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Beef Herd Management Precautions – Winter 2017-18

December 7, 2017


Fall 2017 was extremely dry for most of Arkansas.  Most of the state is currently in severe to extreme drought with burn bans issued for half the counties and little rain in the forecast.  The current winter forecast is above normal temperature with equal chances of being above or below average for precipitation.  Some things to consider this winter include:

Vitamin A – cattle producers that normally do not feed hay unit December or January had to start feeding hay as early as mid-October.  Hay is low in Vitamin A content and cows have a 3 to 4 month body reserve.  Long term hay feeding may lead to Vitamin A deficiency and cause problems with reproduction in the herd.  Cows may need up to 50,000IU of vitamin A daily.  Avoid using salt blocks this winter and supplement cows with a complete mineral mix that has at least 150,000IU vitamin A.  Vitamin A can also be administered as an injectable, but the high dose also requires a withdrawal time for slaughter.  Injectable vitamins should not be administered to mature cows if they need to be marketed within the withdrawal period.

Protect Hay Lots – fire danger is high.  Unintentional fires can be started with coal ambers from disposed fireplace ash.  Avoid storing all hay in a single location, use natural fire breaks (streams, roads) to separate hay stores when possible.  Man-made fire breaks can also be constructed.

Hay Quality – a warm and dry forecast will help minimize environmental stress; however, cows may still require supplementation to maintain body condition.  Harvesting hay on time during summer 2017 was difficult.  Overly mature hay will be low in protein and TDN.  Test hays to determine the right type of supplement.  Undernourishment during the third stage of pregnancy may reduce lifelong performance of offspring.

Avoid too much salt – Cows have a high salt tolerance so cattle producers will sometimes use salt to control intake of self-fed supplements.  Right now, producers are voicing more concern over dwindling water supply than dwindling hay stock.  High salt intake with restricted water intake could lead to salt toxicity.

Avoid water restriction – Pond water levels are getting low.  Deep mud can restrict access and reduce water consumption.  Shallow water can also freeze solid more easily.  A reduction in water intake will lead to a reduction in feed intake and productivity.  Monitor water supply and develop an action plan early.  Pregnant cows can consume 6 to 9 gallons per day, while lactating cows can consume 11 to 17 gallons per day, for a temperature range 40F to 70F.

Your hay is probably not average quality

November 28, 2017

This time of year, livestock producers are often seeking supplemental feeding advise from their county Extension office.  Too often, a description of hay quality is used as a proxy for a hay test.  The common descriptions we hear include “fertilized” and “average quality”.  The 2017 Arkansas Winter Feed Meetings illustrate that words aren’t a good substitute for a forage analysis.  The two images below illustrate the differences we see among hay test results and the average results among farms.  The first image below is a graph of the protein (cp) and total digestible nutrients (tdn) among 247 samples collected from 60 farms participating in the fall 2017 meetings.

2017 Winter Feed Meeting Hay Test Results

2017 Arkansas Winter Feed Meeting Individual Hay Test Results

The red ellipse represents the 95% confidence interval for protein (12.0 to 12.6%) and tdn (54.9 to 55.9%) averages.  This graph shows that most hay samples exist somewhere outside of ‘average quality’.  Another interesting characteristic is we observe some samples being 14 to 18% cp, but low in TDN (~50%).  The general relationship between cp and tdn is positive, so we could assume that fertilized forage should be greater in overall quality; yet, variation indicates we shouldn’t make numerical assumptions about fertilized or unfertilized hay crops.

The average quality within each of 60 farms is illustrated in the following graph.  Statistically, most farms cp and tdn average would not be different from ‘average quality values’ because there is a lot of within farm variation in hay quality.  From a practical sense, only 3 out of 60 farms bordered our confidence interval for ‘average’.

2017 Hay Test Results Averaged Within Farm

2017 Arkansas Winter Feed Meeting Hay Test Results Averaged Within Farm

As the title suggests, your hay is probably not average.  Visit with your local county Extension agent if you are interested in the nutritive value of your hay, how well it matches the nutrient requirements of the herd, and suggestions for supplemental feeding based on hay test results.  Routine hay analysis will cost approximately $18/sample and because of the large amount of within farm variation, it is best to test each hay lot separately and supplement accordingly.  Many county Extension offices have hay probes available for sampling and can assist with lab submission.



Hay Quality: Figure It Out

November 9, 2017

Below is a figure of hay test results from 5 farms that participated in a recent winter feed meeting.  This figure illustrates a few points.  First, the shapes correspond to different farms.  When figuring out how to supplement during winter, it is important to test all lots of hay separately as they vary in quality.  This will help match hays to feeding groups based on nutrient needs.  Second, the red lines are placed at the requirements for early lactating beef cows when requirements are expressed as a percentage of the diet.  In most cases, hays in Arkansas meet protein and energy needs for non-lactating cows, but many hays will not meet nutrient needs for lactating cows.  Hays in the top right quadrant meet or exceed the needs for lactating cows; whereas hays in the top and bottom left quadrants are either inadequate in energy (total digestible nutrients) or protein plus energy (total digestible nutrients).  Thirdly, the bottom right quadrant represents the most common supplemental feeding error producers make when supplementing without hay test results.  This quadrant represents hays that would be adequate in total digestible nutrients but inadequate in protein.  Supplements such as protein blocks and range meals are designed to correct this type of deficiency; however, we rarely see this type of deficiency in our winter feed meeting program.

Image of graph showing hay quality among farms compared to cow requirements

Hay Meadow Nutrient Depletion when Haying

November 1, 2017

According to Shane Gadberry, beef cattle specialist, “county winter feed meetings are in full swing here in Arkansas.” Dr. Gadberry noted “During a recent meeting, the conversation led from hay quality to fertilization following the statement – producers can’t afford to fertilize according to Extension recommendations.”

Fertilization and haying can become a futile cycle that results in diminishing forage quality over time. This occurs because most cattle operations have a designated hay field. When fertilizer is perceived too expensive, the amount applied is reduced. Over time, to achieve the same yield of bales per acre, harvest is delayed, hay quality suffers and supplemental feed costs rise. Since hay meadows are often dedicated fields, nutrients from hay feeding are seldom recycled to the hay meadow, creating a need to amend the soils with commercial fertilizers or animal manures.

So, how much fertilizer equivalent does haying carry from the hay field?

image showing nitrogen and potassium removal with hay

According to Dr. Gadberry, “The math illustrating the amount of ammonium nitrate (40.6 lb/bale) and potash (21.8 lb/bale) equivalently removed per bale and from hay meadows annually was alarming to the producer group.”

Don’t get caught in the ↓fertilizer – ↑harvest interval – ↓hay quality – ↑supplemental feed cycle. Use soil nutrient testing as a tool to determine N-P-K fertilizer needs. If soils have been depleted in nutrients over time, rebuilding in addition to replacing may be needed to restore field productivity and hay quality. Forage specialist, Dr. John Jennings, indicated “fertilizer prices are cheaper now than they have been in several years; it is a good time to catch up.”

Extension Launches Webpage Devoted to Cattle Working Facilities

October 5, 2017

The keystone of good animal welfare and beef quality assurance is cattle working facilities.  University of Arkansas’s beef cattle specialist, Shane Gadberry, working alongside county Extension agents across the state with support of the Arkansas Beef Checkoff are working together to bring a new perspective to this topic.  The webpage is a go to source to download the Extension publication, Cattle Working Facilities (MP239).  The webpage also provides details on pen size, feed bunk space, and shade area.  There are also links to equipment manufacturers.   The new perspective this webpage is offering is being captured at 50 to 250 foot above the ground.  The webpage connects visitors to video footage and still aerial images of working facilities captured using the Animal Science Department’s drone.  Anyone planning to build or update their facility can watch videos to get a birds-eye view of facility layouts other producers around the state have envisioned.  Dr. Gadberry sees this as just the beginning of what can be a very useful site.  The goal is to capture facilities that have some practical aspects and offer examples scaled from the smallest to very large operations.  Topography and existing infrastructure prohibits a one-size fits all approach to designs.  The goal with this project is to illustrate what others have done so their fellow cattle producers can glean from those ideas and adapt what fits their operation.  The web address is  . A person can navigate to the site by going to and click on the Farm & Ranch – Animals and Forages link then using the left navigation pane click the Beef Cattle – Beef Cattle Handling Facilities link.

How are you planning to feed hay this winter?

September 28, 2017
Feeding hay without the protection of feeders can result in 20% or greater hay waste. This can increase the cost of hay consumed by more than $30 per cow over winter. Consider using a bale feeder that has a metal sheet around the bottom or a feeder that cradles the hay in the center of the feeder to minimize waste. Unrolling hay is a good way to prevent excessive mud bog and disperse nutrients; however, UA demonstrations have estimated as much as 15% waste with unrolling. To reduce waste with unrolling hay, producers have devised methods to control waste. One method includes limiting the amount unrolled to no more than what is estimated based the herds daily intake. Another method involves placing a single strand electrified polywire down the middle of the unrolled hay swath causing the herd to stand and eat at the swath like standing at a trough, and the electrified wire also helps prevent cows using the swath for bedding.DSCN1156

What does a bale of hay weigh?

September 27, 2017

This 4×5 round bale of mostly bermudagrass weighed 730 lbs.  Other bales in the lot weighed from 718 to 756lbs.  This bale will feed one beef cow for approximately 22 days (assuming 20% feeding waste). file