Record Keeping and Culling Strategies

By Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

It’s that time of year again, the leaves are beginning to change, the weather is cooler, and weaning is happening across Montana.  Not only is this a stressful time of year for the calves, but also for producers.  Critical decisions are being made in herds to prepare for the future and the hardest part is making that cull list.  However, a cull list shouldn’t be made without first discussing and analyzing records.

Maintaining accurate and up-to-date records is essential to making decisions for your herd.  These records become even more important during the weaning season as calves and cows are marketed.  Examples of records sheets can be found on the MSU Beef Cattle Extension Website at http://animalrangeextension.montana.edu/beef/records.html.  The records available pertain to beef cattle production, grazing, hay, treatment, supplementation, etc.  They are made to fit in a three-ring binder.  Keeping written and/or electronic records can ease the decision-making process.  Maintaining your records in a single location allows for easy access and comparison of your historical records.

No matter how detailed your records are, culling livestock is still a difficult decision.  A few things need to be considered prior to making culling decisions.

1. What are your short-, medium-, and long-term herd production goals?

2. Did your herd meet your production goals for the year (short-term)?

3. Are you progressing towards your medium- and long-term goals?

Writing your goals in your record keeping notebook is an excellent way to assess your herd at the end of each year.  With each year you write your goals, you can compare your goals across years to determine how you are progressing towards your medium- and long-term goals.  Keeping and maintaining accurate records of your herd will aid you in critically assessing your herd each year to determine if your goals were met.

Determining if your goals were met will aid you in determining which animals to cull and which animals to keep.  Some cull decisions are more easily made than others, such as animals with bad feet and legs, a bad udder, are open, have a bad disposition, old, bad teeth, and health issues.  Record this information as it is observed in the herd to easily sort those animals when needed.

If additional culling is needed, the decisions become more difficult.  These additional culling decisions can be made by assessing your herd goals.  A couple of examples to additional culling include genetics or efficiency.  If culling based on genetics, additional information should be assessed.  Your young cows and heifers should be some of the best genetics in your herd, but they require additional inputs for growth and maintenance.  Your older cows have established herd genetics and require little inputs.  If utilizing efficiency to make your additional culling decisions, first efficiency needs to be defined.  Efficiency can be defined in multiple ways, for example feed efficiency (pounds of feed per pound of gain) or pounds of calf weaned per pound of cow.  These are just a few ways of determining additional culling decisions and will need to be assessed based on your herd goals.

Nitrate Toxicity in Beef Cattle

Written by Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Montana State University

Elevated nitrate concentrations can be found in forages that have been grown under stress, such as severe drought conditions.  Nitrate toxicity is caused by animal consuming feeds and water that have elevated levels of nitrate or nitrite.  Care should be taken when feeding cattle cereal grains/hay, corn stalks, orchardgrass, and other feeds known to contain high nitrate levels.

Nitrate is not toxic to animals unless consumed in excessive levels.  When nitrate is consumed in excessive levels, nitrite poisoning can occur.  Normally, forage nitrate is broken down in the rumen to nitrite by microbes, and then to ammonia.  The ammonia is used by rumen microbes for protein.  However, when nitrate is consumed in elevated levels, nitrite accumulates within the rumen faster than it can be converted to ammonia.  The nitrite then enters the small intestine and is absorbed into the bloodstream.  The high levels of nitrite in the bloodstream convert hemoglobin to methemoglobin, which cannot carry oxygen, ultimately limiting the body’s oxygen supply.

Acute nitrite poisoning is caused by animals consuming a large amount of high nitrate forage over a short period of time.  Chronic nitrite poisoning occurs when animals consume small amounts of high nitrate forage over a long period of time.  Chronic nitrate poisoning is only treated by eliminating the consumption of the high nitrate feed or by diluting the high nitrate feed with low nitrate feeds.  Acute nitrite poisoning can occur rapidly after consuming high nitrate feeds, in these severe cases, an immediate intravenous injection of methylene blue by a veterinarian may save the affected animal.  However, due to the rapid onset of acute poisoning, treatment may not be the best option.

Testing forages to ensure safe levels of nitrates (Table 1) is the most effective way to minimize the potential of nitrite poisoning in livestock.

Table 1. Effect of nitrate concentration on livestock (100% DM basis).
NO3 – N (ppm) NO3 (ppm) Comments
<350 <1,500 Generally safe
350-1,130 1,500-5,000 Generally safe for nonpregnant livestock. Potential for early-term abortions or decreased breeding performance. Limit feed to 50% of ration for pregnant animals.
1,130-2,260 5,000-10,000 Limit feed to 25-50% of ration for nonpregnant animals.  DO NOT FEED TO PREGNANT ANIMALS.
>2,260 >10,000 DO NOT FEED.
Hibbard et al., 1998
0.1% NO3-N = 0.44% NO3 (0.1 x 4.4)
0.44% NO3 = 0.1% NO3-N (0.44 x 0.23)
0.1% = 1000 ppm

 

Diluting high nitrate feeds with low nitrate feeds can reduce the potential for nitrite poisoning by using the following equation (Glunk et al., 2015; MT200205AG):

WL = (WH)*(%H – %B) / (%B – %L)

WL = weight of low nitrate hay required

WH = weight of high nitrate hay

%H = nitrate concentration of high nitrate hay

%B = nitrate concentration needed in final blend

%L = nitrate concentration of low nitrate hay

 

For nitrate testing, contact your local extension agent.  You can also find additional information in the MontGuide, “Nitrate Toxicity of Montana Forages.”

Bull Breeding Soundness Exams

By Megan Van Emon

Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

 

One of the most cost efficient methods of a successful breeding program is the breeding soundness exam (BSE) conducted on bulls.  Bulls are responsible for breeding 20 to 50 cows each breeding season while cows are responsible for one calf each year.  Having a BSE conducted on the bulls is crucial to a successful breeding program.

The BSE is an exam conducted by veterinarians that includes a physical exam, semen evaluation, and an internal and external exam of the reproductive tract.  Evaluating the feet, legs, teeth, eyes, flesh cover, and scrotal circumference and shape is included in the physical exam.  The semen evaluation includes semen normality and motility.  The BSE should be conducted 30 to 60 days prior to the beginning of breeding.  It is important to note that the bull’s sperm production cycle is approximately 60 days, and if illness, injury or other issue occurs, this could negatively impact the BSE and breeding capability of the bull and may need to be re-evaluated.  An additional BSE can be conducted at the end of the breeding season to determine if bull fertility decreased throughout the breeding season.

Body condition is crucial for bulls during the breeding season.  Having adequate flesh cover during the breeding season is needed to provide the extra energy required for breeding.  Body condition can be impacted by the number of cows the bull is expected to breed, the distance traveled to breed or eat, and nutrition during the breeding season.  A body condition score 6 or sufficient body condition that the ribs appear smooth across the bull’s side is the ideal flesh cover at the start of the breeding season.

Ensuring bulls are structurally sound in their feet and legs is needed to begin the breeding season.  Bulls with unsound feet and legs will have a difficult time walking and mounting for mating if a significant distance needs to be traveled for breeding.  General health of the bull is also needed to ensure bulls have adequate semen quality and the ability to mate.  Scrotal circumference is an essential measure because it is directly related to sperm production, sperm normality, and the onset of puberty.  The external and internal reproductive tract examinations ensure there is no inflammation, abscesses, warts, or penile deviations.

The semen evaluation includes the measurement of semen motility or the percentage of sperm cells moving in a forward direction.  The bulls needs to at least have 30% sperm motility to pass the BSE.  Sperm morphology, or the proper shape, is also determined and at least 70% of the sperm cells should have a normal shape.

If all of the minimum requirements are met, the bull will be classed as “satisfactory.”  However, if a bull does not pass one of the tests, they will be classed as “classification deferred.”  If a bull is classed as “classification deferred,” the bull should be tested again after 6 weeks.  If a mature bull fails the subsequent BSEs, they will be classified as “unsatisfactory.”  A young bull may be “classification deferred,” and pass the subsequent test.  Exercise caution when making bull culling decisions based on a single BSE. •

MSU Extension and MSGA announce 2016 Steer of Merit certifications

convention-076

Montana State University Extension and the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) distinguished 106 “Steers of Merit” out of 924 entries for 2016. Out of 612 steers entered in the Carcass Division, 69 were deemed Steers of Merit. In the Ultrasound Division, 37 out of 311 entries received the distinction.

 

The exhibitors and breeders of the top five steers in each category were honored at MSGA’s Annual Convention, Dec. 7-9 in Billings at the Radisson Billings Hotel. The top five steer entries in the Carcass Division were: 1) Kaleb Probst, Beaverhead County (Probst Livestock, breeder); 2) Reese Meine, Beaverhead County (Reese Meine, breeder); 3) Layne Boeh, Park County (Terry Reuter, breeder); 4) Sara Malesich, Beaverhead County (Malesich Ranch, breeder); and 5) Madeline Hamilton, Missoula County (Two Creek Ranch, breeder).

 

The top five steer entries in the Ultrasound Division were: 1) Brighton Lane, Montana Fair (Dr. Bryan Roe, breeder); 2) Tucker Turbiville, Fallon County (Tucker Turbiville, breeder); 3) Beau Bromenshenk, Montana Fair (Bromenshenk Farms, breeder); 4) Tate Thompson, Montana Fair (breeder unknown); and 5) Isabelle Lowry, Montana Fair (Probst Livestock, breeder).

 

The number of Steer of Merit certifications for 2016 decreased by 2 steers, with 21 more entries submitted compared to 2015.

 

The Montana Steer of Merit program was initiated in 1967 as a joint effort between the Montana Stockgrowers Association and Montana State University Extension. The program was designed to measure, record, and improve carcass characteristics in beef cattle. Data from these carcasses has been summarized and analyzed statistically. Over time, significant increases have been made in quality grade and in yield grade, or cutability, indicating that cattle can be selected for leaner carcasses with higher cutability and still maintain high quality grade as reflected by marbling.
To be designated a Steer of Merit, carcasses are evaluated by a qualified individual using information that relates to yield of lean meat and eating quality. Beef carcasses must meet criteria set by the Steer of Merit Committee in the areas of hot carcass weight, dressing percent, fat thickness over 12th rib (back fat), total rib eye area, yield grade, percent cutability, and quality grade. Computer software programs help compile data and rank carcasses for state and county awards. Data is also analyzed periodically to track genetic and feed management progress. The minimum standards for Steer of Merit are reviewed each year and the program is updated to meet the changing industry standards.

 

For more information about the Steer of Merit program call Megan Van Emon, Montana State Extension Beef Cattle Specialist at (406) 874-8286.

 

Tips When Considering Cull Cows

Written by Dr. Megan Van Emon, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

One area of the beef cattle market that is easily overlooked is the cull cow market. Most cows are culled because they do not re-breed or produce a small calf at weaning. It is important to remember that cull cows have potential to provide an additional source of income for the ranch. Here are a few tips to consider when culling your cows.

  1.  Cull Cow Market. The cull cow market varies throughout the year, with the lowest prices occurring between September and December. This occurs as many producers are weaning during this time period and flooding the market with cull cows. If it is economically viable, selling cull cows early in the summer or hold them over winter and selling in the early spring may improve cull cow prices.
  2. Feeding Cull Cows. Feeding cull cows after weaning can improve body weight, body condition, and quality grade. Determining feed costs and cost of gain for cull cows will determine if it is economically viable to keep cull cows to receive a better market price in the early spring.
    1.  Feed Sources. Cows should be adapted to a high energy diet over a 2 to 3-week period. Additional feedstuffs can be used, such as crop residues and additional pasture space.
    2. Length of Feeding. Type of diet has a significant impact on fat color of beef cattle. A high forage diet leads to yellow fat, which is not as desirable as white fat. Some research suggests that feeding a high concentrate diet for a little as 56 days can change yellow fat to white. Feeding thin cows to a moderate condition, will take time, and determining average daily gain will aid in determining how long it will take a body condition score 3 cow to move up to a body condition score 5.
  3. Second Pregnancy Check. When retaining cull cows after weaning, it may be beneficial to conduct a second pregnancy check. It is not uncommon for “open” cull cows to be carrying a calf, which can be retained to calve with the herd or sold immediately as a bred cow.
  4. Implants. Cull cows being fed to improve body condition and weight after weaning may benefit from an implant. The cost of implants should be considered when determining if they will be used and how they will impact weight gain and feed efficiency, and the potential to reducing days on feed.

These are several tips to consider when feeding cull cows, but the most important is economic viability. Deciding to sell or feed cull cows is a decision each producer must determine and how will that decision impact potential profits.

Veterinary Feed Directive Informational Meetings

The Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle Program is holding Veterinary Feed Directive educational meetings throughout the state this summer. These courses are free to the public and will be a great way to learn more about the VFD. For more information about the courses please contact Megan Van Emon, Extension Beef Specialist at 406.874.8286 or megan.vanemon@montana.edu.

All Meeting Flyer (002)

Veterinary Feed Directive Impacts Feed-Grade Antibiotics

by Megan Van Emon, Ph.D. – MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

The new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rule will change how medically important antibiotics are fed to livestock.  The rule does NOT include the use of injectable antibiotics.  Previously, feed-grade antibiotics have been labeled for control, treatment, prevention, growth promotion, and feed efficiency.  The VFD rule results in the removal of the statements and uses of feed-grade antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency.

Guidance for Industry proposal #209 concerns the use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals.  Guidance for Industry proposal #213 focuses on the drug companies and recommending they voluntarily align their products with GFI #209.  Medically important antibiotics are those that are used in both human and animal medicine.

The two main proposals of GFI #209 are: 1. use of medically important antibiotics will be limited to therapeutic uses only; and 2. use of medically important antibiotics for food-producing animals will be limited to those that have veterinary oversight.  The main proposal of GFI #213 asks the drug companies producing medically important feed-grade antibiotics to voluntarily remove production (ie. growth promotion and feed efficiency) claims from the labels and moving the over-the-counter products to VFD or prescription status.

Additionally, a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) is required for veterinarians to issue a VFD.  A valid VCPR includes: 1. the veterinarian assumes the responsibility for medical judgements and animal health and the client agrees to follow veterinarian instructions; 2. the veterinarian has sufficient knowledge of the animal(s) to initiate medical treatment and makes timely visits; and 3. the veterinarian is available for follow-up care and evaluation.  If you currently do not have a valid VCPR, building this relationship prior to the VFD implementation may be a good idea.

A valid VFD consists of paperwork filled out by the veterinarian that contains the veterinarian information, clients information, description of animals and location, VFD drug information, why is the VFD being issued, level of VFD in the feed, duration of use, date, and withdrawal time.  All VFDs will require the statement: “Use of feed containing this veterinary feed directive drug in a manner other than as directed on the labeling (extra label use), is not permitted” and the veterinarian’s written or electronic signature.  The veterinarian is required to maintain the original VFD form with copies being provided to the feed distributor and producer.

 

As we move closer to the implementation of the new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rule, the MSU Extension Beef Cattle Program will be conducting educational meetings throughout the state this summer.

Date City Location
July 26 Kalispell Flathead Co. Fairgrounds
August 3 Miles City USDA-ARS Fort Keogh
August 4 Billings TBD
August 9 Glasgow Cottonwood Inn & Suites
August 10 Havre MSU-NARC
August 11 Lewistown Eagles
August 16 Sidney TBD
August 24 Butte TBD
August 25 Missoula TBD

 

 

To learn more about the VFD and the informational meetings please contact Megan Van Emon at 406.874.8286 or at megan.vanemon@montana.edu.

MSU Extension and MSGA announce 2015 Steer of Merit certifications

montana state extension logoMontana State University Extension and the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) distinguished 108 “Steers of Merit” out of 903 entries for 2015. Out of 589 steers entered in the Carcass Division, 70 were deemed Steers of Merit. In the Ultrasound Division, 38 out of 314 entries received the distinction.

The exhibitors and breeders of the top five steers in each category were honored at MSGA’s Annual Convention, Dec. 5 in Billings at the MetraPark Rimrock Auto Arena. The number of Steer of Merit certifications for 2015 decreased by 10 steers, with 27 fewer entries submitted compared to 2014.

The top five steer entries in the Carcass Division were:

  1. Isabelle Lowry, Lewis and Clark County (Isabelle Lowry, breeder);
  2. Haven Meged, Custer County (Bart Meged, breeder);
  3. Sam Kearney, Ravalli County (Troy Griffin, breeder);
  4. Cheyenne Hawbaker, Daniels County (Steve and Kristi Vorhees, breeder); and
  5. Trenton Braaten, Broadwater County (Butch Gillespie, breeder).

The top five steer entries in the Ultrasound Division were:

  1. Trey Nansel, Yellowstone County (Barry Kruger, breeder);
  2. Parker Cook, Yellowstone County (breeder unknown);
  3. Spencer Lepley, Yellowstone County (breeder unknown);
  4. Kallie Candee, Richland County (Asbeck Brothers, breeder); and
  5. Bill Bender, Yellowstone County (Northwest College, breeder).

Megan Van Emon Steer of MeritThe Montana Steer of Merit program was initiated in 1967 as a joint effort between the Montana Stockgrowers Association and Montana State University Extension. The program was designed to measure, record, and improve carcass characteristics in beef cattle. Data from these carcasses has been summarized and analyzed statistically. Over time, significant increases have been made in quality grade and in yield grade, or cutability, indicating that cattle can be selected for leaner carcasses with higher cutability and still maintain high quality grade as reflected by marbling.

To be designated a Steer of Merit, carcasses are evaluated by a qualified individual using information that relates to yield of lean meat and eating quality. Beef carcasses must meet criteria set by the Steer of Merit Committee in the areas of hot carcass weight, dressing percent, fat thickness over 12th rib (back fat), total rib eye area, yield grade, percent cutability, and quality grade. Computer software programs help compile data and rank carcasses for state and county awards. Data is also analyzed periodically to track genetic and feed management progress. The minimum standards for Steer of Merit are reviewed each year and the program is updated to meet the changing industry standards.

For more information about the Steer of Merit program call Megan Van Emon, Montana State Extension Beef Cattle Specialist at (406) 874-8286.

Click here for more 2015 Annual Convention coverage from Montana Stockgrowers.

Tips for Interpreting Forage Analysis

montana forage analysisBy Dr. Megan Van Emon, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Having your hay and pasture quality analyzed prior to feeding or turnout is one of the most important and effective tools for cattle feeding management. Forage analysis allows for more precise feeding of supplements and other feedstuffs to meet requirements throughout the year. Forage analysis becomes especially important during drought and the possibility of limited forage intake while on grass. Therefore, accurately interpreting that forage analysis is crucial.

As Received Basis

These values represent the content of nutrients with the moisture included. Due to dilution, these values are lower than those in the dry matter basis column. These values can be converted to a dry matter basis by dividing the as received values by the percentage dry matter.

Dry Matter Basis

The values in this column give the nutrient profile after the water is removed. These values will be greater than those in the “as received” column. The removal of water allows for direct comparisons to be made between feed ingredients. The dry matter basis gives the best indication of the nutritive value of the feedstuff because we report animal requirements on a dry matter basis. Dry matter values can be converted to an as received basis by multiplying the dry matter value by the percentage dry matter.

Crude Protein (CP)

Labs measure the Nitrogen (N) content of the forage in order to estimate CP (% CP = % N × 6.25). Crude protein will include non-protein nitrogen and true protein. Crude protein provides the total protein within the forage and does not indicate if any heat damage has occurred, which could alter the availability of the protein.

Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF)

The acid detergent fiber encompasses the cellulose and lignin portions of the cell wall. This number is crucial in determining the ability of the animal to digest the forage. As ADF increases, forage digestibility decreases.

Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF)

The NDF includes the ADF portion plus hemicellulose. The NDF value is important for determining forage dry matter intake. As NDF increases in the forage, dry matter intake decreases.

Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN)

This is the sum of the digestible fiber, protein, lipid, and carbohydrate components of the forage. In most laboratory analyses, TDN is usually calculated based on ADF and NDF and can vary by region and diet type. Typically, high quality forages range from 50 to 60% TDN and low quality forages range from 40 to 50% TDN. Using TDN in ration calculations is best for rations that are primarily forage. The net energy system should be used in diets that include high concentrations of grain because TDN tends to underestimate the feeding value of concentrate relative to forage.

Net Energy of Lactation (NEl), Net Energy of Maintenance (NEm), and Net Energy of Gain (NEg)

The Net Energy system accounts for the energy losses from digestion of feeds and forages. Net energy estimates the portion of energy in a forage that is useable to the animal to meet the needs of body maintenance and production. Net energy is partitioned into the net energy of maintenance (no body weight gain or loss), net energy of lactation (milk production), and net energy of gain (body weight gain). The net energy system should be used for diets containing high concentrations of concentrates. Net energy values are usually calculated from TDN values, which are calculated from ADF. Therefore, as ADF increases in the forage, net energy values will decrease.

Ash

This represents the total mineral content of the forage and typically ranges from 3 to 12% on a dry matter basis. Grains and concentrations usually contain range from 1 to 4% ash. Excessive amounts of ash indicate soil contamination.

Other analyses can also be conducted, such as nitrates, molds, yeasts, and mycotoxins, and individual minerals. These analyses are not typically included in a standard test and must be requested at an additional cost.

The Importance of Water Quality in Livestock Production

megan van emon msu extension beef specialistBy Dr. Megan Van Emon, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Water is the most essential nutrient for livestock production and is needed for numerous processes, such as the regulation of body temperature, growth, digestion, reproduction, metabolism, lubrication of joints, excretion, eyesight, etc. Water is also an excellent solvent for amino acids, minerals, glucose, vitamins, and metabolic waste.

Water requirements are influenced by a number of factors, including gestation, lactation, rate and composition of gain, type of diet, activity, environmental temperature, and feed intake. The intake of water from feeds plus the ad libitum consumption of free water is the equivalent of the water requirements in livestock. Ad libitum access to clean, fresh water is essential to maintaining feed intake in livestock. According to the NRC (1996), a wintering 1100 pound gestating cow needs to consume between 6 gallons at 40°F and 9 gallons at 70°F of water per day and the requirements double for a lactating cow. However, the requirements do not take in to account the distance cows must travel to the water source.

The water provided to livestock needs to be good quality to maintain production. Water quality may be altered by contaminants, such as mineral salts, toxins, heavy metals, microbial loads, debris, and agricultural practices. Most contaminants will reduce water intake, which results in a reduction in feed intake and a loss of production. However, if the water or feed contains increased salt, water intake will increase as the animal attempts to eliminate the excess sodium. Total dissolved solids (TDS) are measured to determine the saltiness of the water. Table 1 describes the recommendations and effects of increasing concentrations of TDS in the water.

Total Dissolved Solids Water QualityWater with high concentrations of TDS, may have high concentrations of nitrates and/or sulfates. High sulfate concentrations in water can lead to polioencephalomalacia (polio).  High sulfate water tastes bitter and water intake may be reduced. High concentrations of sulfate may also cause a reduction in copper availability in livestock, which can lead to copper deficiency. Producers should be aware of water sulfate concentrations when feeding high sulfur feedstuffs, such as distillers grains or corn gluten feed, and feeds containing high concentrations of molybdenum.  If livestock are consuming high sulfate water, additional copper supplementation may need to be considered.

Similar to nitrates in forages, water with high nitrate concentrations can also be toxic. Nitrate from the water is converted to nitrite within the rumen, which can be toxic by decreasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin. Producers should especially be aware of water nitrate concentrations when feeding forages with high nitrate concentrations.

Other contaminants include bacteria, which can be toxic to livestock. High bacteria concentrations can cause infertility, foot rot, low milk production, and other reproductive problems. Stagnant water that is contaminated with manure and other contaminants can develop blue-green algae, which may be toxic to livestock. It is crucial to maintain a clean, fresh water supply to maintain health and performance of livestock.