Base grazing decisions on these five principles

While it is possible to put cattle in any fenced pasture area with a water source and say, “Good luck cattle. Good luck pasture. Try not to be too apparent in your needs,” that’s not smart pasture management. Effective grazing requires thought and effort, and the payoffs are worth it. Well-managed pastures perform favorably year after year, providing valuable forage for the herd. Poorly managed pastures are at risk of weed infestations, inadequate nutrition and forage degradation.

Pastures in MFA territory vary dramatically. Some are native grasslands with species such as switchgrass, bluestem, Indiangrass, gammagrass and others. Many pastures are cool-season mixtures of grass and legumes, such as fescue with clover. Others are summer annual monocultures such as sudangrass.

Each of these different types of pastures can have different issues. For example, there are concerns about bloat with alfalfa or prussic acid with sorghums. There are also many grazing systems to evaluate, such as rest-rotation, adaptive multi-paddock, intensive or strip grazing, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Pasture management must take into account the specific considerations for your forage type and operation goals, but there are several universal principles, as outlined by the Beef Cattle Research Council. Your choices in these considerations will directly influence forage yield and pasture productivity.

1. Don’t overstock.

2. Spread grazing pressure across the entire pasture.

3. Have adequate rest for each pasture.

4. Do not start grazing too early.

5. Maintain adequate litter cover and account for nutrient removal.

First, avoid the tendency to overstock the pasture. Ensure that the forage supply is adequate for the animal demand. To do this, you will need to consider the number of cattle present as well as the length of time they will be grazing. In addition, remember to account for trampling, wildlife and insect damage. Typical guidelines recommend a utilization rate of 25% to 50% for native pastures and 50% to 75% for tame pastures. These ranges allow the pasture to sustain itself from year to year.

Second, spread grazing pressure across the pasture. Cattle will selectively graze the tasty, productive areas and will likely avoid hilltops where forage quality may be lower. The goal is to spread grazing pressure across the whole pasture, which helps maintain forage health and lessens the risk of overgrazing the most productive areas.

You can get cattle to graze in a relatively uniform way by using a variety of methods. Popular options include strategically installing temporary or permanent fencing, placing mineral and salt, and locating stock watering stations to encourage cattle to graze the whole area.

Third, ensure enough rest to allow pasture plants to recover. Forage plants need adequate time to replenish their energy reserves. Without it, their productivity will decrease and pastures will be vulnerable to winterkill, weed invasion and soil erosion.

Fourth, do not graze too early. It is tempting to want to get cattle out on forage as soon as possible, but grazing before a pasture is ready can set it back dramatically. Within reason, the rough guide is that for every day you defer grazing in the spring, you’ll get back two days of grazing in the fall.

Finally, allow pastures to retain adequate litter cover. Litter includes forage residuals left over from the previous growing seasons. Litter is important for both native and tame pastures. This plant residue insulates the soil, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Litter reduces water loss due to evaporation and lessens soil erosion, and, as it decomposes, returns nutrients to the soil.

If you base pasture management on these five principles, you can help maintain forage productivity, ensure stand longevity, sustain a healthy plant community, conserve water and protect soils. Visit with your MFA livestock specialists for more information on effectively implementing these practices in your operation.

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Four key components of effective fly control

Flies are a nuisance. They are irritating to cattle, horses, stock dogs and, of course, humans. More concerning, they are also vectors for diseases. An integrated pest management program (IPM) is important to control fly popula­tions. Effective fly management is especially critical in feeding oper­ations and dairies because of their confined nature.

No one practice is sufficient to control flies. Effective IPM plans use a variety of practices and control methods to keep fly populations in check, and these measures should start well before fly season begins. There are four important branch­es of an IPM program: cultural, physical, biological and chemical. While each branch is important, the cultural and physical branches are the fundamental components of fly control.

Cultural practices make a world of difference in fly management. These practices include manure management, regular cleaning of spilled milk and feed, removal of vegetative buildup and soiled or de­caying bedding in cattle areas, and landscape maintenance. Removing these breeding sites for flies dramat­ically reduces their population in a cattle operation.

Additional cultural elements also help fly control. These prac­tices include removing tall grasses and weeds, where flies can rest in the plants, regularly cleaning and moving calf hutches and pens, and ensuring that pens are well venti­lated.

Physical efforts are perhaps the most obvious method of fly control, though it is not always the easi­est. Structures and facilities can be designed to deny flies access to locations, or at least make the areas less hospitable for them. Patching or sealing cracks in structures, in­stalling mesh screens over windows, and sealing around electrical outlets can close off entry points for flies. Installing fans that provide a down­ward and outward air flow reduces fly activity in buildings. Addition­ally, consider strategically placing non-insecticidal sticky, jug or bag traps to aid these efforts.

Biological control involves harnessing the power of natural predators of flies. Parasitic wasps, predatory mites, predatory beetles and fly pathogens are all used to control flies. These methods interrupt the lifecycle of the fly. For instance, predatory beetles feed on fly larvae found in dung, while parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside fly pupae.

Chemical control is the final component of a well-managed four-branched IPM program. Most producers are familiar with the conventional chemical control methods for flies. These include foggers, baits, perimeter sprays and on-animal treatments. When using these products, remember to rotate active ingredients so flies do not become resistant. This is most important with baits.

Chemical control also includes feed-through insect growth regula­tors (IGRs). Feed-through products prevent the emergence of adult flies. These products work by delivering an important active ingredient di­rectly to cattle, where it is eventual­ly passed into the animal’s manure. Flies then lay their eggs on the manure, and the IGR interferes with the lifecycle of the fly. This process prevents biting, breeding adult flies from developing out of the eggs laid in the manure.

A common free-choice MFA cattle mineral used for controlling horn flies on pasture cattle is Ricochet Altosid IGR Shield Mineral. Another IGR is Clarifly, with the active ingredient diflubenzuron, which has a label for four species of flies. It is fed to confined cattle and also approved for swine, horses, goats and sheep.

To use a feed-through product, begin feeding a product about a month before flies begin to appear and continue until about a month after the first frost. This program of 30 days on each side of fly season suppresses fly activity early and reduces overwintering pupae. If a feed-through product is started late, after flies are already active, additional fly control measures will be required. Feed the product to animals of all ages to treat as much manure as possible.

As you implement an IPM plan, monitor its effectiveness. Evaluate fly populations throughout your operation with traps and speck cards. Record which steps are successful and where additional improvement is needed. By carefully evaluating your IPM program, you can make appropriate adjustments as needed.

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Waste not, want not when feeding hay

Storage and management practices can have a significant impact on losses.

As a child, I would spend substantial amounts of time trying to get the last little bits of cookie dough out of a mixing bowl. Regardless of how hard I worked on it, there always seemed to be cookie dough I wasn’t able to get. Sometimes I gave up in frustration, while other times I was chased out of the kitchen before I could get those last morsels.

Try as hard as we might, it is really tough not to be wasteful. This is especially true when feeding hay to livestock. Hay wastage is a perennial problem. With hay in scarce supply and at premium prices this winter, producers would be well-advised to do everything they can to minimize loss of this valuable feedstuff.

DocWhiteAs hay package size has increased, so has storage loss and waste at feeding. Large bales have reduced labor demands but have not helped on reducing forage loss. Certainly, there are factors independent of the size itself. When we sort samples based on bale size, we tend to see higher protein and lower fiber in small bales than in large bales. Drying time undoubtedly contributes to this variability, and small bales are much more likely to be stored under cover. Storing bales in a hay barn and keeping them off the ground helps immensely to reduce loss.

Much of the hay waste we see in livestock operations is attributed to feeding practices. Losses can reach as much as 50% when bales are unrolled and fed on the ground, according to research by Dr. Robert Kallenbach of the University of Missouri. Limiting a cow’s consumption to a day’s worth of forage at a time can help reduce the amount that gets trampled on and not consumed.

Using a hay feeder can allow forage to be better utilized and significantly reduce the amount of waste. Keep in mind, however, that feeder design does make a difference. Michigan State University researchers measured round bale hay waste using four types of feeders:
• Cone feeders resulted in the least waste at 3.5%.
• Ring feeders were next, with a waste of 6.1%.
• Trailer feeders resulted in 11.4% waste.
• Cradle feeders resulted in the greatest amount of waste among the four, measuring 14.6%.

In their discussion, the Michigan researchers attributed the much higher loss in cradle feeders to animal feeding behavior. Cattle with their heads held higher than the normal grazing position have a greater tendency to back away from the feeder and drop hay on the ground.
Similarly, with straight-sided trailer feeders, cows often exhibit more aggressive behavior. Animals are closer together than if the same number are in a circle. Cattle tend to compete for feed by pushing and shoving. These behaviors will encourage less robust cows to back away, and they often drop feed as they go.

Research conducted at the University of Missouri also considered the impact of stocking rate and forage quality on the amount of hay wasted between chain cone feeders and open-bottom ring feeders. At all stocking rates measured, hay waste was greater in open-bottom ring feeders than in chain cone feeders. When forage quality was high (17% crude protein alfalfa haylage), hay waste did not differ between feeder types. However, when forage quality was low (7.5% crude protein fescue hay), 19.2% of the bale was wasted in open-bottom ring feeders, compared to 8.9% in cone-type feeders. This research, among other studies, indicates that the decrease in wasted hay will more than pay for the additional cost of the cone-type hay feeders.

Feeder management can also reduce hay waste. Keeping the feeder out of the mud can have a big impact. Hay dropped on dry or frozen ground is much more likely to be picked up by the animal than hay dropped on mud. Feeding pads or concrete aprons are even better.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to only put out the amount of hay that will be consumed in a relatively short time. If you offer a lot of hay all at once, the cattle tend to waste more.

MFA offers many different styles of hay feeders to serve the needs of your operation. If you need help in your selection or more information on efficient hay-feeding practices, visit with the livestock experts at your MFA location.

– Contact MFA Director of Nutrition, Dr. Jim White, through email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Read more in this Dec/Jan2023 issue of Today’s Farmer



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Are your cattle fit to ship?

Evaluate health, condition of animals before transport

Transportation plays an important role in livestock production. The most recent National Beef Quality Audit shows that cattle—beef or dairy—are transported at least once and up to six times during their life. Ensuring the health and welfare of these animals at each transport opportunity is a great responsibility. Proper handling and transport of cattle can reduce sickness in calves, prevent bruising and improve the quality of meat from these animals.

Fitness for transport is an important concept that applies to all cattle stages—from calves and feeders to cull cows and bulls—and can affect both animal and human safety. This live-animal evaluation is critical to deciding whether cattle are able to withstand the rigors of transport, including standing for long periods of time.

Each trip to the auction market, the next pasture, backgrounding or finishing feedyards, and other destinations is an opportunity to improve animal welfare through transportation and fitness-for-transport decisions. The checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance Transportation program was designed for guidance on these topics.

The following are a few important aspects to consider when determining whether cattle are fit for transport.

Evaluate cattle condition and history
Never ship an animal you do not think can withstand the rigors of transport or marketing. This includes extremely emaciated animals and cattle that are exhausted or dehydrated. Having a plan for caring for or humanely euthanizing a non-ambulatory animal should be part of your protocol, since these animals cannot be slaughtered. Always confirm animals have cleared drug withdrawal times before transporting them to sale or slaughter.

Prep the cattle
Provide cattle access to water up until they load onto the trailer, as it improves health in the short term and upon arrival. A modest meal within 24 hours prior to transport, especially for trips longer than four hours, has also been shown to improve cattle response during travel and at the destination. Duration of transport can have significant animal welfare outcomes, and preparing cattle for the trip can improve their response to transport stressors.

Watch the weather
In warmer months, temperature and humidity can burden or improve the transport process. Pre-trip planning can help ensure cattle are loaded or unloaded in a cooler part of the day. Another consideration for younger and smaller cattle is they will need different loading densities versus older cattle in warmer weather.

Move cattle slowly
Animal handling is an integral piece to cattle health, especially during transportation events. Moving animals in a low-stress, gentle and quiet manner reduces stress on the cattle during and after transport. Using acceptable handling tools as an extension of yourself when needed can improve the efficiency of cattle movement. These practices also reduce the risk of defects such as dark cutters, bruising and wasted product.

Be proactive in culling decisions
Many cows and bulls are culled due to a decrease in productivity or an illness such as lameness. When animals are culled proactively, these animals are in a comparatively healthier state with a slightly higher body condition and have less risk of becoming lame or going down on the trailer. Producers are encouraged to work to cull animals earlier in the disease process, as long as drug withdrawal times are met, so animals can safely make it to their final destination without the risk of being condemned.

Transportation can be one of the most stressful events for livestock animals. However, when transporting them in a responsible manner, you make the animals’ well-being and human safety a top priority. The most visible aspect of the livestock industry is when cattle are moved across the country on wheels every day. Each stakeholder, from the cattle owner to the transporter, should strive for responsible transport decisions.

Director of Nutrition
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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Keep cows in condition for better breeding

Understanding the relationship between body condition scores and rebreeding efficiency is a powerful management tool for cattle produc­ers. Ensuring that a cow calves in good flesh is one of the most effec­tive ways to encourage reproductive efficiency. Body condition scoring allows the manager to evaluate the nutritional program’s efficacy.

Body condition scores are num­bers used to suggest the fatness or body composition of the cow. Producers calibrate the BCS system under their own conditions using their own cattle. When you use BCS, keep the procedure simple. It is not worth your time and effort to use a 100-point scale trying to de­cide if a cow is a 52 or a 53. Cows are in good flesh, or they are not.

The most commonly used system consists of 9 grades. A cow with a BCS of 1 is very emaciated and unlikely to be seen in the field alive. A cow scoring as a 2 or 3 means “thin.” The cow will look angular, skinny, and sharp. A cow with a BCS of 7, 8 or 9 is fat. It looks boxy and smooth and its bone structure is hidden from sight and feel. “Nor­mal” commercial beef cows will typically have BCS of 4, 5 and 6.

Over the years, beef experts have settled on a few times of year that are optimal for checking body con­dition. These points are significant in the breeding cycle. If you pay close attention, you’ll have an op­portunity to help cows recover body condition through feeding and sort­ing. Typically, it’s a 90- to 120-day schedule, with particular scrutiny at 30 days prior to breeding, 90 days post-breeding, weaning, 100 days prior to calving, and at calving. By evaluating BCS at set times, a man­ager can strategically allocate forage resources and offer supplements to correct nutrient deficiencies.

One of the main constraints in reproductive performance of beef cows is the post-calving anestrous period—the length of time between calving and when she is once again able to become pregnant. To main­tain a standard 60-day breeding program, cows need to go into calving in adequate condition. Cows that have low body condition at calving are less likely to return to estrus in a timely manner. It is possible but difficult and expensive to dramatically improve body con­dition after calving. Cows in early lactation already have many physio­logical demands, and the timeframe in which to work is short.

The best practice is for cows to go into calving season in good condition but not over-conditioned. Fat cows have their own set of problems. Cows in good flesh have adequate energy reserves without carrying excess flesh.

Routine monitoring of BCS is a valuable tool to evaluate your nutrition program and help prevent problems before they become serious. Shortcomings are easier to fix the sooner they are noticed and addressed. MFA livestock specialists can help with learning how to score cattle. The image above is a score­card MFA has developed. You can also find many other industry and university publications on BCS.

The idea is to look in a few key areas on the animals: the ribs, the vertebrae in front of the hooks, and the tail head. Using select criteria for each area, the animals are scored against a rubric. For instance, if the outline of the vertebrae is apparent, the cow will score 4 or lower. If more than two ribs are easily seen, the cow will score 5 or lower.

For spring calvers, taking cows into winter with a good body condition score provides long-term benefits. Cows in good condi­tion generally deliver healthier calves and have a higher chance of successful breed-back. Take time this fall to evaluate your cattle, and make corrective measures if nec­essary. Your MFA livestock experts will be happy to help.

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