Cattle farming is a business that is filled with a lot of opportunities – from selling for local fair shows to beef and dairy. In order to start your own farm, you will need to acquire some start-up money, a plot of land, a business plan and learn how to design a cattle farm. While […]
High protein forage can increase rates of gain, benefit soil
Respect it, but don’t fear it. That’s the message from cattle producers and beef specialists alike who through years of experience and research appreciate the value of grazing cattle on pure or percentage stands of alfalfa.
Properly managed alfalfa makes good pasture with several added benefits, including:
• Improved weight gains on all classes of cattle (gains of 1.5 to 2 or more pounds per day can be expected);
• Adding fertility to the soil with a nitrogen-fixing crop;
• Creating a hedge against poor forage production during dryer growing seasons; and
• Increasing plant biodiversity to benefit soil health.
Yes, there are circumstances when turning cattle into a lush stand of alfalfa at the wrong time and perhaps with the wrong class of cattle can result in bloat. But paying attention to a few production and management principles can greatly reduce the risk of bloat and provide the opportunity to capture the benefits.
While pure stands of alfalfa pasture can be very productive, they may be more appropriate for end use as high-quality hay or silage for dairy cattle. From a beef cattle grazing perspective, most interest these days is in 30 to 60 percent alfalfa grown in a blend with grass forages and/or in combination with other legume species.
“We’ve looked at alfalfa in several different grazing studies over the years, most often used in a binary mix (alfalfa/grass forage blends),” says Bart Lardner, formerly research scientist at the Western Beef Development Centre, now a professor in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Saskatchewan. “And the alfalfa component produces several benefits. The industry has lost a lot of money over the years by avoiding alfalfa, partly due to unwarranted fear.”
Timing is one of the keys to reducing the risk of bloat, says Lardner. In high percentage, alfalfa stands to avoid grazing alfalfa before and up to the bud stage, when plants can be lush and tender. And avoid introducing cattle to an alfalfa pasture when the dew is heavy or while it is raining. As plants mature and develop more fiber, the risk of bloat greatly decreases as the stand reaches 30 to 40 percent flower stage. And including alfalfa in a pasture forage mix that includes more fibrous grasses also provides cattle with a wider feed selection than just straight alfalfa. “It may take some experience for people to find their comfort level for grazing alfalfa, but it is an excellent forage,” he says. “Yearlings will gain nicely on alfalfa with no comparison to grazing straight grass.”
Alfalfa grazing management tips:
1. Never turn hungry livestock into a pasture containing a high proportion of bloat-causing plants.
2. Fill animals with dry hay or grass pasture before beginning to graze high bloat-potential pastures.
3. Avoid turning animals onto fresh, high bloat-potential pasture that is moist with dew, rain, or irrigation water. Both rates of intake and initial rate of digestion are higher from moist plants, causing more rapid initial digestion.
4. Never allow animals grazing high bloat-potential pasture to get so hungry that they consume too much in one feeding. Always have sufficient feed available.
5. Make paddock rotations mid-day or later to help minimize moisture and increase plant carbohydrate concentration.
6. Avoid dramatic changes in forage quality when rotating from paddock to paddock by leaving an adequate residue.
7. Observe livestock closely the first several days and remove any “chronic-bloating” animals.
8. Avoid grazing legumes before they begin to bloom. Make closer observations for bloat when many plants are at a younger growth stage.
9. Manage grazing to encourage livestock to consume low- or non-bloating plants and plant parts (such as an alfalfa/grass forage blend) rather than just succulent top growth. For example, use daily strip grazing or use high stock density in multiple paddock systems rather than continuous stocking.
10. Once grazing begins, don’t remove animals from pasture or make frequent, major changes in the type of pasture being grazed unless animals have greatly distended rumens. Mild bloat is common on high bloat-potential pastures. Frequent diet changes prevent rumen microbes and animals from adapting to bloat pastures.
11. Be extra observant for cattle bloat when high bloat plants show a rapid flush of growth such as during cloudy, wet periods in the spring and after a plant stress event such as hail or drought.
12. Delay grazing high bloat-potential plants for three to five days after freeze damage.
13. Avoid grazing alfalfa stands in September as plants need adequate carbohydrate reserves for overwintering. Can graze above ground biomass after final fall killing frost.
14. Graze with animals that have smaller rumen capacities, like yearlings and calves, rather than mature cows.
15. Talk to your veterinarian about the advisability of using a product like Alfasure (mix with water to prevent frothy bloat). (In the U.S. look for Bloatguard.
SACB Method: (pronounced ‘sawb’) a simple and easy way to graft calves. Everyone and their dog has a sure fire method for grafting a twin or orphan calf.
However, each method takes time and patience. These are things I don’t normally have during calving. Further, the very fact that an animal has to be handled individually, means that the procedure is not scalable. Scalable means a procedure can be replicated without increased labor. If something is scalable, you can grow your business in that direction and still remain a low-cost producer. That being said, there can be significant gain achieved by successfully grafting a calf onto another cow.
When we first started keeping custom grazing cows year-round, bottle babies were a bane to my existence. Twice a day someone had to prepare bottles and stand there waiting for all the calves to finish. EVERYDAY! TWICE OR THRICE A DAY! That was not my idea of fun. To get rid of a bottle baby, we had to wait for a cow to have a stillborn or lose her calf which started another adventure of time wasting and patience!
One day I heard about a drug called Atravet. Atravet is a sedative in powder form that can be added to grain and fed to a cow. Fifteen minutes after consuming the grain, the cow will have a nice buzz and allow the calf to nurse without any fuss. Normally two to three sessions were all it took for the cow to take the calf as her own. We used the Atravet method for several years until we moved away from custom cows to grazing yearlings.
When I went back to calving cows, Atravet in powder form was no longer available. Let me tell you, there was one unhappy cowboy riding the range! My idea of fun was not spending two to three hours skinning a dead calf, tying the hide onto a live calf, then trying to get a cow to stand while the calf nursed. There had to be another way. That other way presented itself though keen observation – some might call laziness – which eventually became the SACB Method.
During calving season I check the herd on horseback three to four times a day. Any twin or abandoned calf is roped, tied, put in the calf sled, and taken back to the corrals. These calves are then started on a bottle. When a cow has a stillborn, she is immediately trailed to the corral. The cow is put in the headgate and a bottle baby is brought to the cow. Getting down to calf level, I try to get the calf to nurse. If the cow starts kicking, things are made very uncomfortable for the cow until she stops kicking. Once the cow learns not to kick and the calf is nursing, the first steps of the SACB Method are complete.
Most of these tips apply to any kind of livestock that will be giving birth. So check it out!
For some the calving season is almost upon us, while for others, the start of the calving season is still a few months away. The following are practices to consider in preparing for the upcoming calving season.
1. Pay attention to nutrition needs of bred heifers or cows prior to calving.
Adequate body condition at the time of calving for young females and mature cows is important as it impacts stamina during delivery of the calf, colostrum quality, calf vigor, and also impacts subsequent rebreeding. Adequate nutrition during the last trimester of pregnancy and especially the last 50 to 60 days prior to calving is important. Two-year-old heifers and three-year-old cows are vulnerable during this time period. These young females are still growing themselves while growing a calf inside them. As this calf grows and takes up room, rumen capacity is impacted and the amount of feed the young female can eat is reduced. The impact of this condition can be compounded when this time period prior to calving coincides with bitter cold weather and available forage that is low in energy and protein. Body condition can deteriorate rapidly under these conditions.
2. Review your herd health plan with your veterinarian.
Discuss the production system, identifying critical control points where management could reduce risk and effectively improve herd health. Utilize treatment records from last year to identify particular areas where problems occurred. Use this information to develop a plan to specifically address management options to mitigate health problems that have historically been an issue. If needed records have not been kept, what records should be kept in the upcoming year that would provide information that would be helpful in making management and husbandry decisions?
3. Examine calving facilities making sure they are in good working order.
Frequently it has been 9 to 10 months since calving facilities have been used. Inspect gates, pens, alleys and head catches, fixing or replacing broken items. Good lighting is an important part of a calving facility. Check lights and have replacement bulbs on hand. Thoroughly clean calving areas, pens and barns. Starting the calving season with clean areas can help slow the development of health problems related to “dirty” areas that can encourage disease proliferation.
Thanks for this article go to Karla H. Jenkins, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cow/Calf Systems and Stocker Management and Mary Drewnoski, Nebraska Extension Beef Systems Specialist. Listen to a discussion of the content in this article on this episode of the BeefWatch podcast.
As spring nears and grass begins to turn green, producers are anxious to get cows out to grass. However, cool season predominate areas tend to have lush spring growth which can lead to grass tetany in cows. While there are treatments for cows caught quick enough, prevention is always the best policy.
Grass tetany occurs when circulating Magnesium (Mg) is low in the beef animal. Symptoms include staggering, convulsions, excitability, twitching, and can result in death. While it can affect growing cattle, it generally affects older lactating cows. The Mg requirement in the pregnant cow is 0.12% of the diet on a dry matter basis and jumps to 0.2% with lactation. Moreover, the Mg in colostrum is 3 times what it is in the milk the rest of the lactation.
Additionally, unlike some other minerals, Mg is not stored and mobilized in the tissues for times when it is deficient in the diet. Magnesium is absorbed across the rumen wall and how much Mg is circulating in the blood is highly dependent upon how much was consumed.
In addition to the fact that the Mg requirement increases with lactation, if the feed is high in potassium (K) or nitrogen (N) as many lush growing forages can be, then Mg absorption can be compromised as well. Cool, cloudy days associated with wet springs often times increase the risk of grass tetany issues.
Most of these tips apply to any kind of livestock that will be giving birth. So check it out!
For fall-calving herds, heat stress can occur at a time when energy requirements are already high, often during the last trimester. What is thermo regulation and how can you better meet the energy demands of your cows?
When it comes to deworming, correct dosing, choosing the right animals to deworm, and parasite monitoring will benefit your cattle herd and the future of the industry