Specialists, Generalists, and Working with People

Rachel Endecott Montana Young Stockgrowers Mid Year Miles CityDr. Rachel Endecott, Belgrade, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Sometimes, it seems that the world wants people who specialize. For example, my job title is Extension beef cattle specialist; however, “beef cattle” is a fairly general topic. In fact, I’m trained as a ruminant nutritionist, but I help folks with cattle reproductive physiology, genetics, marketing, health, and general management questions on a regular basis in addition to their nutrition questions. I’ve found that my clientele don’t care how I was trained; they just expect answers to their beef cattle questions. My ranch background and animal science training has made me pretty comfortable with the generalist role. And if you think my work makes me a Jill-of-all-trades, think about your county Extension agent. Many of you live in single-agent counties, where that one person handles all the questions that come into the office.

What kind of tree is this? What kind of bug is this? Is this bug killing my tree? Can you help out with the community forum on the new swimming pool? Can you test my pressure cooker before canning season starts? Can you come take a look at the damage the hailstorm did to my wheat? Should I test my grain hay for nitrates? And I’ll leave all the 4-H related questions up to your imagination! I’d encourage you to sit down with your county agent(s) sometime and ask about the variety in their job; you might be surprised.

At Mid Year, I was invited to speak at the Young Stockgrower meeting about issues and trends in the beef cattle industry. I’d say that was a pretty generalist topic, so I started with changes in the use of feed-grade antibiotics and we had a good discussion about that and a few other topics. At the end, all the speakers took questions as a panel, one of which was “What advice would you give to a young person who wants to talk to their folks or grandparents about making a change on the operation?”

My answer was this: Get some soft skill leadership training before you have that conversation. Now this might raise an eyebrow or two out there in MSGA readership land, and probably did that day in Miles City, too. But here’s where I’m coming from: in school, we choose our area of interest to study with the goal specializing in that area of interest, be it animal science, ag business or whatever. I think most would agree that as you enter the workforce (and for the rest of your career), you might have to generalize some depending on the job.

Did you learn about how to effectively work with people from other generations or different personality types? I know I didn’t. And (as I was reminded at the ranch rodeo by one of my clientele), I’ve gone to a lot of school! But you know what a major part of my job is? Working with people. I bet it’s a pretty big part of your job, too. What would it be like to have some training to help you work more effectively with people?

Calculating Calving Distribution to Evaluate Reproductive Performance

Rachel Endecott, Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle SpecialistBy Dr. Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension, Beef Cattle Specialist

Calculating calving distribution is one way to evaluate the previous year’s reproductive performance for the cowherd. Calving distribution follows how cows are calving during the calving season, split into 21-day periods (the length of a cow’s estrous cycle). The starting date of the calving distribution can be determined in a couple different ways. The first is to add 283 days (average gestation length) to the breeding date or bull turnout date, and the second is to assign the starting date as the day when the third mature cow calves.

In herds where cow age can be identified along with calving date, calving distribution can be calculated for young cows separately from older cows, which may provide information about breed-up performance that might not otherwise be easily observed. Here is an example calving distribution from the Beef Improvement Federation Guidelines publication.

What is a good benchmark number for calving distribution? One example comes from the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS) program. The CHAPS benchmark for the first 21-day calving period is 63.4%. The benchmarks for 42 and 63 days are 88.8% and 95.6%, respectively.

table calving period evaluating calving performance

From this chart, do you see a group of cows you might be more concerned with compared to another? Perhaps the 3-year-olds? Check out a graph of this data for a more visual perspective.

Chart calving period for reproductive performance

In this format, the 3-year-old cows really jump out. All other age groups have the largest percentage of cows calving during the first 21 days, but the largest percentage of 3-year-olds calved during the second 21 days. Many beef cattle producers find that getting first-calf heifers to breed back well is a challenge. Some strategies to improve young cow reproductive performance include implementing proper heifer development and pre– and post-calving nutrition programs.

Some producers start the yearling breeding season 2-3 weeks ahead of the mature cows in an effort to give the heifers more time to recover before breeding season. On the other hand, some producers implement a shortened (say, 30-day) breeding season for yearling heifers in an effort to put selection pressure on reproduction. In this scenario, pregnancy rates will be lower than in a longer breeding season, so more potential replacement heifers may need to be kept back to ensure an appropriate replacement rate for the cowherd.

Keeping young cows separate from older cows before and after calving (if conditions allow) might also be a good young cow reproductive management strategy. Since young cows are still growing, their nutrient demands are higher than mature cows. Managing them separately allows for more targeted feeding to meet nutrient requirements. When managed together, feeding to meet mature cow requirements will result in a nutrient shortage for the young cows, while feeding to meet young cow requirements will result in overfeeding the mature cows, which could be a fairly expensive proposition.

Have you started planning for the 2014 breeding season? Or is it already well underway? An evaluation of calving distribution might give you some good insight on how last year’s management environment impacted cowherd reproductive performance.

Feeding Weedy Hay: Implications for Future Weed Problems?

Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

In the past few years, many Montana beef cattle operations have purchased hay, sometimes from many counties away, and even from another country based on the Canadian hay that we’ve seen move south the past few winters! Some of that hay might have been fairly weedy, or have different weeds than are found in your area. Just how well do weed seeds survive after going through the digestive system of a ruminant?

A Canadian study from the early 1990s evaluated weed seed viability after 24 hours of rumen incubation for many common weeds. In general, they found that after 24 hours in the rumen, grass weed species were more adversely affected than broadleaf weed species. Many broadleaf weed species have harder seed coats than grass weed species, which was suggested to be the main reason for the difference between grass and broadleaf species. The table below summarizes the results of the study, comparing viability of seeds after 24 hours in the rumen versus a control group (no rumen exposure).Weed Species Treatment and Digestibility in Cattle Rumen Chart

The study also found that the diet the cow was on when the seeds were incubated in the rumen had an impact on some species’ seed viability. For example, wild oats and field pennycress were not impacted much by rumen incubation when the cow was consuming an all-forage diet, but when the cow was consuming a mixed diet of grain and forage, the viability of these weed seeds was dramatically reduced. This suggests that the lower pH environment in the rumen due to grain supplementation may have been better able to decrease seed viability.

What about noxious weeds? Are their seeds impacted by rumen exposure? Several different research projects at Montana State University have tackled this question over the years. Sheep, goats, and even mule deer have been used in these studies rather than cattle, since most cattle avoid grazing these weeds.

Sheep and mule deer were dosed with 5,000 spotted knapweed seeds, and then seeds were recovered from the manure. Less than 20% of the dosed seeds were recovered, and large variability existed in seed viability (0-26%), but it was always lower than the control (98%). In a study evaluating leafy spurge, 18% of dosed seeds were recovered, and sheep were found to be more effective than goats in decreasing seed viability (sheep: 14%, goats: 31%, control: 90% viability). Digestion of sulfur cinquefoil seeds by sheep and goats decreased viability of immature seeds by 92% and of mature seeds by 64%. The difference was attributed to the hardened seed coat of mature seeds limiting digestive impacts.

Weed seed viability is impacted by passage through the rumen to varying degrees. It is important to keep a close watch on areas where weedy hay was fed this winter to ensure proper and timely management of any weed infestations.

Frost et al., 2013. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 66:51-55
Lacey et al., 1992. Weed Technology. 6:599-602.
Wallender et al., 1995. Journal of Range Management. 48:145-149

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Changes in the Use of Feed Grade Antibiotics | Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum

MSU Extension Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock ForumMontana Stockgrowers was proud to sponsor the 2014 Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum. The following is a recap of the issues covered from the May Cow Sense Chronicle by Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist. To view speaker slides from the conference, follow this link to MSU Extension’s website. To view the monthly Cow Sense Chronicle, click here.

Greetings from Bozeman! It’s hard to believe the month of May has already arrived. This year’s Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum was held April 22‐23. Among the many great presentations was a wonderful overview from Dr. Russ Daly about the changes coming down the line in regard to the use of feed‐grade antibiotics for livestock. Dr. Daly is the South Dakota State University Extension Veterinarian, and also serves as the State Public Health Veterinarian for the South Dakota Department of Health. For this month’s Cow Sense Chronicle, I will provide a highlight of his remarks. You can find his and other conference speaker’s slides at www.msuextension.org/beefcattle, then click “Resources”.

The FDA has published two “Guidance for Industry” proposals, #209 and #213 (click here for FDA info). The first deals with the use of medically important (to human medicine) antibiotics in food‐producing animals, and the second recommends that drug companies voluntarily align their product use with GFI #209.

Guidance #209 has two main proposals: 1. the use of medically important antibiotics in food‐ producing animals should be limited to those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health; and 2. the use of medically important antibiotics in food‐producing animals should be limited to those uses that include veterinary oversight or consultation. Guidance #213 asks drug companies to voluntarily revise their product labels to remove growth promotion and feed efficiency claims and provides for moving over‐the‐counter products to prescription or veterinary feed directive (VFD) status.

A VFD consists of paperwork for the drug in question which is filled out by a veterinarian (a veterinary‐client‐patient relationship should be in place) and gives a description of the livestock to be treated, some instructions to the feed mill, and an expiration date. The feed mill must have the VFD before feed can be distributed, and the feed mill must notify the FDA.

What will change for livestock producers and veterinarians as a result of these FDA Guidances? Growth promotion uses of antibiotics in feed will no longer be allowed (examples: CTC, Aureomycin, virginiamycin), and use of “medically important” feed antibiotics will need a VFD and can only be used for treatment, control, or prevention. Each state’s regulations or veterinary board will define what is a valid veterinary‐client‐patient relationship, and “medically important” water medications will move to prescription status.

What won’t change? Use of non‐medically important drugs such as ionophores and coccidiosis treatments will remain unchanged. The ability to use feed‐grade antibiotics that are currently labeled for treatment, control, and prevention won’t change, but will need a VFD. Injectable medication uses will remain the same, and extra‐label uses of feed‐grade medications is currently and will continue to be illegal. Feed mill operators will continue to supply feed medications and veterinarians should still be involved in medication decisions.

As Dr. Daly discussed, antibiotic resistance is a complex topic involving both animal and human health professionals. Hopefully this overview gives you some additional understanding of how these changes will impact the feed and livestock industry and your operation.

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Montana State University’s Collegiate Quiz Bowl Teams Takes 4th in Nation

Montana Team Finishes Fourth in Nation at 2014 Cattle Industry Convention Quiz Bowl Competition

MSU Quiz Bowl Team (Pictured L to R): Drew Gaskill of Volberg, Katy Klick of Simms, Dr. Rachel Endecott (Sponsor), Jared Hardaway of Belgrade, and Lane Schmitt of Chinook

Winning several local and regional competitions throughout the year, Montana State University’s Collegiate Quiz Bowl team competed for the national title during the 2014 Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville in early February. These Bobcats were Kenneth Gaskill, Katy Klick, Jared Hardaway, Lane Schmitt and advisor, Dr. Rachel Endecott.

The competition places teams from across the country head-to-head to answer complex questions about the livestock industry as quickly as possible. In game show style, the student to “buzz in” first has the opportunity to answer the question and his or her team is then awarded points for correct answers and lose points for incorrect attempts.

During the national competition, MSU competed against teams from Kansas State University and Penn State University. Out of all the teams in nation, the Bobcats took home the 4th place spot. Congratulations to these students and help us to let them know how proud we are of them!

Below is a video feature of the Montana State University team. Click play to view.

MSU Extension and MSGA announce 2013 Steer of Merit certifications

Montana Stockgrowers and Extension Steer of Merit Recipients

L to R, Lane Brush (Madison County), Randy Kramer (Carbon County), Kayla Sylvia (Lewis and Clark County), Shelbie Oblander (Yellowstone County), Ty Handy (Richland County), and Rachel Endecott (MSU Extension)

Montana State University Extension and the Montana Stockgrowers Association (MSGA) distinguished 135 “Steers of Merit” out of over 900 entries for 2013. Out of 775 steers entered in the Carcass Division, 111 were deemed Steers of Merit. In the Ultrasound Division, 24 out of 141 entries received the distinction.

“The Steer of Merit award promotes and recognizes the production of the highest quality of Montana beef with carcass characteristics that meet the U.S. beef industry’s standards of excellence,” said Errol Rice, MSGA’s Executive Vice President. “We are proud to sponsor this great youth program that teaches and awards 4-H and FFA beef projects that have met or exceeded these industry benchmarks in order to meet both domestic and global consumer demand for the 21st century.”

The exhibitors and breeders of the top five steers in each category were honored at MSGA’s Annual Convention, Dec. 12-14 in Billings at the Holiday Inn Grand Montana. The top five steer entries in the Carcass Division were: 1) Timothy Eash, Lincoln County (Ed Braaten, breeder); 2) Randy Kramer, Carbon County (Justin Oswald, breeder); 3) Karleigh Bolin, Missoula County (Jeremy & Kate Roberts, breeder); 4) Kayla Sylvia, Lewis and Clark County (Troy Wheeler, breeder); and 5) Lane Brush, Madison County (Gerald Brush, breeder).

The top five steer entries in the Ultrasound Division were: 1) Mackenzie Lepley, Yellowstone County (breeder unknown); 2) Ty Handy, Richland County (Larry & Lauri Handy, breeder); 3) Brielle Gorder, Richland County (Allen Gasho, breeder); 4) Shelbie Oblander, Yellowstone County (Pam & Dale Bilyeu, breeder); and 5) Jalyssa Gorder, Richland County (Gartner-Denowh Angus Ranch, breeder).

The number of Steer of Merit certifications for 2013 increased by nine steers, with 26 more entries submitted compared to 2012.

“Steer of Merit certification didn’t change much in 2013 compared to 2012,” said Rachel Endecott, Montana State Extension Beef Cattle Specialist. “This was the second fair season under the new hot carcass weight and back fat standards set by the Steer of Merit Committee in 2011; perhaps some adjustment to the new standards is occurring. And summer 2013 probably had better cattle feeding weather and conditions than summer 2012.”

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 Rachel Endecott, Montana State Extension Beef Cattle Specialist at (406) 994-3747.


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Membership Development Committee Highlights Association Progress

Rachel Endecott, Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

See more blog coverage from the 129th Annual Stockgrowers Convention by clicking here.

By Rachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Specialist

A good crowd was on hand at the Membership Development and Services Committee meeting at the 2013 Montana Stockgrowers Convention. In this post, I’d like to share some of the highlights from the meeting.

The return on investment for social media efforts is often hard to quantify. It was so exciting to hear from Errol Rice that 99 new MSGA memberships have resulted from the Association’s social media work in the past year! During his NCBA update, Dan McCarty shared that other associations are asking him what Montana is doing. I’m proud to be a member of such a progressive organization!

Updates from Montana State University and USDA-ARS Fort Keogh added to the upbeat nature of the meeting. New faculty positions and exciting research projects are on tap to continue to support Montana ranching.

Collegiate Stockgrowers presidents John Henry Beardsley (Montana State University) and Laramie Pursley in (MSU-Northern) reported on their club activities during 2013.  It was impressive to see how much these clubs have accomplished in the short time since they’ve been established. I look forward to these individuals becoming an integral part of the Young Stockgrowers as they finish their college careers.

Overall, the tone of our committee meeting was member-benefit focused. The value received from MSGA membership is well above the cost of membership dues.

Forage Testing for More Efficient Use of Feedstuffs

Rachel Endecott, Montana State University Extension Beef Cattle SpecialistRachel Endecott, MSU Extension Beef Cattle Specialist

Greetings from Bozeman! I can’t believe it’s nearly MSGA Convention time, but I’m looking forward to seeing many of you in Billings in December.

I received a great question the other day about considerations for feeding “environmentally impacted” feeds, like rained-on hay or hailed-out crops. My first recommendation – for any feedstuff, not just weather-beaten forages – is to obtain a nutrient analysis. I’m a big fan of the saying, “in order to manage, one must first measure,” and a forage nutrient analysis is a critical step in determining least-cost rations. This is even more important when you’re unsure how poor harvest conditions may have impacted the forage.

The first step in getting a nutrient analysis is to collect a representative sample. A common rule of thumb is to sample from 10% of the feedstuff; for example, if you had 100 bales of hay, sample 10 bales from various locations in the stack. For hay samples, I highly recommend a hay probe for the most accurate results; most Extension offices have hay probes to loan out. For silage, grain, or cubes, a grab sample is appropriate since the feed is much more uniform in nature.

The second step is to find a testing lab and send the sample in for analysis. Your local Extension office probably has an established relationship with a lab and can assist with sampling and selecting the right testing package. For hailed-out or otherwise drought-impacted annual crops, testing for nitrate content is definitely recommended in addition to a base testing package.

The final step is to interpret the nutrient analysis. You can learn more about that process from the January 2013 Cow Sense Chronicle, my monthly e-newsletter. The archives are located at www.msuextension.org/beefcattle/cowsensechronicle.html. If you’d like to be added to the e-newsletter distribution list, please send me an email at rachel.endecott@montana.edu.


Giving Back Through Steer-A-Year Program

Earlier this year, we featured MSU’s Steer-A-Year program where ranchers donate animals are receive performance data (28-day gains and carcass performance) and contribute to a hands-on learning experience for Bozeman students.

“Donated steers make a direct impact on students, particularly those participating in the livestock judging program,” according to program coordinator and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Dr. Rachel Endecott. The steers also contribute to the educational experiences of dozens of students in the College of Agriculture since the steers are used in animal science courses throughout the school year. Those courses include “Beef Cattle Management,” “Livestock Management – Beef Cattle,” “Meat Science,” and “Livestock Evaluation.”

Montana State Steer-A-Year Dusty Hahn

Endecott and Hahn

One of this year’s steer donors is Montana Stockgrowers Association’s Foundation chair, Dusty Hahn. “I’m supporting the Steer-A-Year program because, as an MSU College of Ag alum, I’m able to make a financial contribution to the MSU Livestock Judging team, but also help with practical, hands-on learning opportunities. The Steer-A-Year steers are feed by ruminant nutrition graduate students. They are evaluated by the judging team, animal science, and meat science classes. I hope that my contribution helps advance the education of our future ag producers and leaders.”

Thank to the many ranchers like Dusty Hahn who donated steers to this year’s program and help MSU students gain a better education with hands-on opportunities like the Steer-A-Year program.

MSU Steer-A-Year program returns for 2013-14

Montana ranchers can once again donate steers to Montana State University. The Steer-A-Year program is back for the 2013-14 school year.

–MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Montana State University has resumed its Steer-A-Year program after a one-year hiatus.

Montana ranchers who want to donate a steer to benefit students in MSU’s College of Agriculture should contact Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Rachel Endecott. Steers will be accepted Oct. 14 through 18. They will be housed and fed to finish at the Bozeman Agriculture Research and Teaching Farm west of Bozeman.

Donors will be honored at MSU’s Celebrate Agriculture!! on Oct. 25 and 26, Endecott said. Performance data (28-day gains and carcass performance) from the steers will be collected throughout the school year. The top feeder steer and donor will be announced at Celebrate Agriculture!! The top carcass and donor will be announced in the spring.

Donated steers make a direct impact on students, particularly those participating in the livestock judging program, Endecott said. The steers also contribute to the educational experiences of dozens of students in the College of Agriculture since the steers are used in animal science courses throughout the school year. Those courses include “Beef Cattle Management,” “Livestock Management – Beef Cattle,” “Meat Science,” and “Livestock Evaluation.”

For more information about the Steer-A-Year program or how to donate a steer, contact Endecott at (406) 994-3747 or rachel.endecott@montana.edu