BeefTalk: Good cattle-working facilities should be a high priority – High Plains Journal: Livestock

By Kris Ringwall, NDSU Extension Service

Much debate surrounds this question: “How many times should a cow be in a chute?”

The answer rests with the objectives of each management structure. Yet, setting aside the concept of survival of the fittest, producers do need to gain access to individual cows at some point.

Some producers have corrals but no defined working facilities and no chutes; thus, the cows never enter a chute. Other producers gather cows once, when separating the current year’s calf crop, and the cows may not see the chute.

In fact, some might say once is too many, and you should sort calves off as convenient.

Generally, cows that need to be culled need to be sorted. Many cattle producers gather cows and calves, wean, pregnancy check, sort and send the cows back to pasture or winter paddocks. Producers who vaccinate their cows put the cows through the chute prior to breeding and perhaps prior to calving.

As pairs are moved to summer pasture, the calves may be worked, but generally, the cows are not run through a chute. Producers using artificial insemination may work the cow two, three or more times, depending on the synchronization schedule utilized and how a producer handles the cleanup breeding.

So, depending on management, cows may come into a chute zero to six times a year: once for weaning and pregnancy checking, twice for vaccinations and three times for breeding.

At the Dickinson Research Extension Center, cattle are worked quite frequently because we need to collect data for research projects. But, as the center has shifted from intensive cattle production to extensive cattle production, certain managerial questions arise. The first question for the purpose of general management is: “How often are the cows gathered?”

One driving point, herd health, requires the cows to be in the chute twice a year. Essentially, mature cows should have a pre-calving vaccination protocol as well as a pre-breeding vaccination protocol, with both dates dependent on the calving season.

For the center, bull turnout is Aug. 1, with a May 10 expected start of the calving season. The mature cows receive pre-calving vaccinations in late March and pre-breeding vaccinations in early to mid-July. The early to mid-July vaccination coincides with pasture rotation as the cows finish their first rotation off a twice-over grazing system. This timing allows for appropriate time prior to bull turnout, according to the vaccine label.

The third time the cows would be in the chutes at the center would be the conclusion of the summer grazing twice-over system in mid- to late October. For most cattle producers, this time would be an opportunity to process the calves and weigh, condition score and pregnancy check the cows. For some herds, calves are weaned at this time, but for many herds, the cows and calves simply are returned to a late-fall pasture such as crop aftermath, and the calves are weaned at a later date.

The center has switched from a November weaning date to a mid-December weaning date for the 2- and 3-year-old cows (cows with their first or second calf) and a mid-January weaning date for the older, more mature cows. We hope this will give calves an introduction to winter alongside their mothers, and time to adjust to the colder weather and increase their willingness to readily consume harvested forage.

Another advantage is labor. With May-born calves, traditional weaning in November increases the labor requirement. When freshly weaned calves are not sold directly at weaning, owner responsibility for care greatly increases. By delaying weaning until after the holidays and into mid-January, the labor fit is better.

Some even would say we could go longer, but the center has the facilities to bring calves home for three-plus months for 1 to 1.5 pounds per day gain from forage diets prior to going out to crested wheatgrass the first of May. The target is to have steers on the rail at 22 months of age and breed yearling heifers in August. Both goals are achievable on forage-based diets.

The bottom line: Producers need to plan ahead for cattle-working days, even in extensive beef operations, and make an investment in good, secure cattle-working facilities. If cow-calf operations have an obvious weakness, it oftentimes is that the working facilities are simply not sufficient.

Actually, the discussion of working cows is irrelevant if facilities don’t exist. Perhaps, given the good calf prices the last couple of years, investing in cattle facilities would be a good choice. It is good for the cattle and the people who work the cattle.

May you find all your ear tags.

Source: BeefTalk: Good cattle-working facilities should be a high priority – High Plains Journal: Livestock

A Living Barn

A Living Barn

Protect cattle from winter weather; turn a profit on your investment.

Angus Glen Farms, a registered-Angus operation in upstate New York, uses no barns, lean-tos, windbreaks or any other man-made structure to protect cattle during harsh New York winter weather. Instead, the 100-head farm uses growing and appreciating tree stands.


Affectionately referred to as “living barns,” Brett Chedzoy, owner of Angus Glen, says when he calculated the cost of building a shelter structure vs. investing in the natural resources (trees) around him, it was clear that dense conifer tree stands were the more cost-effective option.


Because they employ a naturally growing and often already-existing resource, living barns are a cost-effective way of providing shelter for livestock, says Chedzoy. A living barn or wooded shelter area can be created from natural wooded areas already on the farm or ranch or from plantation trees. Yet tree age and size will be a factor in designating appropriate living-barn areas.



Living-barn size is also relative to the operation’s needs and the number of times the area is used, says Brett Chedzoy.

“The value of a living barn as a shelter is proportional to the size of the trees and the density of the trees,” Chedzoy explains.


Obviously, well-stocked areas of larger trees offer the best winter protection.


Living-barn size is also relative to the operation’s needs and the number of times the area is used, says Chedzoy.


“If the animals fit into it during a bad winter storm, it’s big enough,” he advises. “If they can be protected by the trees, it’s big enough, but bigger is better because you want the animals to be able to move around.”


Bunching cattle under the same trees too often will stress the cattle and stress the trees, he emphasizes.


“If one area repeatedly takes abuse, you may start to lose those trees.”


Chedzoy also mentions living barns can be created/managed as shelter for things other than cattle. He lists timber, windbreaks, aesthetic beauty, wildlife habitat and shade for farm machinery as alternative uses.


Managing partner of Black Queen Angus Farm LLC in Berlin, N.Y., Morgan Hartman says in addition to using his living barns as wintertime shelters for the last 10 years, he also includes wooded streambeds in his summer grazing rotation for hot, humid weather.


He cites a week in July that had temperatures in the low to mid-90s and humidity around 85%-90%.


“The cattle did fine because they were in the shade. They had access to water. They were grazing in the middle of the day,” says Hartman.


He partly attributes the grazing behavior during high-heat periods to his holistic planned grazing strategy, but doesn’t discount the advantage of having plenty of shade and water for the cattle.


Besides providing protection in the winter, the trees that comprise the living barn are actually appreciating assets to the farm or ranch.


Chedzoy says, “Trees are growing, and they’re therefore increasing in volume and usually in value, as well. The bigger trees get, the more they’re worth. They are going from being a little tree that’s worth nothing, to a pulpwood-sized tree that’s worth a little bit, or a firewood-sized tree that’s worth a little bit, to a saw-timber tree that can become quite valuable.”


Lately, when doing thinning cuts amongst his conifer trees, Hartman has found the wood-shavings market to be profitable.


“The living barn is an asset that will appreciate over time versus depreciate like most roofed structures would,” Chedzoy concludes.


For a more in-depth look at using living shelters, see the full story in the December-January edition of the Angus Beef Bulletin.
comment on this story

Editor’s Note: Paige Nelson is a freelance writer and cattlewoman from Rigby, Idaho.

Source: A Living Barn

If the program fits, bear it

By Tamara Choat

    They’re not names from a fairy tale. Marketing programs such as GAP, NeverEver3 and NHTC are creating ways for cattle producers to tell their stories, access foreign markets and add value.

    Over the last decade the roster of value-added and process-verified programs in the cattle industry has grown from a few, mostly affidavit-verified systems into a wide lineup of options — some even influenced by divisive organizations like the Humane Society of the United States. Today’s marketing programs are reaching deeper to create premium beef products — labeled and verified as such — which are targeted to consumers demanding more information, more individualization and more involvement in their food.

    The market growth of these “program cattle” seems to beg the question whether conventional production could become a way of the past. Or at least it may appear to some people that the tail is trying to wag the dog.

    Steve Peterson owns MPK Land & Livestock, which has a finishing lot in Lebanon, Kan., as well as other interests in the boxed beef, farming and cattle sectors. He has been involved with certification programs since 2005, in particular non-hormone-treated cattle (NHTC) destined for European markets. Peterson started on a small scale with a few trial pens of NHTC and has grown enrollment to where the majority of his 5,000-head feedlot capacity is program cattle procured through a network of ranchers, grow yards, grazers and finishers.

    “Value-added programs are the ones that work best for us,” he says. “A lot of feeders don’t want to spend the time to do the paperwork required to participate.”

    This year, due to the European debt crisis and shrinking buying power of the euro, he shifted his focus to Global Animal Partnership (GAP)-certified cattle destined for Whole Foods. A relative newcomer to the lineup, GAP certification is a tiered, five-step, animal-welfare-rating system developed by the GAP organization (not to be confused with the USDA voluntary audit called Good Agricultural Practices used by fruit and vegetable farmers).

    Jerry Wulf, of Wulf Cattle (formerly Wulf Limousin) of Morris, Minn., has been involved with program cattle for more than a decade, starting with feeding all-naturals for companies like Laura’s Lean Beef, Coleman Natural and Meyer Natural Angus Beef. His company spans industry segments from selling bulls and semen to raising stockers to harvesting fed cattle, and they supply all-natural and NHTC to Tyson on a weekly basis.

    Wulf says verified programs are a good fit for their operation for three main reasons:

    1. They feed cattle of known genetics.

    2. They have a network of genetics customers to buy calves back from.

    3. The geographic region where they finish cattle (they operate in Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska) has a lower corn basis, so any loses in efficiency can be marginalized by lower inputs.

    About 70 percent of the 60,000 cattle they market annually are program cattle, including verified natural, NHTC and GAP.

    Certainly the driver behind program cattle is they are worth more, although margins depend on the specific program, and prices fluctuate with the daily market just like conventional cattle. No good cattle buyer will tell you his exact margin, but research shows program calves should bring $5 to $10 per hundredweight above conventional cattle.

    “There’s definitely an economic benefit,” Peterson says. “But it does take a lot more time, and we give more for the cattle at the front end.”

    Build a base

    Those cattle can’t necessarily be found at a sale barn on any given day. The basis of all programs is to make a claim on the entire lifespan of an animal — not just starting at a given industry segment. Both Peterson and Wulf work to build relationships with ranchers who are willing to enroll and meet specific guidelines from calving forward. For that reason, although some verified cattle do run through the ring and video, most are bought in the country.

    “The challenge is in building the entire system,” Wulf says. “If you’re a rancher, you can’t just go do it without being aligned with someone who wants your calves. If you’re a feeder, you can’t just start feeding all-naturals without knowing where your supply is going. We didn’t just flip the switch and start to feed 45,000 program cattle a year.”

    But finding that continuum across the industry involves finding other producers who are willing to forego science, which offers opportunities to help cattle grow faster, produce more pounds of lean meat and prevent illness, in favor of a niche consumer base that deems this technology undesirable in their food.

    Leann Saunders is president of IMI Global, a leading third-party verification company for program cattle in Castle Rock, Colo. She has been involved with process verification since 1998, helping secure the first process-verification certificate issued from the USDA to a private beef company. Today she also serves as president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

    Markets first!

    Saunders says so much of program evaluation is about looking at “science” versus “accepted science,” which varies among different countries based on the development of their own systems and their acceptance of U.S. science.

    “It’s about a willingness to deliver to a market — it’s the give and take of ‘what you give up’ for ‘what you gain,’” she says. “Sometimes, that is very clear and sometimes it is not. More and more, with both domestic and global consumers, you see philosophy and science intermingled; it’s not as clear cut as it once seemed to be.”

    Protectionism shrouded in science is also becoming more frequent by importing countries, Saunders says. So even if the reasoning may not be valid in our perception, programs have been developed as a thoroughfare to meet the requirements.

    Regardless of the reason, those involved with program cattle agree on one thing: The consumer drives the market. Like it or not, Wulf says, as beef producers, we can’t “die on a hill of science,” if at the end of the day all we end up with is market share lost to other proteins.

    Tolerate differences

    “Not everything we consider sound science is going to be consumer accepted; there’s a sweet spot between sound science and the science our beef consumers of today are willing to accept,” he says.

    Business will always have a value-based component to it — regardless of whose values they are.

    “You may think a Volkswagen is the best car in the world to drive; I happen to think a Buick is better,” Peterson says. “Both vehicles will get you there in the same amount of time.

    “It’s like anything else, we have to adapt to the rules, play the cards we are dealt and acknowledge the other players.”

    And those increasingly analytical players aren’t just in the United States.

    “As consumers globally are starting to have more disposable income, they are looking for choices and certain assurances in the food they eat,” Saunders says. “We see more opportunities for producers with a willingness to differentiate and verify criteria, both domestically and internationally.”

    For some, the realities of raising program cattle may cast a shadow of regulation and change over what is often decades of “doing it the way it’s always been done.” Others see the light of increased consumer relations breaking through. Either way, these programs are entirely voluntary and appear to favor the opportunists.

    Regardless, whether the dog or the tail is doing the wagging, all beef markets will always be inherently connected.

    Choat is a freelance writer from Terry, Mont.

    A big disease problem in cattle this fall season: Anaplasmosis

    A big disease problem in cattle this fall season: Anaplasmosis


    This year, confirmed cases of anaplasmosis throughout Kansas and beyond are at some of the highest numbers veterinarians have ever seen. With the high incidence of cases, it is important for cattle producers to be aware of what causes the disease and how it can rapidly spread through herds.

    “I’ve been in the diagnostic lab for five years in the (K-State) College of Veterinary Medicine, and the number of positive reported herds in Kansas this summer with anaplasmosis is something we’ve never seen before,” said Gregg Hanzlicek, veterinarian and director of production animal field investigations for the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

    Anaplasmosis is a vector-borne disease that causes the destruction of red blood cells in cattle and other ruminants. The most common cause is a parasite called Anaplasma marginale. The organism enters the bloodstream and gets inside of red blood cells. The spleen then recognizes these red blood cells as a threat and attempts to purge them, which leads to the animal becoming anemic.

    Signs of infection

    Hanzlicek said many signs indicate an animal is infected with anaplasmosis, and producers should monitor their herds closely for these signs, which are all associated with anemia.

    “They can be open-mouth breathing and staggering,” he said. “Sometimes they will get a yellow tinge to the whites of their eyes or the vulva.”

    The disease can cause abortions in cows. Hanzlicek attributes at least four abortion cases last year to anaplasmosis.

    “One of the most common things is these animals become extremely aggressive,” Hanzlicek said. “This is because their brain is starved for oxygen due to the anemia, and therefore, not enough oxygen is reaching the brain.”

    He warned that while animals of all ages can become infected, the clinical signs will most likely only be exhibited by animals over the age of three years, with calves rarely showing clinical signs.

    Causes of infection

    Male dog ticks or wood ticks are the main carriers of anaplasmosis, Hanzlicek said.

    “Male ticks are what we call intermittent feeders,” he said. “This means they’ll feed on an animal, and then they’ll drop off to find another animal to feed on. If the first animal is infected, the tick will consume the bacteria, which reproduces in the tick’s body. The tick falls off and finds another animal that may not be infected. The tick then transfers the bacteria through its saliva while feeding on the uninfected animal.”

    Hanzlicek said in a recent Kansas Veterinary Diagnostic Lab study, researchers collected hundreds of ticks from around Kansas. More than 33 percent of all of the ticks collected tested positive for Anaplasma marginale.

    However, ticks are not the only transmitters of the disease, he said. Anything that transfers blood between animals can be a source of infection, including stable flies, horse flies, deer flies and mosquitoes.

    “Our activities when working cattle can also transmit the disease,” Hanzlicek said. “For herds that are already positive, one of the major ways this disease spreads from animal to animal is by not changing needles between animals.”

    Some ways to mitigate the risk of infection through human activities is to change needles, and disinfect tattoo pliers and dehorning instruments between animals.


    While most infected cattle will survive even if not treated, some will die from the disease.

    “One good thing about anaplasmosis is that there are several good injectable oxytetracycline products out there that will reduce the clinical signs and save some animals,” Hanzlicek said. “I would recommend producers call their veterinarian to diagnose the disease and utilize their advice on what products work best to reduce the clinical signs.”

    He stressed the importance of handling infected animals with extreme care and caution. Due to their anemic state, any added stress will sometimes cause older cattle to die from going to or through a chute.

    In addition to injectable antibiotics, Hanzlicek said there are several chlortetracycline products labeled for treating an active Anaplasma infection that producers can feed.

    “These products help in treatment of active infection in herds, and they can be effective in reducing clinical signs,” he said. “This is a feed-grade antibiotic, which means whatever it says on the label has to be followed exactly by the producer.”

    Producers should consult their veterinarian about using feed-grade antibiotics, he added. This is especially important because over the next year with the phasing out of non-medically important antibiotics, producers will have to receive a veterinary feed directive (VFD) from their veterinarian to use chlortetracycline to protect against anaplasmosis.

    Other factors to consider

    “Regardless if an animal is treated, if an infected animal survives, it will be a carrier for the rest of its life,” Hanzlicek said. “Therefore, it is going to be a source of infection for the rest of the herd.”

    If an animal is a carrier and is re-infected, it will not show the clinical signs the second time, he said.

    “That is really the only good thing about the disease is a lifelong immunity to showing clinical signs,” Hanzlicek said. Some research suggests that up to 16 percent of the calves born to positive anaplasmosis cows will also be positive anaplasmosis carriers at birth.

    Ensuring all new cattle in the herd are free of anaplasmosis by taking a blood test is crucial, he added. New arrivals should be quarantined until test results confirm that the disease is not present in the new animals.

    “Late summer and early fall are typically the peak time of year for observing the clinical signs,” Hanzlicek said. “It is important to remember there are other things that may kill adult animals or cause these clinical signs. If a producer sees any of the signs mentioned, contact a local veterinarian to assist with the diagnosis.”