Feeding Poor Quality Hay

Posted by Travis Meteer on http://web.extension.illinois.edu/oardc/eb275/entry_10699/

Remember what a miserable year it was trying to get dry hay put up? In west-central Illinois, the rainy weather made it near impossible. In the month of May, we recorded rainfall on 15 of 31 days. In June, rainfall was recorded on 19 of 30 days. Here at the Orr Research Center in Perry rainfall totaled 26.5 inches for the months of May, June, and July. That is 68% of the normal annual rainfall in just 3 months.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude there are copious amounts of poor quality hay to be fed this winter. So what should you be aware of? What can you do to offset the lower nutritive value of this year’s hay?

First, a producer should take time to visually appraise the hay. Go ahead and smell it too. Is it moldy? Does it smell musty? Are the stems big and thick? Are weeds present? Are they woody? Are they spiny or thorny?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then hay intake will be lower. Nutritive value of the hay will likely be lower as well. If the mold infestation is severe, I would not risk feeding it to pregnant or lactating cows. I would consider not feeding it at all. If you must feed it, dilute it or roll it out to allow the cows to pick what they want. Offer them plenty of other feed choices while feeding high risk hay.

Another lurking problem is ergot. Nearly every pasture I was in this spring had some level of infestation. As a result, be looking for black seed heads that will resemble mouse droppings. If you see this, consider not feeding the hay or diluting it with other feedstuffs that are not contaminated.

It would be wise to approach this winter feeding period with a ration that has several components if possible. A diet of hay only has too many risks this year. Hay alone will likely not meet nutrient requirements either. I would consider feeding cornstalks, corn silage, grains, and co-products with your hay. Look at your local bids for feedstuffs. Formulate a least-cost ration with three or four ingredients. This should help mitigate risk of cows consuming too much of a contaminated feed.

I would recommend feeding DDGS or a co-product blend when greater than 7 pounds of corn is needed. Negative associative effects can occur when feeding corn grain greater than 0.5% of cow body weight.

Table 1 and 2 show the amount and cost of supplementing hay with differing energy content.

Table 1. Amount and cost of supplement to meet energy requirements for gestating 1400lb. cow
Hay, TDNCorn, lbCorn, $DDGS, lbDDGS, $
46, low intake9.9$0.678.4$0.54

Corn Price = $3.80/bu.

DDGS Price = $130/ton

Low intake = 1.5% of cow BW instead of 2%

Table 2. Amount and cost of supplement to meet energy requirements for lactating 1400lb. cow
Hay, TDNCorn, lbCorn, $DDGS, lbDDGS, $
46, low intake11.9$0.819.6$0.74

Corn Price = $3.80/bu.

DDGS Price = $130/ton

Low intake = 1.5% of cow BW instead of 2%

Grinding poor quality forages can help increase intake. Be aware of the cost associated with grinding (normally around $10/bale). Also, grinding and mixing hay with other ingredients makes it more difficult for the cow to sort around dangerous components. Thus, it would not be wise to grind moldy or ergot-infested hay and incorporate at high levels of the diet.

Be mindful of the concerns of this year’s hay crop: lower nutritive value, potential mold or ergot contamination, and lower intakes. Understanding the quality of hay can help farmers save cost on supplement, ensure cow’s nutrient requirements are met, and avoid under-supplementing or over-supplementing that may cause poor BCS and subsequent reproduction.


Landowners should pay closer attention to grazing leases – High Plains Journal: Jennifer M. Latzke

Handshake deals are one of the hallmarks of the Western rancher.

But, lawyer Tiffany Dowell-Lashmet has seen how handshake deals and verbal agreements can fall apart when disaster strikes, especially in the case of grazing leases.

Dowell-Lashmet is an assistant professor and Extension agricultural law specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Amarillo, Texas, and she spoke at the Cattle Trails Cow-Calf Conference, Dec. 3, in Wichita Falls, Texas.

She gave 10 items that landowners and graziers should consider in any written agreement before grazing cattle.

For starters, any contract should spell out payment of rent, whether it’s a cash lease, a set price per head per acre, or crop share, or a hybrid of the two, she said.

“You want to be very clear,” Dowell-Lashmet said. She gave the example that a landowner might want to put into the contract if cattle prices rise, or if cattle gain more while grazing, there is a bonus. When and how rent is due should also be spelled out, as well as interest and penalties for any late payments.

Any good lease should also describe in detail the subject of the lease, she said. It should detail if any areas are excluded, how and when can property be accessed, if anyone else has rights to access the property for hunting purposes, and even down to limiting the stocking rates, breed and size of cattle. Many people forget about putting down specifically what the land can be used for by the leaser, and if the owner has a separate hunting lease on the same land, it can be in conflict if it’s not spelled out.

Especially important in rough times when drought may affect the amount of feed and water available to cattle, Dowell-Lashmet said, a lease that protects both parties includes who is responsible for the care of livestock. And include more detail than “landowner must provide adequate feedstocks.”

“Put in there how much feed per cow per day or per week, and the exact type of feed,” Dowell-Lashmet said. Especially if you’re an absentee grazier and reliant on the landowner to care for the cattle, you need to be assured they are feeding what they say they are feeding the cattle, she added. So, consider asking for sales receipts of any feedstocks, or regular photos of the feed and calves, which are easy enough to share with the click of the phone now. Also, put in an incentive for high daily gain or low death loss, she advised.

“Build in the bonus so that he’ll have skin in the game,” she said.

One thing that many landowners forget is to put into their lease the right of inspection, because unless this is reserved, the landowner gives up his right to enter the property during the lease, Dowell-Lashmet said.

“Be sure to reserve when you can enter the property, for what reason, and how much notice you would have to give,” she said.

In any lease there also has to be a line that details liability and indemnification so that both parties are covered, she said. Also, the maintenance of any fixed assets and the status of the mineral rights are often overlooked in agreements, she added.

Finally, Dowell-Lashmet said that disaster contingencies should be included in the lease, especially helpful if drought or fire could destroy the grass being leased.

“And, of course, you want to be sure to include common legal provisions regarding choice of forum and dispute resolution,” she said. “And, you’ll want to have this professionally reviewed because this is a business deal. You need to have an attorney review any lease before signing.”

For other tips, Dowell-Lashmet writes the Texas agriculture Law Blog at http://agrilife.org/texasaglaw/.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com

Source: Landowners should pay closer attention to grazing leases – High Plains Journal: Jennifer M. Latzke

Muddy Conditions Continue

Posted by Travis Meteer

While the moderate temperatures have been welcomed, the mud that has accompanied them has not. Farmers are ready for a good hard freeze. After all, many rely on frozen ground to help keep animals out of the mud while they are more confined for winter feeding. Most farmers will tell you, with a smile on their face, that frozen ground is “poor man’s concrete.” Thanks to a think winter haircoat, cattle prefer cold, dry winter weather in comparison to cold, wet, and rainy.


One of the downfall’s to mud is the increase in energy requirement for cattle to navigate the terrain. After all, when you “boot up” and head out to tromp through the mud you are using more energy to travel the same distance through mud too. As you track through a muddy lot you are normally out of breath and tired. Same goes for cattle… they are getting a workout too.

The added energy needed results in less going to weight gain and performance. In 1991, University of Nebraska researchers published common numbers associated with loss of gain due to mud.

Mud depth Loss of Gain

Declaw deep 7%

Shin deep 14%

Hock deep 28%

Belly deep 35%

Another problem associated with extended muddy conditions is foot rot. The constant moist environment can lead to breakdown of the skin around the hoof. This opens the tissues up to bacteria and can lead to infection. Swelling and lameness are usually the first signs that an animal has foot rot.

A dryer, less saturated area for cattle is the answer to maintain cow performance and avoid health issues. Often times a pasture is considered as the savior. Stockpiled pastures with good drainage can be a big help. However, stocking too many animals in a small pasture area or the trailing of animals across pastures can cause disturbance of the soil. If tracked up, the forage stand will be reduced and opened to weed pressure in the following growing season.


Managing mud is a tough task. Sure we would all love to have concrete feeding pads or hoop barn sturctures to get cattle up out of the mud. While these are options, they are expensive. If you continually are dealing with muddy conditions, they could be worth the investment. Geotextile fabric and rock will be a good investment for temporary or mid-term mitigation of muddy, wet conditions.

For those dealing with short term mud challenges, picking well drained areas of the farm to concentrate feeding is best. Also, de-stocking an area and spreading cattle out on cornstalk or tillable acreage temporarily may help. University of Illinois research conducted at the Dudley Smith research farm shows no negative agronomic effect to grazing cornstalks. Removing cattle from cornstalks in mid-winter to allow the freeze-thaw-freeze period to occur will help reduce compaction. Anyways, this is just another reason to have cows grazing cornstalks. If cows are trampling cornstalks, providing extra forage and supplement may be necessary. Don’t over stock these areas or mud and compaction could still be a problem.

Another option is to bed cattle. Straw, cornstalks, soybean stubble, wood chips, etc. help cattle stay up out of the mud. Cattle feeding areas exposed to the outdoors will likely need bedded. Be mindful that this may be a temporary solution as the more organic matter added to the pen can create more mud after time. Deep bed packs work well to keep building mounded areas for cattle to stay on “high ground.” Lots of bedding will help, but it will also likely result in more manure hauling.

Managing muddy conditions is hard. Frankly, it sucks. It makes for longer, dirtier chores and seems to slow everything down on the farm. While there is no silver bullet for getting cattle out of the mud, it can be managed to an extent. Here’s to hoping we get a good freeze and some tame cold weather… so we can all benefit from “poor man’s concrete.”

5 factors affecting winter supplementation in beef cattle

5 factors affecting winter supplementation in beef cattle

As winter weather sets in, here are five factors to consider when supplementing the cow herd.

In South Dakota, we’ve been experiencing a mild December so far. With little snow cover, our cattle are still grazing on corn stalks, and aside from a few mild winter storms, we haven’t had to feed too much hay as of yet. Aside from keeping waterers chopped out, we’ve just had to worry about offering lick tubs as supplemental nutrition.

I realize that the weather can change on a dime, and as soon as a major blizzard hits or the typical South Dakota winter chill sets in, we will soon need to feed more hay and increase our supplementation of the cow herd, particularly as they enter late gestation.

When cattle get wet from snow and are exposed to colder temperatures and bitter winter winds, energy requirements increase in the beef herd. There are many factors that impact the type and amount of energy cattle may require, including these five critical factors:

1. Forage quantity

According to Steve Hammack and Ron Gill, Texas A&M University Extension beef cattle specialists, “The amount of available forage obviously affects the need for supplemental feed. If grazing or hay will be limited, take immediate action. Reduce the number of animals in order to lessen the need for supplemental feeding of the remaining cows. As forage supply declines, the opportunity for animals to selectively graze decreases, and so does diet quality. Then, supplementation may become necessary even if animal numbers are reduced.”

2. Forage quality“Poor quality forage has less than 6-7% crude protein (CP) and is low in digestibility, with less than 50% total digestible nutrients (TDN),” say Hammack and Gill. “These deficiencies limit the amount of such forage that an animal can eat. Because both consumption and nutrient content of poor quality forage are low, supplemental needs are high. The amount a cow can eat in a day ranges from as little as 1.5% of body weight for very low quality forage to near 3.0% for very high quality forage. The typical amount is 2.0-2.5%.”

3. Body condition

Hammack and Gill write, “The level of body condition (amount of fat) affects supplemental requirements. Low body condition markedly increases the need for supplemental nutrients, and meeting such needs often is cost prohibitive. Moderate body condition significantly reduces or eliminates the need for supplements. Fleshy cows generally need little if any supplement and the daily amount of forage required often can be reduced. If forage consumption is not reduced, higher production is possible or reserves of stored body energy can be maintained.”

4. Milking level

“Higher milking cows can consume somewhat more forage, but not enough to com- pletely satisfy extra needs,” say Hammack and Gill. “When forage quality is inadequate, higher milking cows need more supplement; from 50% to 100% more may be required for high versus low milk production in cows of the same body size.”

5. Age

“Young animals are still growing and require extra nutrients, but their body size is not as large as mature animals,” they write. “Because of their smaller body size, growing heifers cannot consume as much forage as mature cows. For these reasons, young females require higher quality diets than mature cows and often require more and different supplements.”

In an article for Texas AgriLife Extension, Hammack and Gill explain the various supplementation options and how to calculate how much is needed based off the above factors. Read the entire article here.

What are your strategies for supplementing your herd during the winter months? Share your management practices in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

The role of gender-sorted semen in rebuilding the beef herd – High Plains Journal: Livestock

By Justin Rhinehart, University of Tennessee Extension hpj.com

At the time of writing this article, many areas of the U.S. are experiencing a rebuilding phase in the cow-calf sector. There is a great deal of discussion about many aspects of this rebuilding phase, including how long or how rapidly it will continue, where the increase in cow numbers will concentrate geographically and whether the additional numbers will come from an expansion of conventional cow-calf production from established ranches or if it will come from the addition of new producers using what are considered to be unconventional methods.

In any of those rebuilding scenarios, or even if rebuilding slows to a crawl due to other market and environmental drivers, increased utilization of new technologies should be a focus for improving system-wide efficiency. Sex-sorted (aka gendersorted) semen for AI is one of those technologies that could enhance the rebuilding effort and then continue to improve production efficiency as the industry experiences other cycles.

The basics

Before discussing the application of a specific technology, it is a good idea to understand the basic mechanisms that make it possible. For sex-sorted semen, the ability to shift the gender ratio of a calf crop comes from the fact that gender is determined by the sperm cell that fertilizes the egg. Sperm cells that result in a heifer calf (XX) have more DNA than sperm cells that result in a bull calf (XY).

Of the several attempts to find ways to sort XX and XY sperm cells, the only method proven to be commercially viable is flow cytometry. Before going through the flow cytometer (sorting machine), a fluorescent dye is incorporated into the DNA of the sperm cells. They pass through the sorting machine in drops of liquid containing a single sperm cell per droplet. The machine detects the amount of florescence each cell emits; an XX sperm cell will have more florescence than an XY. A positive or negative charge is applied to the droplet depending on the type of sperm cell in it. Then, the machine can sort them into different collection tubes, based on the charge on the droplet, as it moves through a magnetic field.

Initially, flow cytometry yielded very low conception rates when sex-sorted semen was used fresh soon after processing. Work in the laboratory and field studies eventually improved the results until sexed semen became commercially available on a large scale in the U.S. in 2004. The sorting method has continually been improved over the last 10 years and yields better fertility than when commercial use began.

Advantages and disadvantages

The advantage of shifting sex ratio has been most obvious for dairy producers, where male calves generally have little value. Beef cattle producers have been able to use both XX- and XY-sorted sperm in different scenarios. Seedstock producers are able to increase the number of bulls they market each year and target specific females to produce replacement heifers. Commercial producers have been able to increase the number of steers, giving them more total weight and usually more valuable weight, to sell. Similar to the purebred scenario, commercial producers can select specific cows to target replacement heifer production. All of these situations have to be evaluated with the disadvantages outlined below in mind. Specifically, the production benefits do not always outweigh the additional input (both increased cost and reduced fertility).

This sorting method is not perfect, but it does shift the ratio 85 to 95 percent of the desired sex. Very recent improvements are being reported with fertility using sex-sorted semen. However, it continues to be considered lower-fertility than nonsorted frozen semen. It takes much longer to process sex-sorted semen than conventionally processed semen. Therefore, it yields fewer straws per ejaculate with fewer cells per straw and reduced fertility. Additionally, individual bulls inherently have different fertility, and this difference can be exacerbated during the sorting process.

Current breeding strategies and industry trends

Sex-sorted semen is currently reserved for use in herds where whole-herd reproductive efficiency has been optimized through intense reproductive management. Until recently, pregnancy rates to sexed semen have been considered highest in virgin heifers that are bred 12 hours after the beginning of standing heat. But the early data that led to those general recommendations came from the dairy industry, and recent research shows that difference is not as dramatic between beef cows and heifers.

Fixed-time insemination (appointment breeding) with sexsorted semen does not currently yield consistently adequate fertility. Th ere continues to be a great deal of research to find the right estrous synchronization protocols and timing of insemination to reach pregnancy rates comparable to fixed-time AI with conventionally frozen semen. That will continue to be the major limiting factor to widespread use of gender-sorted semen in commercial cow-calf production. With continued improvements being made to the sorting process, finding protocols that yield consistently good results could soon be a reality.

Embryo transfer using sex-sorted semen has followed a similar trend. Results were inconsistent and generally poor for early adopters. More recently, as the process of sorting has been largely improved, results have become more favorable and breeding with sex-sorted semen in multiple ovulation (“super-ovulated”) embryo transfer appears to be more widely used. But most producers report breeding more often or using straws prepared with more sperm cells specifically for embryo transfer protocols.

Use of in vitro fertilization has dramatically increased in the U.S. over the last three years. However, using frozen sex-sorted semen in this process decreases the number of transferable embryos from a single IVF procedure. Some labs are successfully producing IVF embryos by sorting conventionally frozen semen (reverse-sorted) just prior to incubating it with harvested oocytes.

Rebuilding the herd

If the beef industry continues to see market drivers for expansion, gender-sorted semen could play a role in accelerating it. As this technology enters a phase of more rapid improvements in fertility, the timing could work well for the industry. But the fact remains that even conventional AI is underutilized (relative to its potential impact) in beef cattle production. Consequently, gender-sorted semen might be more useful as a tool to improve the overall genetic quality of the expanding national herd than it will be for more rapidly increasing the sheer number of heifers available for retention.



Source: The role of gender-sorted semen in rebuilding the beef herd – High Plains Journal: Livestock