level of ingredients, order of ingredient addition to the mixer and mixing times.

A problem with mixing efficacy, whether it’s undermixing or over­mixing, is most commonly caused by adding ingredients in a sequence that does not allow them to blend sufficiently. Often, the order of addition is based on convenience rather than the kinetics of blending. If the goal is to create a uniform ra­tion, ingredients should be includ­ed in the right order and blended for the amount of time necessary to disperse throughout the entire mixture without causing them to re-segregate or settle.

This is a fairly complex topic dependent upon a combination of many factors. But for now, consid­er the physical characteristics and inclusion level of each ingredient and how that may contribute to ease or difficulty of dispersion throughout the ration. The ingre­dients together should be more similar rather than less similar.

One of the most common areas of concern is the dispersion of micro-ingredients, such as drugs or other additives. If lack of disper­sion of these ingredients is leading to a high level of variation, first consider the level of inclusion. It is nearly impossible for most mixers to disperse a very small amount of these ingredients throughout a batch without a micro-machine. If this is the issue, and a micro-machine is not an option, premix­ing is likely the solution.

Indeed, both Rumensin and Bovatec labels suggest making a premix first. It follows that mi­cro-ingredients, those used at less than 1 percent of the mass, should first be mixed and then blended with a carrier. Nutritionists usually prefer the premix be formulated for inclusion at approximately 5 percent to increase the likelihood of consistent and complete dispersion.

Also, check the scales to ensure that they are accurate. If they are, then ensure the correct amount of each ingredient is being added and the ration does not call for an amount more precise than you can measure or effectively add to the mixer. Rations should be formulat­ed only to that degree of precision that can be achieved. Small incon­sistencies can have a substantial effect on uniformity.

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Plant food helps produce more feed

What do you see when you look at a forage stand? A source of livestock feed or a commodity to be sold? The more forage you have, the more cattle you can feed. Fertilizer is a principal input cost for a forage crop. There are no substitutes or shortcuts for providing adequate nutrients. Cutting back on fertilizer will likely cost more over the long run because of decreased yields and stand longevity.

When you add up all the pas­ture, grass hay, alfalfa, corn and sorghum-sudan silages, millets and grazing small grains, forages account for the most acreage of any U.S. crop, yet they continue to be neglected when it comes to fertiliza­tion. The majority of grazing lands receive no fertilizer of any kind. The resulting low forage yield and daily rate of gain are widely accepted on land with low perceived value.

It is good to look for ways to reduce fertilizer costs, but it’s all about efficiency of production. Indiscriminate reductions in fertil­izer will likely lead to reductions in yield and an increase in the unit cost of hay. Cutting costs in forage production should be done in a way that has minimal impact on forage yield.

Make the investment in fertilizer more efficient by using soil test re­sults. If you do not soil sample and apply fertilizer and/or lime based on the results of those tests, it is likely that the appropriate amount is not being applied. If nutrients are under-applied, the result is forage yield below its potential. If over-ap­plied, then costs were incurred that won’t produce a positive response. Few other practices in forage pro­duction can improve the profitabili­ty more than soil testing and follow­ing fertility recommendations.

Apply fertilizer to fields where soil test values indicate an economic response and where the soil pH is in the optimum range. If the soil pH is too high or too low, you won’t get a good return on investment. Rather, first focus on adjusting the soil pH in those fields. If the pH drifts much below 6 or much above 7, the availability of some nutrients in the soil will decrease. For exam­ple, a pH difference of 5.6 versus 6.2 can effectively reduce the value of nitrogen fertilizer by as much as 35 percent, phosphorus by as much as 50 percent and potassium by as much as 10 percent.

Lime is a key ingredient to im­proving soil fertility. Since water is required for lime to react with the soil, effects of a lime application will be slower in dry conditions. It often takes six months to a year before a response can be measured, even under perfect circumstances. However, a response may be ob­served within weeks of application when soil pH is extremely low. In areas where needed, it is important to apply lime immediately after the growing season or crop removal to allow it to react and correct soil pH before the next growing season.

Nitrogen is usually the most limiting element in forage produc­tion. This major nutrient is involved in chlorophyll development for photosynthetic activities, yield and forage quality. Nitrogen, however, requires some timing and proper manipulations to get good yields and reduce losses. Splitting N applications will reduce the risk of leaching, volatilization and nitrate toxicity.

Nitrogen-use efficiency can be significantly increased by phospho­rus fertilization. Optimal soil phos­phorus level should be between 30-40 ppm. If the P level is low, it could allow only 40-60 percent of total hay production. In the spring, P is a crucial nutrient in promoting the development of new roots and tillering. Phosphorous can be ap­plied to a hay field any time of year since it is very stable and available to the plant when needed. When fertilizing annual crops, however, P should be applied before planting. Avoid spreading phosphorus fer­tilizer when there is risk of runoff, which is the primary way this nutri­ent is lost from soils.

Potassium allows plants to survive in cold weather and sustain produc­tivity during drought. It is involved in many metabolic processes in the plant. There is a very low environ­mental risk with K applications. The major inefficient use of K is a phenomenon called “luxury con­sumption,” in which forage crops take up more K than required for optimum growth. To avoid this, K should be applied in two or more split applications during the hay season. The environmental risk posed by K is low, but care must be taken to ensure it is used efficiently.

Yes, fertilizer can be expensive, but it’s still a bargain when com­pared to dragging down yield and the cost of renovating perennial forage stands. Proper plant food applications will pay off in extra forage and feed for your livestock

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Group newborn calves by age to lower disease risk

The health and well-being of the nursing calf starts before birth with the health and nutritional status of its mother. Nutrient needs of the cow increase during the last trimester of gestation and, by the last month prior to calving, the fetus is gaining approximately 1 pound per day.

In addition to this late-term fetal growth, the cow is preparing for lactation. Research has shown cows that are thin (less than 4 body condition score) have a decreased concentration of immunoglobulins in colostrum compared to cows in a body condition score of 5 to 6. Calves born to very thin cows may be weak and slow to nurse, reduc­ing the colostrum they consume and making them more susceptible to disease.

The newborn calf needs a healthy mother and a clean environment. Manure and mud provide an ideal environment for disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Early in the calving season, calves are exposed to these pathogens and often devel­op minor, undetectable infections. These young calves amplify the pathogen load in the environment faster than adult cattle do.

As the calving season progresses, newborn calves are challenged with increasingly higher levels of patho­gens. Infection with high doses of bacteria or viruses combined with other risk factors such as over­crowding, temperature extremes and precipitation can quickly overwhelm calves’ defenses. Scours may develop. Long calving seasons further exacerbate the situation by providing a steady supply of new calves susceptible to infection over a long period of time.

Segregating cow-calf pairs by age of the calf has helped reduce the incidence of scours outbreaks. Older calves tend to infect younger calves. The Sandhills Calving Sys­tem, developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a system that utilizes a series of calving pastures to minimize newborn calves’ contact with disease agents. Named after the Sandhills area of north-central Ne­braska where it was tested, the sys­tem prevents direct contact between younger calves and older calves and keeps later-born calves from being exposed to an accumulation of pathogens in the environment. The idea is to minimize both the disease load and newborns’ exposure to the disease agents until their immune systems have sufficiently matured to better withstand them.

Key components of the system are age-segregation of calves and the frequent movement—every seven to 10 days—of pregnant cows to clean calving pastures. Every 10 days, or whenever 100 calves are born, the herd is divided by sorting cows that had not calved from the cow-calf pairs of the preceding group. In this manner, fewer cattle groups are required, although the num­ber of calves within any pasture group never exceeds 100, and all calves within a group are within 10 days of age of each other. After the youngest calves are 4 weeks old, all calves can be commingled.

The timing and the amount of colostrum consumption is also critical for the health of newborns. Ideally, calves need to stand and nurse within the first few hours to maximize antibody absorption and immunity. The best-case scenario occurs when a cow in good body condition gives birth to a vigor­ous calf in a clean environment, promptly stimulates the calf by licking it clean and the calf quickly nurses a large colostrum meal.

That first meal triggers a se­quence of gut changes. To protect the calf from pathogens, the gut begins to “close” (loses its ability to take contents directly into the blood) as soon as food is introduced to the intestinal tract. As a result, fewer and fewer antibodies can be absorbed from each subsequent meal until gut closure is complete.

If a calf has nothing to eat, it can still absorb some antibodies at 24 hours, but if the calf consumes anything, gut closure begins imme­diately. “Anything” can be a dose of colostrum that is too small, milk replacer or debris nursed from a dirty udder or environment. Bacte­ria nursed from a dirty environment can be directly absorbed into the blood and cause disease.

Disease transmission is less likely if colostrum from within the herd is used. Commercial colostrum replacers are also effective and come from carefully tested herds. These products must be mixed carefully according directions. Feeding co­lostrum banked from neighboring herds can be effective but could increase the risk of introducing diseases. Colostrum supplements are relatively safe in terms of disease transmission but typically do not contain a high enough concen­tration of antibodies to guarantee adequate passive transfer. Visit with your local veterinarian when con­sidering these options.

More from this March Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE .

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