From the field

We have seen good results on beef and dairy operations in my area, but a success story I ran across near Seymour, Mo., is worth a note.

After an information meeting last fall, one of my customers—a rabbit producer—began feeding his does Rabbit 16% Shield pellets from MFA. It was a full switch in feeding programs for him, and he has been happy with the results.

Since the switch, he has noticed a 10 to 15 percent boost in pregnancy percentages overall. The producer pulled a group of a dozen does to run a comparison of MFA’s Rabbit 16% Shield pellets to his previous ration.

Here’s what he told me:

  • Does on Rabbit 16% Shield pellets averaged one to two more kits per litter.
  • Kits can be weaned at five weeks of age on Rabbit 16% Shield pellets compared to six weeks on the previous ration.
  • Does on Rabbit 16% produce a litter every six weeks compared to seven weeks on the previous ration.

This producer’s goal has traditionally been to have a fryer ready to sell at 12 weeks of age and weighing 5 pounds. Feeding Rabbit 16% Shield, he has adjusted expectations with the goal of reaching 5 pounds at 10 to 11 weeks. Looking over his weight tickets, I was able to do some quick math.

He gave me several weight tickets where he sold fryers and here are the numbers:

  • On these tickets he sold 347 fryers weighing 1808 pounds, which is an average of 5.21 pounds per fryer at market.
  • With the new price per pound, that 5.21-pound rabbit is worth $8.08.

That means he is getting one or two more kits per litter. For the sake of this argument, let’s say just one. With the previous ration, his does had a litter every seven weeks, which would be 7.45 litters per year. On Rabbit 16% Shield pellets, his does produce a litter every six weeks, which equals 8.69 litters a year. How many more fryers will be available for market? Well, 8.69 litters a year x 1 extra kit per litter = 8.69 x 60 does = 521 more fryers. At the market price of $8.08 as I wrote this, the additional kits would mean an additional $4,210 per year in income.

Shield Technology does require more expensive ingredients and is priced accordingly. However, if you carry the math out, it’s probably worth the investment. This producer buys between 4 and 5 tons of Rabbit 16% Shield pellets a month. It costs about $16 per ton more than MFA 16% without Shield ($768 to $960 per year). So take that extra $4,210 in income and extract $960. That is $3,250 per year in cash or to invest back into the operation.

I continue to look for other Shield Technology success stories. If you want to contact me, write: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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A nutritional defense against stress

Cattle suffer various levels of stress depending on what stage of production they are in. Mitigating stress through management and feeding can pay dividends.

At weaning, calves experience a tremendous amount of stress and for a prolonged period. Proper nutrition can help alleviate some of the negative issues related to stress. It is important to understand how stress impacts the animal and how nutrition can help.

Animals subjected to stress have increased blood concentrations of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol can compromise the immune system. Specifically, cortisol will decrease T-lymphocyte cells, which are involved in cell-mediated immunity. Cell-mediated immunity is the portion of the immune system responsible for destruction of pathogens. Prolonged stress can reduce the animal’s ability to fight infection.

In order to mount an immune response, energy, protein and certain trace minerals are used, which increases nutrient requirements of the animal. Unfortunately, when calves are under stress, dietary intake is reduced. Research shows that fasting or feed deprivation can increase cortisol release. Therefore, the calf now has two problems: stress has compromised the immune system, and calves are not eating enough to meet the increased nutrient demands of an immune response.

Reduction in dietary intake is well documented in newly received feedlot calves. Upon arrival to the feedlot, intake can be as low as 60 percent of the consumption observed a week later. The National Academies of Sciences 2016 publication, “Nutrient Requirements for Beef Cattle,” suggests mineral concentrations in stressed calves be increased. Essential trace minerals hold an integral role in the immune system, with copper, zinc and selenium being of particular importance.

Copper is involved in the production of antioxidants and serves a role in neutrophil function, which is involved in the killing of pathogens. Although reports on the benefit of additional copper for improving immune function vary, the mere fact that it is necessary for proper function of the immune system warrants consideration when developing mineral programs. Studies show that when dietary copper supply and bodily reserves are low, there is a reduction in the ability of the immune system to kill pathogens. The publication states a non-stressed calf requires a diet that contains 10 parts per million copper. In a stressed calf, copper requirements increase up to 15 ppm.

Copper can be a challenging trace mineral to balance in a diet because of its relationship with iron, molybdenum and sulfur. If these minerals are too high, they can interact with copper and reduce its availability to the animal. For example, when total dietary sulfur intake increases above 0.2 percent, the amount of copper available for the animal decreases by approximately 25 percent. In some parts of the U.S., water sulfur concentration alone can be high enough to cause this reduction.

Zinc is involved in signals that initiate activity of certain cells in the immune system. Zinc requirements for non-stressed calves is 40 ppm and for stressed calves is up to 100 milligrams per kilogram. Some reports demonstrate a benefit from supplemental zinc, and some do not. In most cases, animals suffering from zinc deficiency exhibit positive responses to supplemental zinc. Therefore, calves not consuming adequate amounts of zinc are at a greater risk of becoming sick during periods of stress.

Selenium plays a role in immune function as it contributes to the production of antioxidants in the body and reduces oxidative tissue damage. Dietary selenium inclusion in diets of non-stressed calves is 0.1 ppm and up to 0.2 ppm for stressed calves. There are reports that demonstrate additional benefit of supplemental selenium even above 0.2 ppm. But federal regulations say that the selenium content of a complete feed cannot exceed 0.3 ppm or 3 milligrams per head per day. In animals fed diets deficient in selenium, selenium supplementation improves the immune system’s ability to combat pathogens.

Mineral supplementation programs generally focus on the cow; a good mineral program can positively impact cow and calf performance. In fact, calves generally consume mineral at the same time as the cow. However, their supplemental mineral consumption, as a percent of bodyweight, is approximately 50 percent of that of the cow. Thus, mineral status of calves as they go into the weaning season could be marginal. The associated stress could lower intake, which may exacerbate any mineral deficiencies and increase the risk of illness.

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Beat heat stress

This won’t come as a news flash: it is important to have enough water and shade for cattle. Cattle can tolerate summer temperatures and remain productive when properly managed and allowed access to adequate fresh water and shade.

But what you might not realize is that cattle are most productive when temperatures are between 41ºF and 77ºF. Temperatures above that put cattle at a greater chance for heat stress: decreased reproductive performance, decreased calf performance, lower milk production, and the rest.

There are many environmental factors that affect cattle and their potential for heat stress, including relative humidity, wind speed, solar radiation, ground cover, access to water, diet, shade and temperature. Animal characteristics can also contribute to heat stress, including color, breed, health, adaptation, hair length and disposition.

Heat stress occurs when these factors and ambient temperature cause an animal’s heat load to exceed its ability to dissipate that heat.

Available water and adequate shade are effective at reducing the effects of heat stress. The amount of shade required is 30 to 40 square feet for mature cattle, 20 to 25 square feet for feeder cattle and 15 to 20 square feet for stockers. Heat stress is compounded by animals crowding together, which happens when shade is limited. If natural shade is inadequate, construct permanent or portable shade structures.

Permanent structures are more suitable for feeding pens and but are frequently placed in pastures as well. Portable structures are more expensive to construct but can be moved with the cattle. The advantages to portable structures include: more uniform grazing, less pasture damage in the shaded areas and better manure distribution. Locate shade structures in areas to take advantage of prevailing winds during the summer. Select areas with minimal slope to prevent erosion that can result from concentrated animal traffic.

All shade structures should allow adequate airflow. Permanent structures will require manure removal in some situations. Inexpensive UV-resistant shade cloths that block at least 80-90 percent of light, or two offset layers of snow fence provide adequate shade and allow for proper airflow. Solid coverings are more expensive and last longer but are more susceptible to wind damage. If a solid cover is used, then the structure will need to be taller.

You can affect heat stress through feeding, too. One way is to reduce forage to minimum effective fiber levels. Practically speaking, this is a difficult task, in that many beef cattle are eating principally forage diets. That said, the tactics would be to feed the best forage available and use additives that help alleviate heat stress. From our perspective, the product of choice is MFA Ricochet FesQ Max products.

Additionally, feeding a yeast culture helps for heat. The feeding rate depends on the product but ranges from 10 grams per head per day to 10 ounces per head per day. All MFA Gold Minerals and dairy feeds have yeast cultures, as do Trendsetter, Cattle Charge and Full Throttle. The same goes for Aspergillus oryzae, which is usually fed at 3 grams per head per day. Some products/brands suggest as high as 15 grams per day.

Potassium is a consideration as well. Usually, beef animals on forage diets are high in potassium, but when more concentrate is fed, potassium content declines. Thus, under heat stress, you can add potassium to equal 1.5 percent of the entire diet intake. The source that works the best is potassium carbonate, but since this is a costly mineral, most of us use potassium chloride.

Feeding fat increases energy, reduces package size, reduces fiber content and load without increasing acidosis risk. For beef, I feed up to a pound of fat. For dairy animals, I feed a pound of fat as a vegetable (roasted soybeans), 1 pound as animal (Taltec) and 1 pound as a “bypass” fat (megalac etc.). But that is where I stop—overfeeding fat, especially vegetable fat, will reduce fiber digestion and intake, which is exactly what we don’t want for milk production in heat-stressed cows.

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Data the PowerCalf way

Data is power. And MFA’s PowerCalf is preparing a powerful tool for your cattle herd, said Mike John, director of Health Track operations for MFA Incorporated.

“We are in the final stages of technology agreements and tweaking the tools on our app,” he said. “When we put it in the market place, producers can download the app for a way to get herd records from the field into a digitized form that will help them analyze their production methods. You only have to enter the data once.”

MFA’s PowerCalf is a program to provide our beef-producer customers with data-based intelligence that will help them realize the full value of their herd’s genetic potential. The program collects and manages data in a standardized manner. It measures and benchmarks herd performance, and in turn, delivers this data to customers in a way they can use to improve their operations.

The PowerCalf app will be iOS- and Android-compatible. Producers can use the program to measure critical events for their herd. John said that breeding records, calving, death loss, feeding, pregnancy checks and processing information are the fundamentals of herd record-keeping. The app provides a menu for each of these areas.

“I use calving for an example,” said John. “Calving is a time when you want to get the information down accurately. And you already have the phone on your hip, so it’s a good time to collect data in what I call the one-and-done method. Input data while you’re looking at the calf and its dam in the pasture, and the app will send it to our secure servers. You’ll have it later at your desktop, too.”

At calving, the app provides the producer prompts to record the date, cow ID, cow age, pasture location, calf ID and sex. One of the goals of the app is to make the data uniform. “For your analysis and to help benchmark your herd against industry standards, you need standardized data,” said John. “That’s why we have the drop-down menus. It prevents you from losing data through a typo or misspelling.”

There are fields for general notes as well as industry-standard calf descriptors such as calving ease and calving vigor. “The goal,” said John, “is to give producers a way to capitalize on that phone that they already have in their pocket or on their hip. The app gives you a way to record what just happened today. It won’t happen again tomorrow, and it’s the kind of information that can help you improve your herd. This is a way for you to enter the data quickly in one place and have it standardized and available from then on. You don’t have to sit down in front of a computer later and enter it. And it’s sent to secured, backed-up servers.”

John noted that producers don’t have to share their data with anyone. However, data can be used in a randomized pool to provide feedback on industry standards.

“When it goes up to the secure server. We’ll get feedback to you immediately on what you entered. For example, when the report is generated, it comes back immediately to your phone in a form, and you can verify that the data is correct. And yes, we’ll keep your individual data confidential.”

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Let your grass grow

Spring of 2016 came early this year, giving a jump-start to summer annual weeds. The summer of 2015 was ripe with rain, weeds and the inability to get them sprayed. Many of those weeds matured enough to set seed, significantly increasing the seed bank. That is creating weed problems now. Pasture and hay meadow weeds are significant profit-stealing problems that affect grazing patterns and decrease tons of usable forage per acre. Anything that decreases tons of desirable forages also reduces pounds of beef per acre and negatively changes the bottom line of your operation.

The most efficient plans for weed control target the early life cycle of the target species. Efficiency has become somewhat of a “buzzword” as we contemplate a blossoming population and increased need for the beef people will want to eat. Efficiently increasing the pounds of beef per acre on your operation contributes to feeding our population.

For biennials (thistles, spotted knapweed, etc.) and winter annuals (henbit, chickweed, etc.) I recommend spraying in late fall through very early spring. Just choose a day with temperatures over 45 degrees and unfrozen ground. Two pints of GrazonNext HL per acre plus Astute at one quart per 100 gallons of solution will control emerged weeds—and the residual activity will help to control weeds not yet germinated.

Most summer annuals can be controlled with a herbicide application at the very beginning of their life cycle, even before some have emerged. For example, if you had a severe problem with ragweed (our biggest thief of moisture and nutrients in the summer) in a particular pasture last year, it has likely returned this year. Spraying a product with residual at the first sign of ragweed, or even slightly before, will control that weed population for most of the growing season. For this application to be most effective, grass should be grazed short so that herbicide can reach the ground. It will quickly regrow if moisture and plant food are available.

Another important management practice that will add to efficiency is to move cattle to new pasture when grass is grazed down to about 3 inches. This rotation strategy applies during the growing season. Obviously, during times when grass isn’t growing (winter or severe drought) you are better served to hold them in one paddock and feed hay until grass growth resumes.

There are three reasons to move cattle at that 3-inch mark. First is that regrowth is much quicker when starting from the 3-inch mark. Imagine that each blade of grass is a solar panel. Continuously grazed grass tends to be about three-quarters of an inch tall and about quarter-inch wide. That provides a surface area of less than 0.2 square inches of “solar panel”. Three-inch tall grass tends to have a width closer to a half inch. The taller grass provides a surface area of “solar panel” closer to 1.5 square inches (more than seven times larger). If moisture and fertility are the same, you can grow grass from 3 inches to about 12 inches faster than you can grow grass from three-quarters of an inch to 3 inches.

The second reason to move cattle at 3-inch grass is it allows the root system to recover carbohydrates more effectively. The result is a healthier stand of grass. You’ll benefit from pulling cattle at the 3-inch height in one other way—fewer ongoing weed problems, which will lengthen the interval between spraying.

Efficiency and a proactive management of grass does require some time and resources. Investment in your pasture/hay forages will pay off. In the words of a wise man that I admire: you can’t just save your way to a profit; you have to grow your way there.

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