The winter seems relentless with another blast of cold area dipping into the south in early March. Now is the time cattle producers are looking for 50F+ daytime temperatures with just enough rainfall for cool-season grasses to kickoff spring growth. This latest system brought much needed moisture into the state; yet, the cold is continuing to put pressure on hay based diets to meet the nutritional demands of cow herds that have started calving.
The graph below, representing the northern one-half of Arkansas, shows how often the wind chill temperature fell below beef cow lower critical temperature (LCT) since December 1, 2013. For the most part, the winter period has been dry across Arkansas. Just over 80% of the days have been dry. While ranchers need soil moisture to improve, the lack of winter precipitation has been beneficial to cow comfort. As noted in a blog in early December, cows with a winter hair coat are within their ‘comfort zone’ at temperatures as low as 32F. This comfort zone is even lower for cows with a heavy winter coat. However, very cold temperature has made its way into the deep south on several occasions, creating cold stress for cow herds, despite having a dry hair coat. While conditions vary across the state, analysis of weather data from a reporting station in northern Arkansas showed 3 periods (9 to 15 days in length) of conditions 15F below LCT. Nearly one-half the month of February across the state was below cow LCT, a period when cow nutritional needs are increasing as calving approaches or begins. As a reminder, cow energy needs increase 1% for each degree below LCT. Cows on marginal quality hay diets with little to no supplemental feed are showing the impact of this cold stress through loss of body fat (condition score).
With calving season underway for many herds and breeding season to begin in a few months, here are a few management considerations.
- Separate cows into feeding groups according to body condition. Cows that are excessively thin, especially young females, may not recover in time for spring breeding; therefore, the financial aspect of feed management for extremely thin females must be considered.
- Ramp up supplemental feeding programs as cows begin calving. This is particularly important for herds without spring pasture.
- Producers using tubs and liquid feeds for supplements will need to provide supplemental grain/byproduct high energy feeds as lick feeds don’t supply enough supplemental energy for lactating cows or for periods of cold stress.
- Do not allow cows to graze spring pasture until there is sufficient forage accumulation to support heavy grazing activity. If hay supplies are limited, substitution of grain for hay may be necessary until pasture forage becomes readily available.
- Feed magnesium to cows that will be calving during March on cool-season grass pastures.
- Regularly evaluate cow body condition from now through breeding. As breeding season approaches, evaluate the feasibility of ramping up feeding of moderately thin cows and the feasibility of short-term (48h) calf removal. These practices do not guarantee significant improvements in breed-up but may be worth trying as labor and finances permit.
- Use early pregnancy detection methods (ultrasound, blood test) to determine further management of cows that did not breed back.
As a final reminder, body condition at calving is critical to calving interval or overall pregnancy rate for a short breeding season. Winter weather in Arkansas is inconsistent; so, be vigilant at paying regular attention to cow condition and 5 to 7 day forecasts. Loss in body condition this winter may have partially been avoided or rate of condition loss slowed by good nutritional management (feeding gestating beef cows high quality hay or moderate quality hay with 3 to 5 lbs grain during cold stress). Most of the temperature departures that created cold stress was associated with cold air, not cold air plus a wet hair coat. In addition, 60% of winter days had substantial windchill (> 5 MPH wind) with an average daily temperature of 40F during those days; therefore, access to wind barriers could had made a difference as well.
Prepared by: Shane Gadberry, Associate Professor
John Jennings, Professor – Extension Forages
Spring oats (not winter oats) may provide a fairly quick spring forage crop. Other forage management options to improve spring pastures include improved grazing, fertility management, weed control, and deferred grazing to allow other winter-damaged fields to recover. Spring oats are an option where no winter annuals were planted in fall. Planting winter oats or winter wheat this late may not be a good option. These forages require a short-day, cold temperature stimulus called vernalization to produce a seedstalk and seedhead. Late planted winter wheat and oats may not become properly vernalized and would produce low yield. Spring oats can produce a good forage crop, but must be planted early. The recommended timeframe for planting is mid-February to mid-March. Seeding rate is a minimum of two bushels per acre up to three bushels per acre. That is a rate of 64-96 lbs/acre. Seed of spring oats is available through several seed distributors in Missouri that supply agricultural dealers in Arkansas (Green Seed in Springfield and Missouri Southern Seed in Rolla are two examples). Varieties of spring oats include Jerry, Legett, Ogle, and Horsepower. Do not plant “feed oats” because the seed quality is unknown and there is a high likelihood of the seed being winter oats. Seed should be planted like wheat. It can be drilled or broadcast on a tilled seedbed. Forage growth development will be faster on a tilled seedbed than when no-till drilled into sod. Plant ½ to 1 inch deep. Apply 50-60 lbs/acre N at planting. Forage yield of well-established stands will average 2,000 to 3,000 lbs/acre of dry matter. Earlier planted stands have a greater yield potential than late planted stands. Oats mature rapidly when spring temperatures begin warming. Grazing can begin when the forage is 8-10 inches tall. It is important to not begin grazing until the stems begin to elongate (similar to 1st hollow stem in wheat). Hay should be harvested when the plants reach the early head stage. There is no appreciable increase in dry matter after that point, but forage quality drops rapidly as the crop becomes more mature. Waiting until the early dough stage results in low quality forage and will increase rodent damage in stored hay.
Dr. Tom Troxel Dr. Michael L. Looper
USDA Forecasts of Beef Supplies
Beef: US beef supplies for next year are still expected to decline sharply and the most recent update forecasts total US beef production in 2014 to decline some 1.472 billion pounds (-5.7%) compared to 2013 levels. The decline in total output reflects expectations for a sharp reduction in the number of cattle coming to market. Supplies of cattle on feed remain limited and the expectation is for placements to remain constrained for much of 2014. Demand for replacement heifers remains strong and this should limit the number of female calves going into feedlots.
USDA indicated that they raised domestic production mostly because they now think steer carcass weights in 2014 may be a bit higher than earlier thought. There was some expectation earlier in the fall that the removal of Zilmax could cause steer weights to drift below year ago levels but that has not yet happened. However, it is not entirely clear that the industry will continue to advance weights higher in 2014. After all, there is a push to develop programs that are ractopamine free and thus would open opportunities in markets that so far ban US beef on that basis. Also, it is possible that part of the reason weights continued to perform well this fall is because feedlots placed more yearling on feed during the summer months than a year ago. It remains to be seen how steer weights will fare once placements return to a more normal placement pattern (Source CME Group).
Arkansas bucks national decline in cattle numbers
Arkansas’ cattle numbers are recovering nearly two years after the start of a drought that caused $128 million damage to the state’s beef industry, while national numbers plummet to their lowest levels in more than 60 years. The number of cattle nationwide declined to 87.7 million head in January, the smallest since 1951, but Arkansas is continuing to buck the trend, with the January count up 4 percent from the year-earlier count to 1.66 million head, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Due to the 2012 drought, the 2013 Arkansas cattle inventory declined 4 percent and the national cattle inventory declined 2 percent. However, with rains returning in 2013, the Arkansas cattle inventory recovered to about the cattle inventory level of Jan. 1, 2012. As of Feb. 11, Arkansas was 99.66 percent drought-free. A year ago, nearly half the state suffered from drought. In 2012, the state was drought-free according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report issued April 24. By May 29, all of the state had some drought classification.
Arkansas beef cow numbers increased from 851,000 head in 2013 to 882,000 in 2014. Other states with a 4 percent or greater increase in beef cow number included Kansas, Mississippi, New York and Pennsylvania. With drought deepening in California and still affecting other western states, the U.S. cattle inventory will continue to face difficulty recovering.
Nationwide, beef producers are starting to show some signs of expansion. The number of beef replacement heifers was up 2 percent or 5.5 million head. Arkansas beef cattle producers are also optimistic about the future — they increased the number of replacement beef heifers by 6.2 percent. It takes time to rebuild the cow numbers but it starts with retaining heifers and it appears the cattle producers are beginning the process with the 2013 heifer crop. Beef cow replacements numbers have declined for many years. With an increase in beef replacement in 2013, there is an outside chance we could see an increase in beef cow numbers in 2015 or 2016, but much will depend on what happens with corn and feed prices, and rainfall.
Arkansas beef cattle producers maybe a step ahead of the nation. With the smaller national herd, decrease in supply with an increase in demand for beef both domestically and foreign, beef prices are expected to be higher in 2014 than in 2013. Cost of feed is expected to be lower than in recent years. If Arkansas cattle producers can manage their cost, profits can potentially be higher than in recent history.
In Arkansas, the calf crop for the full year of 2013 was 760,000, unchanged from 2012. The 2013 calf crop for the U.S. was 33.9 million head – the smallest since 1949. All cows and heifers that have calved, at 890,000 head, were up 3 percent January 2014, and beef cows were at 882,000 head, up 4 percent. All heifers weighing 500-pounds and more were up 6.2 percent to 137,000 head. Steers were up 4 percent at 135,000 head and calves weighing less than 500 pounds were down 2.7 percent to 360,000 head.
During 2013, Arkansas experienced normal rainfall, producing adequate amounts of forage. This, along with strong selling prices in 2013, may have caused Arkansas beef producers to sell light weight calves — those less than 500 pounds — rather than graze excess forage to improve weights and hopefully profits, especially calves weaned in the fall.
The 2014 cattle and calf inventory is nowhere near the record numbers set in 1975. In 1975 there were 2.68 million all cattle and calves, 1.35 million cows and heifers that calve and 1.26 million beef cows.
For more information about cattle production, visit www.uaex.edu or www.arkansas-livestock.com or contact your county extension office. Please note that any bookmarked pages or publications at www.uaex.edu will be changing in the next few months.
Paul Beck, Professor – Animal Science
As input costs (fuel, fertilizer, hay string, equipment, etc.) go up, it is only natural to attempt to contain cost by cutting corners. Cost of hay and other conserved forages is one of the major expenses in carrying a cow. It is estimated that winter feeding costs are about 30% of the total cost of running a cow. All too often this cost reduction from cutting corners comes at the expense of the management of our hay meadow.
Fertilization is estimated to be 70% of the total cost of producing hay and with fertilizer costing around $385/ton for ammonium nitrate, $460/ton for potash, $523/ton for diammonium phosphate and $38/ton for lime, it is easy to see why a producer would cut out fertilization. But what are the consequences for this decision? Research we conducted on producer farms in Lafayette, Hempstead, and Nevada counties in bermudagrass hay meadows indicate that hay yield is increased from 650 pounds per acre to over 2,000 pounds per acre each cutting when 150 pounds of ammonium nitrate (50 units of actual N/acre) is applied after every harvest (28-day harvest interval) even though phosphorus and potassium were applied to all plots. Enterprise budgeting with this indicates that cost per pound of hay (including all overhead and fixed costs) for the unfertilized hay is $0.13/pound compared with $0.05/pound for the fertilized hay, because equipment costs incurred were the same if the cutting interval is maintained at the recommended 28-days. But, nobody I know would cut their hay at 28-day intervals for only 650 pounds of hay! In order to maintain economic equipment use and to spread the cost of equipment operation over more pounds of hay, the cutting interval for unfertilized hay would be extended. It is possible that for unfertilized fields there will be only two hay harvests per season instead of the normal four with fertilization. Fertilized bermudagrass harvested at 4-week intervals normally is about 12% crude protein and 60% total digestible nutrients (which would meet the requirements of a cow in any stage of production), while bermudagrass harvested twice per season will be 10% crude protein and 50% total digestible nutrients (adequate for only a dry pregnant cow). The cost of supplementation (figured on a least cost basis) would make the cost of ‘cheap’ unfertilized hay 25 to 30% more expensive than the well managed ‘expensive’ hay!
It is commonly thought that we really only see a yield response when we put out nitrogen fertilizer and we can forgo the use of phosphorus, potassium, and lime (mining these nutrients from the soil). Research conducted by Rocky Lemus at Mississippi State University found that application of nitrogen only (seasonal yield of 9,200 pounds/acre) to bermudagrass resulted in 75% of the yield obtained with application of nitrogen, lime, and potassium (seasonal yield of 12,000 pounds/acre). But yield reduction is only part of the story, in only 3 years the weed population of plots that did not receive potassium or lime increased to over 50%, increasing the need for herbicide use and creating other problems! Plant populations in poorly managed hay fields change to lower quality grasses (sage grass, bahiagrass), broadleaf weeds, and may result in increases in potentially toxic species (groundsel, dallisgrass).
As we let our hay crop mature, we know there will be a reduction in digestibility and thus an increase in supplementation costs. Mature hay is also not as palatable which leads to increased waste in hay feeding. The greatest hidden cost may be due to issues with toxicity. This year conditions were ideal for formation of fungal alkaloids in mature dallisgrass pastures and hay. Numerous complaints have been expressed about cows being fed hay that developed ‘dallisgrass staggers’ an issue that develops when cattle consume hay containing dallisgrass seeds infected with fungal ergot. Symptoms include muscle tremors and a staggering, ‘goosestepping’ gait. There is no cure for this except removal of cows from affected forage. Death can occur in many instances before symptoms are noticed. Dallisgrass is a wonderful forage that is both palatable and high quality …but mismanagement can result in drastic consequences. Considering the high price of cattle, the best option is to produce well-managed, high-quality hay to avoid these problems.
Regarding PEDv blog released 2/12/14 - This is to clarify what an entry permit means in regards to an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI). If a person from Arkansas goes to Oklahoma or any other state and purchases a show hog a veterinarian in that state would be contacted to write an ICVI for entry into Arkansas. The veterinarian that issues the ICVI would call my office and give Arkansas Livestock and Poultry information on the movement of the show hog into Arkansas. The entry permit is something that the vet does to give my office knowledge of the movement of the hog before it arrives in Arkansas. An ICVI is commonly called a health certificate.
George Pat Badley, DVM
AR State Veterinarian