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Help calves overcome cold stress

When calves get cold, they spend a lot of energy trying to stay warm. They then have less energy available for growth and immune system function. Cold-stressed calves are more prone to scours and pneumonia, compromising weight gain and overall health.

Very young calves, those less than 3 weeks old, feel cold stress at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Calves 6 weeks and older begin to feel cold stress at about 42 degrees. Of course, if calves are exposed to wind, snow or rain, they will feel cold stress more acutely, even at warmer temperatures.

DocWhiteThe calf’s surroundings make a big difference. Adequate shelter provides tremendous benefits. Straw is an excellent bedding for keeping calves warm. It should be deep enough to cover the foot and at least part of the leg when the calf burrows in it for warmth. Wet bedding hurts more than it helps, so be sure to keep it clean and dry.

A great option to provide additional warmth is a calf jacket, which prevents the animal from losing heat as quickly. Make sure the calf is completely dry before putting a jacket on it. Moisture trapped against the calf’s hide can be problematic.

Providing more calories is another way to help calves manage cold stress. The goal is to provide enough energy to offset the additional demands on the calf’s body. One way to do this is to increase the amount of milk given at each feeding. This is convenient because the feeding schedule doesn’t change. However, this can be a problem for very young calves who can’t or won’t drink the extra milk or the bottle used is at capacity.

Adding a third feeding of the same volume as the other two will also provide extra energy by substantially increasing the caloric intake. As long as you keep the timing consistent, you don’t necessarily need equal intervals between each feeding. A common feeding schedule might be 6 a.m., 12 p.m., and 6 p.m., but a similar plan would also work.

Increasing the caloric content of the milk is another option. This is done by adding more milk replacer powder to the milk, instead of the typical mixing rate of a pound of powder to a gallon of water. The calf then consumes the same amount of milk—for example, 2 quarts—but the fat and protein content of the milk is higher. Fat provides more calories than protein, so adding a fat supplement by itself will increase the energy density more than adding milk replacer powder. Regardless of whether you add more powder or just fat, the total solids of the milk should not go above 16%. If so, calves without free-choice water can get dehydrated.

When it gets cold, you’ll often see calves eat more starter feed. In some ways, this is beneficial. Higher starter intake can lead to faster rumen development, and heat generated by the bacteria in the rumen will warm the calf. Remember, as calves eat more starter, the amount of water the calf requires increases, so warm water should be provided multiple times a day to prevent freezing.

Often the reason calves eat more starter is due to an insufficient amount of milk being offered. This may be part of the management strategy, such as when I cut back on feeding milk a week before weaning to get the calves to eat more starter. While we definitely want calves to eat starter feed, balance is needed between grain and milk consumption.

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.

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Let dairy cows take the plunge this winter

Even in cold weather, footbaths can continue to be an effective disease prevention practice

In the winter, many dairy producers reduce or eliminate footbaths, which are commonly used to prevent and control infectious diseases such as digital dermatitis, also known as hairy heel warts. The practice also helps maintain hoof hardness and improve overall herd health.

The footbath method of hoof care allows producers to use a whole-herd approach, rather than trying to work individually with every cow. While freezing weather can make this practice more challenging, there are definite benefits to the use of winter footbaths. Herds that don’t have regular winter hoof treatment are much more likely to have higher rates of infectious lesions during the winter.

Dairies with fewer than 150 cows often use topical treatments during winter months, and this can be a wise economic decision. In the winter, it is likely that you will only get to use a 50-gallon footbath once for your herd before it freezes, so cost can become an issue.

On the other hoof, topical treatments do require vigilant evaluation and consistent treatment for affected animals. This can often prove to be difficult and offset any cost advantage over footbaths. Additionally, trying to identify which animals need topical treatment can be labor intensive and error prone.

Because of these challenges, many dairies would be well suited to continue using footbaths in the winter. Here are some recommended practices:

Don’t make a skating rink. Spread salt on the concrete surfaces near the bath to keep ice from making everything slick. While it is possible to move a portable bath close to a heated parlor during the winter to keep it from freezing, generally you should leave the footbath in the ideal cow traffic location and solve the freezing problem by salting the concrete.

DrJimWhiteStore the treatment products appropriately. Liquid treatment concentrates have different freezing points. For example, formaldehyde needs to be stored in a heated location because it loses efficacy at 45 degrees and below. In contrast, some products don’t freeze until minus 40 degrees. Read the label to determine how to store the product.

Mix treatment products with warm water. This helps improve the solubility of the product if you’re using a powder and slows down bath freezing regardless of product type.

Use a bath with a high step-in/step-out entry and exit. If your cows are splashing out solution, you will lower potential cow pass numbers. Splashing also makes the surrounding concrete slick and icy. A step-in/step-out height of about 8 to 10 inches reduces both problems.

Consider a bypass lane. Design the lane so cow traffic can easily bypass the footbath treatment lane during milking if conditions are unfavorable.

Scrape alleys regularly. Clean walkways give better footing and lessen cracks of the hoof claw. Hoof cracks increase risk of infection and other problems. Cleaner environments also allow more treatment reaction time and give a better bacterial kill.

In extremely cold weather, use dry footbaths with hydrated lime and copper sulfate. This method helps reduce freezing but requires more management to remove manure and monitor urine load. Too much urine or other moisture mixes with the lime and copper sulfate to create something akin to plaster that freezes and interferes with the hoof coating.

Have clean stalls available. Cows like to lie down in clean stalls, which can get them out of the wet alley and reduce standing time.

Effectiveness of footbaths depends on a number of factors, including footbath solution, frequency of changing solutions, footbath dimensions, footbath placement and animal hygiene. Keep in mind that footbaths are designed for disinfecting hooves and preventing disease. Once a cow has an infection, she cannot be cured, only managed. Open lesions should be detected and topically treated before sending the cow through a footbath. Consult your veterinarian about topical treatment options.

Read More of the December 2023 / January 2024 Today's Farmer magazine Issue.

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Possum poop may be problematic to horses

When evaluating the quality of horse hay, it is important to consider the moisture, protein, digestible energy and nutrient content. You may be looking to hold the nonstructural carbohydrate level below 10% for horses with metabolic syndrome, or maybe you need to limit the dustiness for horses with respiratory issues.

But if you’ve seen evidence that opossums may have gotten into your horse’s hay supply, you may have even more urgent worries.

Opossums (or just “possums” for us Midwest country folks) are hosts for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. EPM is considered rare but serious. Infected horses may not survive, even with treatment.

DrJimWhiteThe neurologic disease can spread to horses consuming forage, feed or water contaminated with possum feces containing the EPM-causing organism, Sarcocystis neurona. Possums are not picky and will eat about anything they can find. They also defecate indiscriminately, unlike raccoons or hogs that have a distinct latrine area.

Once a horse ingests Sarcocystis neurona, the organism can enter gastrointestinal tract, then the bloodstream and then the central nervous system. Horses are “dead end” hosts, so once infected, they cannot transmit it to other animals.

Not every horse that eats contaminated feed develops EPM, and not every possum carries the parasite that causes EPM. Wildlife biologists report that about a third of Missouri possums are infected. Reports indicate that 50% to 60% of horses have been exposed to Sarcocystis neurona, but only about 1 out of 600 develop the disease.

Dr. Tony Martin, MFA’s manager of animal health, says the sooner EPM is diagnosed and appropriately treated, the better the chance of recovery without permanent damage. That means examining affected horses in early symptomatic stages and including EPM in the initial differential diagnosis list if any of the clinical signs give even a hint of the disease. Tests of both blood and spinal fluid are the gold standard for identifying EPM.

To help remember symptoms of EPM, just think “STALL.”
• Stumbling or tripping
• Tilted head with poor balance
• Asymmetric muscle weakness
• Lameness or gait abnormality
• Leaning against walls

Affected horses may also have difficulty swallowing, suffer from seizures, sweat abnormally, and exhibit drooping eyes, ears or lips.
Marquis, an antiprotozoal medication with the active ingredient ponazuril, is the primary treatment of choice for EPM, along with anti-inflammatory medications to lessen neural swelling and damage. Many severely affected horses can be treated and survive, but quality of life and function tend to lead to euthanasia in extreme cases.

There is also at least a 10% to 20% chance of relapse in horses that are successfully treated.

Currently, no vaccination is available for EPM, so prevention relies on maximizing your horse’s health and reducing the chances that possum feces is present in feed, hay or water. Start by taking measures to deter possums from entering barns, hay sheds and outbuildings. Possums prefer to be left alone. They want to eat, sleep, have more possums, stay unnoticed by larger animals and not get run over by cars.

Monitor barns, feed storage areas and stall bedding for signs of pest presence, such as gnawed bags and animal nests. Woodpiles and abandoned equipment are also favorite denning sites for a number of pests, not just possums but also skunks, armadillos and other disease-spreading wildlife that could carry the EPM organism.

Feed pets away from the barn—or at least away from where you are storing feed and hay. Bird feeders and fallen fruit are also attractive to wildlife such as possums.

Keep building perimeters free from grass and weeds that could provide cover for rodents. Cut back any overhanging trees or vines. Reducing places they can hide and keeping feed in rodent-proof containers will also preclude possums.

Hopefully, the only part of this article you’ll ever need are the tips on “prevention,” but if you have questions, reach out to the experts at your local MFA or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

CLICK HERE to read more from this November Today's Farmer Magazine.

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Eat, drink and be healthy

Study shows preconditioning calves improves feedlot behavior

Calves going from the farm to the feedlot undergo numerous stressors within a short time: weaning, transportation, adapting to new environments and feed sources. These pressures increase the risk of bovine respiratory disease, which is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in feedlot cattle and can also lead to a decreased feed intake for up to two weeks after arrival. In fact, freshly weaned calves have double the treatment costs at the feedyard than those that have been preconditioned in a program such as MFA’s Health Track.

Controlled studies and Health Track data show that preconditioning weaned calves for six to eight weeks is beneficial to stocker and feedlot operations. This preconditioning period makes the transition process as easy as possible for the animal through gradual weaning, essential vaccinations, proper nutrition and environmental management.

Giving calves some extra time to adjust to weaning before marketing allows their immune system to mature and vaccines to begin providing protection. Preconditioned calves can also learn to eat out of a bunk and drink from waterers before arrival at the feedlot. In many ways, preconditioning minimizes the cluster of stressful interventions that non-preconditioned calves encounter, resulting in less morbidity and mortality, improved post-weaning performance and higher carcass quality.

Commingling calves from various sources is one of the biggest points of stress at the feedlot and can negatively impact performance upon arrival. Recently, Canadian researchers studied the effect of calf source—preconditioned, auction-derived, non-preconditioned directly from the ranch—and the impact of commingling on feeding behavior and activity during the first seven days in the feedlot.

The first objective of this research was to observe the time preconditioned beef calves spent eating and ruminating compared to ranch-sourced and auction calves. The second objective was to assess the impacts of commingling preconditioned calves with various proportions of auction calves (25%, 50% and 75%), looking at feeding behavior and activity among these groups in that same time frame.

The researchers found that, during the first seven days in the yard, preconditioned calves spent 11% more time eating (163.3 minutes per day) than ranch-direct calves and 15% more (213.7 minutes per day) than auction-acquired calves. In comparing the ratios of commingled calves, pens with a higher proportion of preconditioned calves also spent more time eating compared to pens with lower proportions of preconditioned calves. There was no difference in time spent ruminating between and within all pens, despite significant differences in time spent eating.

Bottom line, these results indicate that preconditioning calves at the farm can improve feeding behavior in the first week at the feedlot in comparison to ranch-direct and auction calves. Although the researchers pointed out that time spent eating is not a direct measure of feed intake, other studies have shown that preconditioned calves consume more feed in comparison to non-preconditioned, direct-from-the-ranch calves.

Taking source into consideration when studying the feeding behavior and activity of feedlot calves provides insight into how preconditioning could improve their health and performance at the feedlot. This positive outcome should encourage more investment in preconditioning practices at the farm and ranch level.
Health Track is one such option available to MFA customers throughout our trade territory. Participants give enrolled calves two rounds of vaccinations, provide MFA-recommended feed and follow a 45-day weaning period. In addition to helping ensure animal health before and after weaning, Health Track can help producers earn a premium price at the sale barn. It’s a proven system to help prepare calves for the next step in the marketing journey and add real value to your operation.

Visit with your MFA livestock experts for more information on preconditioning or visit online at mfa-inc.com/healthtrack.


READ MORE from the October Today's Farmer Magazine

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Don’t let forage shortages hinder horse health

Management measures, alternative feedstuffs can help stretch supplies

Long-stem forage is necessary for normal digestive function and normal behavior in horses. According to equine nutrient requirements published by the National Research Council, horses should have a minimum of 1% of their body weight each day in forage.

But what happens when the forage inventory needed for the horse operation is insufficient? 

Equine owners faced with forage shortages have several options to stretch supplies, such as decreasing nutritional requirements, reducing waste, alleviating stresses and supplementing with alternative feedstuffs.

Let’s start with what may be considered a last resort: culling animals. While this will directly reduce forage requirements, it may not be something horse owners want to consider. Still, critically looking at the herd and knowing the total annual cost of keeping each horse is smart management that can help in decisions about whether to reduce herd numbers.

One way to preserve your hay inventory is to reduce waste. Make sure horses consume as much of the bale as possible by using an effective feeder rather than feeding it on the ground. When baling, using net wrap rather than sisal twine has been shown to help reduce storage and handling losses by as much as 65%, according to a study by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. Keep hay indoors or cover it completely with a tarp. Storage losses of uncovered hay can be upwards of 30%. Also, store hay off the ground, on a pallet or another lifted dry surface.

Protecting horses from environ-mental stress can also help them more efficiently process the forage they consume and reduce their energy requirements. During the summer, take heat abatement measures such as providing shade, using fans for better airflow and allowing free access to clean water. Adjust riding and workout schedules to cooler parts of the day and include frequent breaks. In the winter, be sure horses have adequate bedding, provide wind breaks and use blankets for outdoor horses during inclement weather. Alleviate health stresses on the horse by treating for parasites and using effective fly control methods.

Test hay to understand its quality and feed according to specifications, ensuring that it is neither overfed nor underfed. High-quality hay will be richer in nutrients and more calorie-dense, which means less is needed—important during a shortage.

Alternative feedstuffs can be useful during forage shortages. Hay cubes, hay pellets and chopped alfalfa can be used as total replacements for hay. A standard MFA product is the 14% Horse Cube. Complete feeds that contain a mixture of grains and roughage can also replace hay. These are nutritionally balanced and adequate in fiber, but horses will eat the feed much faster than forage. It may be advisable to feed frequent small meals rather than fill a self feeder.

Fiber sources other than forages commonly used here in the central U.S. can include soybean hulls, rice bran, beet pulp, oat hulls, peanut hulls, distillers’ and brewers’ grains, wheat bran or mill feed. These feedstuffs cannot fully replace hay but are used as partial replacements.

Cottonseed hulls, cottonseeds, and gin trash—a byproduct of the ginning process composed of lint, burs, stems, cottonseed and seed fragments—are commonly fed to cattle, but they are usually not feasible to use in horse rations. Other fiber sources that are not typically recommended in equine rations include oat hulls, peanut hulls, rice hulls and sunflower hulls, which have low digestibility in horses. Poultry litter is often fed to cattle, but it is not a viable alternative fiber source for horses.

Along with adequate forage, horses should have access to plenty of clean water. Normal pasture plants are high in moisture, but during hot, dry conditions, their water content is greatly decreased. Similarly, hay has very little moisture, so horses usually drink more water when they are receiving dry forage than when they are consuming succulent pasture.

Transition feed changes slowly. Feeding large amounts of high-energy feed or abruptly changing the source or concentration of energy from one meal to the next predisposes horses to colic.

If you find forage inventories running low this summer and fall, visit with the animal nutrition experts at MFA for advice on alternative solutions.


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