Beef Tips

Author: Hannah Williams

January 2020 Feedlot Facts

“Supplementing Cows During Cold Weather”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

The New Year often brings with it some of the coldest months of the year. Most cattle producers know and appreciate that cold weather increases nutrient requirements. However, the real question is what should producers feed or supplement when the wind blows and the mercury barely registers on the thermometer.

Cattle are most comfortable within the thermoneutral zone when temperatures are neither too warm nor cold. During the winter months, cattle experience cold stress anytime the effective ambient temperature, which takes into account wind chill, humidity, etc., drops below the lower critical temperature. The lower critical temperature is influenced by both environmental and animal factors including hair coat and tissue insulation (body condition). The table below lists the estimated lower critical temperatures of cattle in good body condition with different hair coats. In wet conditions, cattle can begin experiencing cold stress at 59°F, which would be a relatively mild winter day. However, if cattle have time to develop a sufficient winter coat, the estimated lower critical temperature under dry conditions is 18°F.

Cold stress increases maintenance energy requirements but does not impact protein, mineral or vitamin requirements. The general rule of thumb (for a cow in good body condition, BCS = 5 or greater) is to increase the energy density of the ration by 1% for each degree (Fahrenheit) below the lower critical temperature. The classic response to cold stress in confinement situations is an increase in voluntary intake. However, it has been documented that grazing beef cows may spend less time grazing as temperatures decline below freezing, which reduces forage intake, and makes the challenge of meeting the cow’s nutrient requirements even greater. In many cases, feeding a greater amount of low-quality hay will replace grazed forages but may not provide sufficient energy. Therefore, providing additional energy by feeding a relatively higher-quality hay or fiber-based supplement (DDGS, Corn gluten feed, or Soybean Hulls) may be required. If fiber-based energy sources are not available, small amounts (2-3 lbs) starch-based concentrates may also be used as energy supplements.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

January 2020 Management Minute

“How to Find More Time in the New Year”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

One of the more common New Year’s resolutions is to find more time for family, friends, exercise or some new activity. However, the question becomes, how can we find more time within the day or week for the aforementioned activity of choice. One of the ways that many people try to find more time (including myself) is the “do I really need that much sleep” method of finding more time. Although, this method does work; it may also result in some undesirable outcomes, especially if the activity involves interacting with others. Time management experts suggest that the best way to make more time for any new activity is to become more efficient within our day. Efficiency is essentially organizing and prioritizing the daily “to do list” but it also includes looking for places in our day where we simply waste time. The most common “time waster” for many people involves a computer or a phone in today’s world. Procrastination is also another common “time waster” that reduces our ability to get things done. Many strategies have been developed to combat procrastination. One simple strategy that I recently came across is the two-minute rule and it essentially targets all those little things that we encounter during the day that eventually add up. This informal rule essentially says that when we encounter anything in our day that will take less than two-minutes that we should do it, be it a quick email response or cleaning up our computer files. It is difficult to find more time in our busy work schedules, but one thing is clear seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours, hours into days and so forth, which proves that little things do add up over time.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

Preparing for the winter – focus on forage

by Jaymelynn Farney, Beef Systems Specialist, Parsons

Mother nature has been rather fickle for the past 365 days, in Kansas we have seen flooding, droughts, blizzards, extreme heat, extreme winds, and hail, to name some of the biggest events.  According to Kansas Mesonet data there was 15 inches of rainfall (October 1, 2018 to October 1, 2019) in Grant county (Southwest; average annual rainfall 12 inches) while Parsons (Southeast; average annual rainfall 42 inches) has seen 70 inches of rainfall in that same time period.  With all these extremes in weather, our forages have shown quite a bit of variability in quality. Continue reading “Preparing for the winter – focus on forage”

December 2019 Feedlot Facts

“Forage Analysis: What Numbers Do I Need?”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

One of the more common questions I receive with regard to analytical testing of forages and other feedstuffs is “I have the sample, now what do I test for or what analysis package should I select?”

The basic components that nutritionists need to evaluate a feedstuff or develop a ration are dry matter or moisture, crude protein, an estimate of the energy content of the feedstuff (Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN), Net Energy for Maintenance (NEm), Net Energy for gain (NEg), and the macro minerals, Calcium and Phosphorous. These are the most basic numbers that are required, but including some additional analyses in the report can give us additional insight into the quality of the feedstuff or improve our ability to predict animal performance, which is the primary reason we analyze feedstuffs. I recommend that the report include acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF). The amount of NDF in forage reflects the amount of cell wall contents (hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin) within the sample. The NDF fraction is often associated with the respective bulkiness of forage and is correlated with dry matter intake of the forage or feedstuff. Therefore, the amount of NDF may be used to estimate the expected dry matter intake associated with the forage. The ADF number represents the amount of cellulose and lignin within the forage and is correlated with the respective digestibility of the forage. In general, a higher ADF value is associated with forage that has a greater proportion of cellulose and lignin and would likely be more mature. Additionally, the ADF fraction is used to calculate the energy estimates TDN, NEm, and NEg that appear on the report. There are a number of different mathematical equations that the testing laboratory may use to calculate these numbers, based on the type of sample (corn silage, alfalfa, grass hay, etc.). If the ADF is included in the report, the nutritionist can adjust or recalculate the energy estimates if necessary.

If the forage will be fed in combination with a byproduct feed, such as wet distiller’s grain, including an analysis for sulfur can be beneficial if the forage will be used in a growing or feedlot ration. Additionally, if the forage is a known nitrate accumulator (forage sorghums, sudangrass) or may have been stressed due to drought, including a nitrate analysis should always be considered, especially if the forage will be fed to pregnant cows.

Most analytical laboratories have a number of different analysis packages which encompass the most common procedures or numbers that a nutritionist or producer needs to know about their feeds. These packages will typically include the basic procedures (DM, CP, TDN) and then add on specific analyses such as NDF or the Macrominerals (Ca,P, Mg, K, Na, Cl, S). Some laboratories may group analysis packages by the type of sample (Forage vs. mixed ration) or production purposes (dairy vs. beef).

The objective of analytical testing of forages and feedstuffs is to improve our ability to meet the animal’s nutrient requirements and ultimately predict animal performance. The unequivocal best method of evaluating the quality of a feedstuff is feeding the feedstuff to an animal and evaluating performance over a set period of time, under a specific set of conditions. Since that would not be cost effective or timely, analytically evaluating feedstuffs in a laboratory is the next best thing and although it is not perfect, it is unequivocally better than the “this looks like really good stuff” method of evaluating feedstuffs.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

December 2019 Management Minute

“Winter Safety in the Workplace”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

Winter is here and many agriculture workers work in the elements, which brings a new set of seasonal workplace hazards. Falls, slips, and trips are one of the most common causes of workplace injuries (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). Although falls and slips can occur anytime, extra precautions are required during the winter months. Hypothermia is real, especially for those that work in the elements. Safety experts suggest that clothing should be layered to retain body heat. However, how and what type of layers those clothes are made of is important. At least three layers are recommended. Cotton or other breathable synthetic fiber should be the first or base layer, wool or down is suggested for the middle layer, and the third or outer layer should be composed of material that will block the wind such as a nylon outer shell found on many ski-jackets, etc. Portable heaters are often used as heat sources in many shops and barns. Portable heaters are one of the most common causes of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires. If heaters are used in confined spaces, keep in mind that ventilation is required to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Additionally, the areas where heaters are used should be checked for combustible materials.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

November 2019 Feedlot Facts

“Historical Perspective on Cull Cow Prices”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

The sale of cull animals is one of the primary sources of revenue on a cow-calf operation, contributing 17- 24% of the gross income reported by cow-calf operators within the Kansas Farm Management Association from 2013-2017. The figure below offers some historical perspective on cull cow prices in Kansas (LMIC, compiled by Robin Reid). Cull cow prices are seasonal, being lowest in the months of October, November, December, and typically increase in March and then remain steady during the summer months.

The relative difference between the market low and high, based on the 5- and 15-year average prices illustrated in the graph is approximately $10-$15/cwt. Thus, the market value of a cull cow increases $10- $15/cwt. from November to March. A 1,300-lb. cow sold in November at $40/cwt. would generate $520 while the same cow, if sold in March at $55/cwt., would generate $715, a difference of $195.

Although, the cull cow market has been relatively soft in 2019 and we cannot foresee what the market will be in 2020, the historical data indicates that cull cow values typically increase over the winter. The question then becomes whether the increase in value is substantial enough to justify holding onto those cows for an additional 120 days.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

November 2019 Management Minute

“The Power of Praise”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

Praise is likely one of the most powerful tools in the toolbox of any manager, leader or educator. I recently came across a summary of a research project conducted by Elizabeth Hurlock, which illustrates the power of praise in the book “How Full is Your Bucket” by Tom Rath and Don Clifton. This experiment evaluated the subsequent math scores of students who received different types of feedback (control, praise, criticism, or ignored) regarding their work in the classroom. Initially, the math scores of students who were praised or criticized for their work were similar. However, by day five of the experiment, the relative improvement in the scores of students who were praised improved by 71%, while those that were criticized improved 19% and those that were ignored improved only 5%. What surprised me the most about this study was that it was conducted in 1925, 94 years ago. Praise is a powerful tool that can be used to motivate all of us to do what we do better and that should not be overlooked.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

October 2019 Feedlot Facts

“Some Thoughts on Calf Revenue”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

The air is now crisp in the morning and it won’t be long before we see the glimmer of ice crystals in the water tank. Many producers are weaning and will be marketing calves in the coming weeks and months. Margins in the cattle industry and agriculture in general are often unfortunately narrow and this year is no exception. Maximizing calf revenue is important for cow/calf producers every year, but is even more important in year’s where the probability of loss is greater than profit. Calf revenue from my academic perspective is driven by 3 factors, 1.) the number of calves sold, 2.) sale weight of calves and 3.) price received. Cow/calf producers to some extent have control over the number of calves sold and sale weight. The number of calves sold is essentially a function of stocking rate, cow fertility and/or reproduction on an operation. The sale weight of calves is more complex but is a multi-factorial combination of genetics, calving distribution, calf age, nutrition, management and technology use (implants). Price received is likely the most influential of the 3 factors that drive calf revenue and is the factor that cow/calf producers often believe they have the least ability to control. Once a set of calves, enters the sale ring, or appears on the video screen their value is determined by what 2 prospective buyers are willing to pay. Although it is impossible for producers to directly influence what buyers are willing to pay, I would argue that they are not completely helpless. Cow/calf producers directly control what they will sell (weaned calves, value-added calves or feeders), and determine when they will sell. These are difficult, complex decisions, that shouldn’t necessarily be made based upon weekly cattle sale reports or the thoughts of your favorite livestock market commentator. I am not saying that keeping informed about current market conditions isn’t important. However, that information when used with resources like Beef Basis (www.beefbasis.com) that use data to evaluate different market scenarios, from selling 6 weight calves the first week of December, to 7 weights in February helps producers make the best decision for their operations. Producers also control what information or data they pass along to the new owner. We all know that data has value in today’s world. I like to compare marketing calves to selling a beautifully restored pickup. If you were selling a pickup, you would share with a prospective buyer every bit of information you had and the details of the process, from the atmospheric conditions when the truck was painted to the actual sales invoice from 1972. Why should selling a set of calves be any different? Value added programs and certified sales provide potential buyers with some degree of assurance that your cattle were managed within the guidelines of the program. If you don’t participate in a defined program, providing the auctioneer or sales representative with as much information as possible about your cattle only helps them do their job better which is to get best price for your cattle.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

October 2019 Management Minute

“Good Help is Hard to Find”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

“Good help is hard to find” which alternatively means that the “good help we have is worth retaining”. I recently had a conversation with a colleague who is changing positions, as we discussed some of the challenges associated with the transition, from selling a house, to placing children in a new school. I found myself considering why do good people leave positions? Given the magnitude of the challenges associated with making a professional change. In some instances, people do get the opportunity to pursue their dream job. In other situations, life circumstances such as children or being closer to family are cited as common reasons. However, according to www.thebalancecareer.com the most common people leave jobs are ultimately related to factors within the workplace, such as a bad boss or supervisor, lack of trust within the organization, failing to recognize the employee’s contributions or strengths, or the inability to use their skills. Many of these reasons come down to job satisfaction, and creating an environment where people want to come to work. We spend roughly 1/3 of our day at work, so creating a positive work environment, where employees feel valued and trust that supervisors and the organization cares about them can go along way towards retaining the good help we have today.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.

September 2019 Feedlot Facts

“Silage Harvest is Underway; Be Safe”

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist

One of the busiest, most fast paced operations that occur this time of year is silage harvest. Cutters and choppers in the fields, trucks racing from the field to the pile or bunker, multiple tractors pushing and packing silage. The speed at which we can harvest silage today is amazing, but we should never allow the speed at which can accomplish a task to compromise safety. Below are a few things to think about during this year’s silage harvest.

  • Don’t become complacent. Stay aware of your surroundings. Let’s face it: there are a lot of highly repetitive operations in putting up silage. One of the number one factors that lead up to an accident is complacency, or lack of situational awareness.
  • Truck drivers should always slow down when approaching houses and intersections on all roads, every time. Those houses along the road belong to our neighbors and friends, some of which have children. The increased traffic on gravel roads creates dust, and the crops are tall, both of which reduce visibility at intersections. Our neighbors should not fear going to their mailbox due to our silage trucks.
  • People (especially children) should never be allowed near a drive-over pile or bunker silo during filling. If people have to approach the area, get on the radio to inform the drivers/operators that people are on foot. Those on the ground in the area should always wear a bright colored safety vest.
  • Never fill higher than the top of the bunker wall. This happens more than it should and creates a dangerous situation from the day the silage is packed until it is removed. The pack tractor cannot see the edge of the bunker well, if at all. The silage does not get packed well (which leads to poor silage) and the edge of the silage is unstable and more likely to collapse. Don’t do it.
  • Be aware of steep slopes. To reduce the risk of tractor roll-over, a minimum slope of 1 in 3 on the sides and end of piles should be maintained.
  • Never inspect or make repairs to equipment near the bunker or pile. Equipment should be removed from the area as soon as possible. Repairs almost always involve people on foot and potentially people who may not be familiar with silage activities and the associated risks.

For more information, contact Justin Waggoner at jwaggon@ksu.edu.