Beef Tips

Category: Feedlot Facts

Heat Stress Resources for Cattle Producers

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

The first weeks of June often bring summer-like temperatures to the southern Great Plains and with those first hot, humid days comes heat stress. Recent market conditions have created a scenario when there are greater inventories of heavier cattle on feed in many feedyards. The convergence of these two factors prompted our KSU Beef Extension Team to host a webinar highlighting the current weather outlook and how to prepare for heat stress events. The webinar was recorded and may be accessed www.KSUBeef.org. Continue reading “Heat Stress Resources for Cattle Producers”

May 2020 Feedlot Facts

“Protein Sources for Growing Cattle”

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

One of the outcomes of the recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation that unexpectedly affected many cattle feeding operations throughout Kansas and the Midwest was a sudden reduction in the availability of distiller’s grains. As many Americans heeded “stay at home” orders, demand for fuel, oil, and ultimately ethanol fell resulting in price declines that forced many ethanol plants to scale back production. The cattle feeding industry has relied heavily on distiller’s grains as the primary source of protein in both growing and finishing rations for many years. Distiller’s grains comprise 10-30% of many cattle rations depending upon the nutrient composition and price of other commodities. The reduced supply of distiller’s grains forced many cattle producers to look at traditional sources of protein, such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa and urea that many producers had not used for at least a decade. The prices of several common commodity protein sources (central, KS; obtained 4/28/2020) on a per ton and a cost per unit of protein basis are shown below. It is essential that producers evaluate protein sources on a cost per unit of protein prior to making purchasing decision. All of the traditional protein sources in the table were comparably priced on a cost per unit of protein basis ($0.44-0.49 /lb CP) with the exception of urea. However, urea must be used with caution, should not comprise more than 0.5 to 1.0% of the total diet on a dry matter basis, and it is generally recommended that urea be added into the ration using a premix or liquid to ensure that urea is appropriately mixed in the ration.

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

Cowherd Mineral Supplement Selection Tips: Phosphorus

By: Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., Beef Systems Specialist, Garden City, KS

Cattle producers are anxiously preparing for the upcoming grazing season. Among those preparations is selecting a mineral supplement. It can be challenging to select a mineral program, as there are many different products and mineral formulations currently available. When evaluating mineral supplements, the phosphorous concentration may be used as a guide to determine if the mineral fits the production stage of the herd and forage base. Continue reading “Cowherd Mineral Supplement Selection Tips: Phosphorus”

March 2020 Feedlot Facts

“Body Condition Scoring: It’s About More than the Score”

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

Body condition scoring is one of the most valuable management tools at the disposal of the cattle manager. This one number gives us a direct indication of an individual cow’s previous plane of nutrition and future reproductive capability. Although the individual body condition scores are important, we do not necessarily manage individual cows, we manage groups of cows. Thus, it is important for us to look beyond the individual scores and look at the distribution of body condition scores within the herd.

If we have a herd (Herd 1) with an average body condition score of 5 that is essentially characterized by the classic bell curve, with a few thin cows (3.5’s), the bulk of cows in the middle (4’s and 5’s) and few overconditioned cows (7’s) everything is good. Alternatively, we could have a herd (Herd 2) with an average body condition score of 5 that is essentially the result of a few thin cows (3’s) and some over conditioned cows (6’s and 7’s). Body conditioning scoring also has more value when it is done on the same group of cows at multiple times during the production year. If Herd 2 was scored at calving and had been previously scored at weaning and had an essentially normal distribution (similar to Herd 1), we need to ask ourselves what happened. Did we change anything? Although these examples are somewhat extreme, they illustrate that we have to look beyond the individual body condition scores of cows at one point during the production year to get the most of body condition scoring.

A quick reference guide to body condition scoring may be accessed and downloaded at https://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/MF3230.pdf.

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

February 2020 Feedlot Facts

“Cow Nutrition: Protein, Energy and Forage Availability”

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

Protein supplementation is important, but there is more to cow nutrition than simply ensuring that the cow’s protein requirements are met and that we have supplied the rumen microbes with sufficient nitrogen to digest the low-quality forages that sustain our cows through the winter months. Most cattle producers know and appreciate the value of protein supplementation, but often overlook energy. Although, protein supplementation does impact energy status by enhancing digestibility and intake of low-quality forages.

The benefits of protein supplementation are not fully realized by the cow if forage availability (supply) is limited. Both protein and energy requirements steadily increase during gestation and post-calving. Thus, there are many production scenarios, where both protein and energy may become limiting or where energy becomes more limiting than protein, minerals or vitamins.

I have found that producers often attribute negative production outcomes, such as higher percentage of open cows, with their previous protein supplementation protocols or mineral and vitamin deficiencies. Protein, minerals and vitamins are important components of cow nutrition, but in many cases energy deficiency may be the more likely cause. Energy status of grazing beef cows is essentially a function of forage availability in most situations.

The most basic way to think about forage availability is to ask yourself “Does each cow have all she can eat in the pasture or field?” If the answer to that question is “No” then energy is likely the most limiting factor in your production system. There are many ways to address situations where energy has become limiting. Feeding hay to replace grazed forage, moving to a new pasture or field of stalks or feeding combination supplements that provide both protein and energy are all strategies that may used to increase energy status.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.