Watering in a winter wonderland

The hot, dry days of summer may be when proper hydration seems to be most essential to livestock, but the truth is that winter watering is just as critical. Those cold, blustery days when you most want to stay inside by the fire are the days it pays to watch your water.

Just like essential minerals, water adds zero energy to the diet, yet it is critical for survival and exploiting the nutritional value of feed. And no matter how much snow is on the ground, it is not an adequate water source for livestock.

Among cattle, the water-drinking champs are wet milk cows. A high-producing cow might suck down 25 gallons of water a day. It’s common to see cows drink three times the weight of feed in the form of water. The requisite volume of water needed is often an afterthought, particularly in the winter. True, water requirement is reduced in the winter, but it remains substantial.

Adequate water intake is necessary for:
•    Transporting nutrients and excretions.
•    Chemical reactions and its solvent properties.
•    Regulating body temperature.
•    Maintaining shape of body cells.
•    Lubricating and cushioning joints and organs.

Lack of water has serious consequences, including reduced feed intake, lower productivity, weight loss due to dehydration and increased excretion of nitrogen and electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. Serious dehydration can even lead to death.

Ensure adequate water availability at all times to maintain hydration and normal metabolic activity. Some things can reduce water intake, even when availability is adequate. Check and monitor water intake regularly. In fact, evaluate water consumption as closely as you calculate dry matter consumption—it is that important. If water intake is less than expected and availability is good, then determine if there is anything that may be decreasing the water’s palatability. Cattle have a keener sense of smell than humans. Physiochemical factors that have been shown to influence water intake include total dissolved solids; sulfur, sulfate, sulfite and sulfide; chloride; iron; nitrate; manganese and fluoride. Water may also harbor pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella.

In addition, poor water quality can cause problems with facilities and equipment. For example, dissolved solids can cause water flow and waterer challenges. High iron might permit iron bacteria to grow, plugging water lines and systems.
Follow good management practices by flushing and cleaning waterers routinely. Feed, fecal bacteria and water-borne contaminants should be regularly cleaned out. Water quality in wells may be inconsistent. Mineral levels and total dissolved solids may fluctuate during the year.

If you suspect water quality is an issue, start with a livestock water analysis. You may need to treat the water with a shock treatment, filters, reverse osmosis or other means. More drastically, you may need a new well or switch to using municipal or rural utility water.

All water from natural sources contains impurities. Some of these impurities adversely affect the usefulness and suitability of water, while others may improve its palatability. Pure water is tasteless, colorless and odorless. It also feels slick on the skin. Because pure water is one of the best solvents available, it picks up impurities easily. Water may be cleansed or polluted as it flows over or filters through soil or other material. It may pick up or lose bacteria and dissolve or lose chemicals, minerals and sediment. The belief that flowing or soil-filtered water has purified itself is false and leads to an unjustified feeling about water safety. Clear water is not necessarily safe, just as colored or turbid water is not necessarily unsafe.

Water that is safe to drink is not necessarily nice to drink. To ensure livestock stay properly hydrated year round, make sure their water source is both safe and palatable.

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Fighting a biting problem in swine

Tail biting is a vice of hogs. Docking tails helps reduce the problem, but this practice is increasingly looked upon critically as an animal welfare issue. Tail biting as well as ear biting and flank biting affect group-raised hogs of all ages. Any number of factors have been associated with causing and/or inciting pigs to bite, such as genetics, high-fat diets, crowding, disease, ventilation issues and malnutrition.

When there is only a hammer in the toolbox, every problem looks like a nail. Being a nutritionist, I tend to worry about what can be done from a feed perspective to address the vice of tail biting. Sometimes tweaking the feed helps; other times it has no effect or seems to worsen the problem.

Ration factors that have been considered include:

Protein-amino acid balance: There are questions about whether too much or too little protein may be part of the problem. Excess protein stresses electrolyte balance, and animal proteins have been implicated. If pigs are biting and there are no animal proteins in the diet, try adding an animal protein source. If there is animal protein in the ration, remove it. We do not have a good idea of the effect, so the recommendation is “whatever you are doing, do something different.”

Calcium level: Verify the calcium level in hogs’ diet. It is often excessive.

Fat content: High-fat diets have been associated with tail biting, but there is not a consensus on what constitutes “high” fat. The immediate response is to remove added fat in the diet.

Salt level: Be sure there is adequate salt in the diet. If not, feed more electrolytes and provide more potassium and sodium as mineral. Some nutritionists will also include or increase the level of magnesium oxide. Adding more salts is probably the most common first tweak.

Fiber: Increasing the amount of fiber in the diet sometimes reduces the incidence of biting. For animals that cannot eat up to their energy need, such as wet sows or nursery pigs, the diet will usually have either an energy minimum or fiber maximum specification. Typical corn-soy swine diets will be about 3-percent crude fiber. Common things to feed are alfalfa meal, soyhulls and distiller’s dried grains with solubles.

Water: Ensure that water is adequate in quality and availability.

Tail biting does not appear to be solely caused by nutrition, so expecting a ration tweak to stop the problem may be expecting too much. Uncomfortable, over-crowded and bored pigs tend to bite more. From an environmental perspective, tail biting is more likely when temperature and humidity are high or the pen is cold, especially when it is cold and damp. Large temperature variations, significant drafts and poor air quality are also linked to increased tail biting. If the pen layout forces active pigs to walk through resting areas or the resting area is inadequate, there seems to be more tail-biting incidents. And having varied tail lengths with a mix of docked-undocked tails can also aggravate a biting problem.

It will likely be helpful to mark suspected biters. With group-housed hogs, it is often a smaller, less dominant animal that is biting. Remove bitten pigs from the group. Leaving victims in their initial pen tends to increase biting.

Provide alternative things for hogs to bite and play with. Hang chains or a hose they can chew on. Some people like to use bowling pins and bowling balls in the pens for enrichment. Auto tires are also used, but they shouldn’t be steel-belted radials. They have metal bits that scratch. I am not a big fan of tires because they can be troublesome in the pens. I also dislike using pallets. Pigs can chew on them, and they are cheap, but the nails and large size can cause issues. Make sure objects provided for enrichment stay clean to encourage pigs to bite them rather than each other.

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Healthy pigs make profitable pigs

Two years ago, Rich Deppe felt like there was something lacking in the pigs’ diet at his family’s farrow-to-finish operation near Washington, Mo. To compensate, the producers were adding a lot of “extras” to the feed—vitamins, antioxidants, laxatives and a myriad of other supplements—to address whatever issue was most troubling at the time.

If the feed was balanced with the right nutrition in the first place, they shouldn’t need to add all those extras, Deppe believed. They decided to put that theory to the test, comparing their current feed to MFA’s Evolution swine feeds.

Deppe started using the mini pellets in his nurseries, kept track of what he was feeding and gathered weight and health information daily. After a few weeks, they saw improved weight gain, health and overall development.

“We have a lot heavier pigs coming out of the farrowing house going into the nurseries,” Deppe said. “We can say the same thing for nursery weights going into the finisher. We saw a huge improvement.”

Evolution Swine Feeds include MFA’s Shield Technology, an all-natural blend of essential oils and other additives to enhance animal performance and health. Seeing the notable improvement in the nurseries, Deppe Farms went a step further and began including the feed in sow rations as recommended by MFA Swine Specialist Tom Lattimore. Now, they use Evolution feed at every stage of development, and the farm’s sows are producing more pigs than ever.

“We’re getting a lot more pigs from the same number of sows,” Deppe said. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s actually a good and a bad thing. We’re almost running out of room on the pig side of it. We probably went from selling 24,000 a year to maybe 30,000-32,000.”

At any given time, Deppe Farms feeds roughly 1,400 sows, which are artificially inseminated about every five months. The farm’s litters now average 13 piglets born alive and have a higher overall survival rate. The producers attribute that improvement to a combination of factors.

“Our sows are in great body condition coming into the farrowing house,” Deppe said. “Some of it is genetics, but some of it is the feed, without a doubt. We also made some facility improvements, but our pigs and sows are definitely performing better.”

He’s also noticed fewer lame sows, which was one of the reasons they were supplementing with additional vitamins and additives before switching to Evolution.    

“If we had to cull a sow previously,” Deppe said, “it was usually on account of her feet and legs. It was a big issue for us, and we don’t see that much anymore.”

The third-generation producer farms alongside his brothers, son, daughter, niece, grandchildren and four other full-time employees. In addition to raising pigs, the Deppes raise some 4,400 acres of row crops, split evenly between corn and soybeans.  

They grind and mix their own feed with corn grown on the farm. Feeding about 200 tons per week equates to some 320,000 to 340,000 bushels annually just at the Washington farm. They also have another location in New Haven, Mo. With that volume, balancing rations can make for tricky math, but moving to MFA’s Evolution feed with Shield simplified that process, said Mark Amelung, who is in charge of the grind-and-mix operations.

“The inclusion rate is simple,” he said. “It’s easy to feed, and we don’t have to use as much bean meal either. It allows us to use more of the corn we raise rather than buying and trucking it in. It’s a comparable price per ton, but when you figure the complete ration, it’s probably cheaper than the rest for us.”

Evolution formulations are based on net energy, MFA Feed Specialist Noble Carpenter explained.

“Since our formulations are based on net energy and not metabolized energy, we’re giving corn more credit,” Carpenter said. “We know there’s energy in bean meal, but the animal has to break down the protein to utilize it, releasing heat. We’re feeding that animal what it needs—not more and not less—and we’re not overfeeding protein. This is possible because we are supplementing with several synthetic amino acids.”

Carpenter cautioned it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution because every farm is different.

“We work with each farmer to figure out their needs,” he said. “Our standard diets are solid, but we often tailor-make diets to complement the genetics and production system of each farm.”

But Deppe said he’s satisfied with what he’s getting in each bag.

“It just seems like it’s balanced nutrition,” he said. “It’s working really well for us.”

For more information on Evolution Swine Feeds with Shield, contact your local MFA feed specialist and view a short video at

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Power tool

 Whether it’s a notepad in their glovebox, scratch paper on the dashboard or official IRM Redbook in their pocket, most cattle producers have some means of record-keeping nearby. But pen-and-paper may soon be replaced by high-tech tools for herd management that put the power of data in the palm of a producer’s hands.

Years in the making, the PowerCalf Mobile App and web portal are now available to assist beef producers in recording and managing critical information, from calving records to feeding programs. Just like that little redbook, this information can be accessed anytime, anywhere, but MFA’s PowerCalf app surpasses written records by putting that data to work in measuring and benchmarking herd performance with convenient, user-friendly technology unlike anything on the market.

The app was officially launched in August, but PowerCalf’s beginnings go back to 2014, when MFA Director of Health Track Operations Mike John sought to create a program that would allow beef producers to take the information they collected and make it more useful. MFA would digitize, standardize and analyze that information to help producers make whole-herd management decisions. Then John and PowerCalf developers took that concept a step further. What if producers could input their own information as quickly as they could write it, chute-side and already standardized? Wouldn’t that be valuable to their operations? What if they could run reports or sort by the animal’s identification number? And what if they could do that from their phone, tablet or computer?

The development of the mobile app was driven by those goals, and MFA’s information technology department has been building and refining the platform with the help of beta-testers across MFA’s trade territory. Here’s what a few of them had to say about this new power tool for their operation:

Tim Myers runs Blue Horn Ranch in Farmington, Mo. He and five employees have a lot to manage with 3,200 acres and 400 cows having roughly 374 calves a year.

“Whenever anyone on the ranch enters new data, it updates all of us,” Myers said. “It’s a very straightforward and easy process. None of us are very computer literate, but this app is just a touch screen, easy to use, common sense.”

Myers began beta-testing the app in the fall of 2016 and has used it for three calving seasons. He recently received carcass information on the first set calves that went to market while he was using the app. The results were interesting. The difference between his top and bottom carcass was $552.

“If we have the ability to group cattle of like genetics and like size and sell in bigger numbers, the cow/calf operator has control of some of the market,” Myers said. “If we can prove genetics and prove what they’re going to do at the feedlot, it gives us the ability to demand more money and have more stability in our market. The only way you can do that is through data collection.”

Likewise, tracking performance is also one of the main goals of app testers Alvin and Janet Braun who run approximately 200 head of cattle near Ste. Genevieve, Mo. The Brauns began renting and working the family farm in 2009 when Janet’s father got sick. Since then, they’ve been retaining 20-30 heifers each year to build their herd.

 “Our record-keeping up until now has been a little pocket notebook that gets put in a drawer,” Janet said. “This spring, we used the PowerCalf app to record birth and weaning weights, and I’m anxious to do that again in the fall. I want to accumulate that data and look at it in black-and-white to compare how our calves do in their individual herds and how they perform compared to each other.”

For the past three years, the Brauns have sold calves straight off the farm, and they said with the PowerCalf app they will be able to provide more information for prospective buyers. Ultimately, they hope PowerCalf will help increase their profitability.

“The buyers are actually beginning to contact us,” Alvin said. “It’s a lot more beneficial to sell from here than to haul to an auction barn, and it puts more money in our pocket in the end. When we eventually start selling our heifers, we’ll be able to easily access that animal’s information and even be able to tell the buyers how their mothers and grandmothers performed.”

University of Missouri Extension Livestock Specialist Kendra Graham sees many operations in the state, some with various methods of data collection and others without any at all. She and her family run Kollmeyer Family Farms in Farmington, Mo., and served as a PowerCalf beta-testers.

“I think any type of information-gathering and record- keeping that we can have on the farm is beneficial,” Graham said. “Identification is key to a lot of our production records, so if we can make it easier for producers to record that data, I think people are more inclined to collect that information.”

Graham said once producers start recording some data, they’re more likely to keep other key information.

“Whether it’s feeding, feed-to-gain or even just weights,” she said, “you can tell if your cattle are more or less productive.”

Through the PowerCalf app, producers can document and verify health and genetics through the entire process. They can benchmark their herd against others in the state. They can track feed efficiency and reproductive rates. They can determine which cows are the most profitable and which ones are costing them money. Moreover, they can do all this through the app on their mobile device or the web portal and know their information is securely stored in the cloud.

“One of the most exciting things I see happening with PowerCalf is it’s going to give MFA the ability to help our producers capture more value and be more economically viable,” Stephen Daume, MFA livestock consultant, said. “With PowerCalf, I can now go out to a farm and help that customer look through his records—analyze his carcass weights, feed conversion, reproduction rates—and maybe even help him break his profitability down in terms of dollars of carcass weight per cow.

Ultimately, it’s about MFA being able to help our producers capture more value out of the products they produce, which, in turn, adds value to what we do here at MFA.”

PowerCalf not only has the potential to change producers’ operations, but it may have the potential to change the beef industry as a whole, Daume said. Producers will now be able to tell which of their cows produce calves that grade well at the processor and meet consumer expectations of quality. The possibilities are endless.

“By capturing and digitizing all this data,” he said, “we not only have the ability to document and verify parentage, but we can also make observations such as hair coat quality, fescue resistance or respiration rate during heat stress. We could maybe even identify lines and breeds of cattle that have specific resistance to disease, like bovine respiratory disease. The PowerCalf app is going to allow us to easily track those genetics, and we could assist with beef improvement not just here in Missouri or the United States, but perhaps even globally.”

That’s the power possible in the PowerCalf app. For more information, visit, the Apple store or Google Play. Hear more from these PowerCalf pioneers in this video at

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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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