A Few Reminders for Arkansas Cattle Producers Facing Their First Winter Weather Threat of the 2013-14 Season
Winter storm and ice warnings are in effect for much of Arkansas and precipitation is expected through Friday and to resume Sunday with highs in the low 30′s through the middle of next week. In Arkansas, winter temperatures can vary from week to week which makes the need to adjust feeding difficult to predict. Keep the following points in mind while caring for cattle during this first threat of winter weather.
- Food intake can increase 5 to 10%. This is important as it helps increase energy consumption. Make sure cows have free choice access to hay. For personal safety, put out several days worth of hay to minimize the amount of travel on icy roadways, and account for higher intakes when estimating how much hay to make available.
- Feed higher quality hay. Hay that is greater in protein and total digestible nutrients will have more available energy and greater consumption compared to low quality hay.
- Provide shelter. Two critical factors that influence the herd’s ability to cope is “wet and wind”. Cows with a normal winter coat cope well with temperatures as low as 32 F and much lower for breeds that grow a heavy hair coat; however, a wet coat increases a cows lower critical temperature to near 60 F (see table below), even though the cow has a winter coat. Wind is a important factor to consider due to the “wind-chill effect”, causing the environment to feel colder than the temperature measured on the thermometer. Cattle producers aren’t setup to keep cattle from getting wet during winter; however, wind-breaks, which reduce wind-chill are beneficial. Move cattle where they can easily access natural or man-made wind breaks.
- Provide supplemental grain or byproduct feeds. A common rule of thumb is 1% increase in energy intake for each degree below lower critical temperature (see example below). The challenge with wet cattle on a windy day with below freezing temperatures is even with supplemental feeds, cattle will likely utilize body energy reserves to stay warm. Therefore, supplemental feeding should continue for a period of time after conditions return to normal. A common practice is to continue supplementing an equal number of days after the inclement weather ceases. For example, if supplement is fed for 5 days due to inclement weather, supplement will continue to be fed for 5 additional days.
- Keep water available. Water intake and feed intake are related. If cattle can’t drink, this will affect their food intake and ability to cope with winter weather.
- Group cows according to needs. Cows that are near calving should be moved to areas that provide easier care during severe weather. Research in Arkansas has demonstrated incidence of calving is associated with changes in weather conditions. Thin cows and lactating cows will have a greater demand for energy than fleshy cows that are in mid- to late-gestation.
- Watch for mud after the thaw. Muddy conditions can affect food intake. In severe mud, food intake can be reduced by as much as 15 to 30%. This can affect restoration of energy stores after temperatures return to normal and the ground thaws. Make sure feeding sites are well drained, watch cattle feeding behavior to determine the difficulty in accessing the hay ring or feed bunk, and relocate feeding areas if mud becomes an issue.
Table of Lower Critical Temperatures (F) for
Beef Cattle Based on Hair Coat Condition
Hair Coat Description
Lower Critical Temperature (F)
Summer coat or wetted fall/winter coat
Normal winter dry coat
Heavy winter dry coat
|Pregnant cows in moderate to good body condition are wet
(59F LCT), the average 24 hour temperature is 22F, and the cows
are fed in an area blocking the wind, minimizing wind-chill.
The increase in energy demand is 37%, and this increased demand
is only expected to last for 5 days. The cows will be fed high
quality hay (14% protein, 58% TDN). Even with greater intake,
the cows will still have an inadequate energy supply. Not knowing
the long-term situation, 3 lb/cow corn will be fed in addition
to the hay. It is expected with high quality hay and a small
amount of grain supplement that the cows may still have a
little less energy in their diet than needed the next 5 days,
so for every day supplemented during bad weather, the same
number of days will be supplemented once the weather returns to
the cows normal comfort zone.
By Dr. Paul Beck
We are all bombarded with the propaganda that conventionally raised beef is not healthy or sustainable by media, society, and even some of our fellow producers. Organic, all-natural, and grass-fed beef is lauded as the only environmentally sustainable way to produce beef. While these are great marketing tools for niche markets, they do not fit two of the cornerstones of sustainability…namely economically feasible for consumers to purchase and capability to produce adequately to meet demand. Current technology enables the beef industry to produce 131% more beef than in 1977 with 70% fewer animals, utilizing less water and feed while producing less methane and carbon dioxide. If production was shifted back to a grass finishing industry like America in the 1880’s or countries like Australia or Argentina are known for (which incidentally are developing their own grain finishing capabilities), Jude Capper, noted sustainability consultant, estimates it would require 64 million more head of grass fed cattle than are currently needed in conventionally produced cattle. This would require millions more acres of pasture and much greater resource use (fuel, water, and fertilizer) to provide equivalent beef production to the consumers.
There are multiple tools that beef producers use to provide efficient economically sustainable protein to consumers. Growth promoting hormones and ionophores (compounds like Rumensin, Bovatec, or Gainpro) increase the rate of growth and feed efficiency of cattle. These are compounds that not only are available to the feedlot sector but can be used by Arkansas cow-calf and stocker producers as well. Research at the University of Arkansas Livestock and Forestry Research Station proves that growing steers implanted with growth promotants and supplemented with ionophores gained 40 pounds more than steers that did not receive these technologies, leading to increased beef production and improved economic sustainability. Ionophores are antimicrobial compounds that inhibit the growth of rumen microbes that disrupt ruminal fermentation; thus they help capture more feed energy. Implants increase muscle mass and decrease fat which is more energetically efficient for growing calves. These compounds are proven safe in production of our food supply. A common misconception about our beef supply is the estrogen content of beef from implanted beef cattle. Where a 3 ounce serving of beef from an implanted contains about 1.9 nanograms of estrogen, common foods like peas or soybean products contain 10 times that amount and cabbage contains 100 times that amount per serving. As far as these levels of hormone affecting development of our youth, a pre-pubertal boy produces over 41,000 nanograms of estrogen per day and a pre-pubertal girl over 54,000 nanograms.
Great strides have been made in the efficiency of beef production over the last 30 years, retaining beef’s status as a safe, affordable, and preferred staple in our larders. Most of the increase in efficiency has come from the stocker and finishing segments of our industry, but between 60 and 80% of the carbon footprint of beef production is in the cow-calf sector. Thus, the cow-calf sector is where future improvements in efficiency need to be made. In many instances, simple improvements in the husbandry practices we have in place at the local level can boost the efficiency of the entire beef production chain.
In closing, the beef industry can continue to provide a safe, affordable, and plentiful (and thus sustainable) product to consumers, as long as we have available the tools to do it. If we begin limiting technology for beef production (such as beta agonists or lean finely textured beef) then our ability to meet consumer demand will be limited as well.
Dr. Tom Troxel Dr. Michael L. Looper
Land Values Higher
According to a recent report from USDA, January 1, 2013 AG land values surged higher on record corn prices. Average cropland values topped $4,000/acre, up 13% over the prior year. Pasture values also increased, up to $1,200/acre, a 4.3% annual increase. Average farm real estate values reached $2,900/acres, up 9.4%. The largest land price hikes occurred in the oil/gas regions of the Northern Plains and Southern Plains, as well as the Corn Belt.
Managing an operation from a business perspective requires consideration of land value appreciation in addition to operating returns. While land appreciation is not cash in hand, it builds wealth and expands bank borrowing capacity. However, “past performance is not indicative of future behavior”. With deferred corn contracts now below $4.70/bushel, we will likely see cropland values lose some of their steam (Source: CattleFax).
Show me the money!
USDA’s Economic Research Service reported the breakdown of the 2011 U.S. food dollar and where it goes. The largest share of the dollar (32.2 cents) went for the services provided by foodservice operators. The word “services” does not include the food itself, just the services provided with that food. It is pretty remarkable that Americans can spend nearly one-third of their food dollars just for other people to prepare and deliver meals and then clean up afterward!
The next largest share is for processing at 22 cents. This one isn’t a surprise as much since very little of what we buy looks much like the product that leaves a farm. Virtually everything other than fresh fruits and vegetables must be processed in some way to make it more usable or preserve it long enough to reach a consumer in usable condition.
Food retailers got 12.2 cents of every food dollar, only 40% as much as was taken by foodservice establishments. That strikes as surprisingly small number given the level of investment and service provided by today’s food retailers. Walk into a modern grocery store (which is MUCH, MUCH MORE than a grocery store) and look at the breadth of the product offering. It is pretty astounding that we have all of those products available to us.
Finally, the farm and agri-business share of the dollar is just 10.3 cents. That seems a pretty small amount and some would say that its size shows the inefficiency of our food market system. One must realize that all of those other services are necessary to deliver the products that consumers want. If consumers did not want them, then the services would not be performed. That doesn’t mean that everything that is done is correct in the long run. There are a lot of failed ideas and efforts whose costs must be paid. But for every one of those there is a success that brings value to consumers.
In the long run, the U.S. agricultural and food system has performed remarkably well and we need to be careful about forcing it in culturally and politically popular directions. At the same time, we should not hesitate to offer consumers what they want. Organic? Raised locally? From “happy” animals? No problem as long as you are willing to pay the full cost of such characteristics which other consumers may not value. Our food system isn’t perfect but shows us another that is better (Source: CME Group).
Profit potential for the next two years
The combination of sharply lower corn prices (down 45% from a year ago) and livestock prices that remain near all time record highs has dramatically changed the profit outlook for producers going forward. Predictably, the response has been to reduce the number of beef cows that are sent to market each week.
Normally beef cow slaughter increases into November as more cull cows become available ahead of the winter. This year, however, cull cow availability is particularly tight. Several years of liquidation in the beef cow herd have caused producers to cull many unproductive cows from their herds. According to calculations from the Livestock Market Information Center, cow-calf producers are on track to have the best margins on record next year and producers will try their best to carry as many cows over the winter as they possibly can. Some parts of the country that were hit particularly hard by droughts in recent years have seen a dramatic reduction in their beef cow inventory.
The expectation is for beef cow numbers to remain very tight through the end of the year and into next spring. It is important to note that weather will remain a key driver for the market in 2014. While the motivation to expand is strong and calf prices are promising record returns, it will all mean little if we have another drought next year. After all, the profit potential has been quite strong in the last two years as well and producers have been retaining heifers.
The problem is that with drought ravaged pastures, it is impossible to expand the herd. For now, producers appear to be once again retaining heifers, which could limit the supply of beef next year (fewer livestock going into feedlots). The decline in cull cow slaughter also will limit the supply of lean beef available in the market. With fat trim prices about 70% higher than a year ago and lean beef prices that could once again test record highs, ground beef could be at a significant disadvantage in the meat case. One need only look at the ratio of ground beef prices to chicken breast recently to understand what will be the favored protein in the meat case next year (chicken; Source: CME Group).
The Animal Science Department at the University of Arkansas/Division of Agriculture released 4 new educational videos on its Vimeo.com channel. Each video is 3-4 min in length and tailored to give a brief overview of forage and pasture management aspects. The topics of the videos are 1) Obtaining samples from round and square bales; 2) Measuring the moisture of hay in the field before baling; 3) Inoculating legume seeds; and 4) Taking soil samples in pastures. These videos are aimed at producers who need a quick overview of procedures in forage and animal management. The videos are the first ones of a string of additional educational “how-to” footage we plan to produce on topics covering a multitude of aspects of livestock agriculture.
Since these videos have an educational purpose, we welcome any feedback from viewers to improve upon the presentation of materials and procedures shown in the future. The videos can be found at: https://vimeo.com/arkansasanimalscience/videos. If you have questions, contact Dirk Philipp at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In early October, 4-H’ers from Arkansas headed to Dallas to compete in the 1st annual Four State 4×4 Chute Out. The event was held at the State Fair of Texas and involved youth from Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The classes included: Team Roping, Breakaway Roping, Barrel Racing, and Pole Bending. This was an opportunity to have youth from the Four States area compete against one another in a variety of speed and roping events.
To be eligible to participate at this event, participants had to have shown in the above events either at the State 4-H Horse Show in Searcy or State 4-H Roping held in Benton. Arkansas was well represented, coming home with several top 5 placings, as well as the All-Around saddle winner. With an average of nearly 40 in each class, the top 5 from each class were invited back for the finals. Here is how Arkansas faired –
4th Place – Jordyn Plunkett, Grapevine, AR
2nd Place – Myles Neighbors, Benton, AR
3rd Place – Jessica Rowland, Bonnedale, AR
2nd Place – Britt Driggers, Pearcy, AR
4th Place – Lane Smith, Beebe, AR
All-Around Saddle Winner
Myles Neighbors, Benton, AR
If you missed the 2013 Arkansas Forage & Grassland Council Fall Forage Conference or want to review the presentations here’s your chance. Click on the Vimeo link listed below. Great conference everyone!
John Jennings – Extension Forage Specialist
Scattered frost across the state can turn a good forage deadly. Late summer rains brought on a flush of johnsongrass in many pastures and it became dominant in some fields. When johnsongrass becomes stressed from drought or frost, it can produce prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid) which is very toxic to livestock. Immature plants and regrowth following haying or grazing contain the highest levels. Light frosts that occur in fall can wilt tops of the plants causing them to become toxic. Prussic acid toxicity can kill cattle quickly, often before a producer has a chance to observe that the animal is under stress. Sorhgum/sudan, greengraze, grain sorghum, and forage sorghum can also develop prussic acid after frost. Frost-damaged johnsongrass should not be grazed for at least seven days after the first killing frost. It is best to delay grazing until the frosted plants become completely dried out and paper brown colored. Do not graze it at night when frost is likely. To reduce risk even farther, don’t turn hungry cattle directly out on johnsongrass pasture. Make sure they have grazed other forages first or fill them up on hay.
Silage may contain toxic quantities of prussic acid, but it usually escapes in gaseous form while being moved and fed. If frosted forage is ensiled, allow fermentation to take place for at least six to eight weeks before feeding. Prussic acid dissipates as the plants dry out. Properly dried johnsongrass hay does not conatin prussic acid and is safe to feed.
For more information ask for FSA 3069 Prussic Acid at your county extension office.