Your pastures just moved into the information age.
How did it happen? With the CRYSTALYX® Supplement Scheduler, a unique, web-based program that lets you know when to replace your supplements.
Whether you have one or many pastures, you can simply input the number of barrels you place, the size of the barrels, the number of cattle in each pasture and
your expected daily intake per head per day.
The CRYSTALYX® Supplement Scheduler then calculates the approximate date you should plan to replace the supplement. This date automatically generates an
e-mail or text message reminder for each pasture and can prompt you from any smartphone.
As a result, your herd won’t run out of supplement. You won’t have to remember when you put out your supplement—or constantly check on it. And best of all, you
can maximize the utilization of your forage resources—for free.
Spring 2011 - Almost every economist has predicted that 2011 will be a very profi table year for cow-calf producers. Some have even said it will be a year for record prices leading to record profits.
Unfortunately, calves are not the only crop increasing in value. Corn too, may hit record prices this year. In an effort to minimize the cost of gain and/or minimize
the impact of $7.00 corn, feedlots will likely look for heavier cattle to place on feed. This opens up a great opportunity for stocker operators to sell heavier
calves off of grass.
“While grass provides some of the cheapest gains,” says Mark Robbins, Research and Nutrition Services Manager with Ridley Block Operations, “CRYSTALYX® supplements can drive that cost of gain even lower. By supplying nutrients that become more defi cient as the grass matures, you can maintain weight gain well past grass maturity, and even into the fall months.”
CRYSTALYX® mineral supplements work well until the grass becomes mature, or until moisture is scarce. Once the grass matures (shoots a seed head or dries out) CRYSTALYX® protein supplements will give you the best gains on grass. And don’t forget CRYSTALYX® IONO-LYX®, the only low-moisture block FDA approved to deliver BOVATEC® to increase the rate of gain on grazing cattle.
When you buy almost any product, you want to know that it is made well and will deliver what it promises. How well that product performs has a lot to do with how it is made. And that’s why CRYSTALYX® is number one in the market. Here are two reasons why:
Quality Assurance and Food Safety
CRYSTALYX® has the highest level of quality assurance in the feed industry. All CRYSTALYX® production facilities are FCI Certified, ISO 9001 Registered and HACCP Approved. No other low-moisture block manufacturer has all three of those quality-essential certifications. Check out our competitors. Look for these symbols. Judge for yourself.
Batch Cooking vs. Continuous Flow
CRYSTALYX® uses the original, patented process of batch cooking followed by a vacuum process. That means that every barrel of CRYSTALYX® has been through greater moisture and hardness controls. Batch cooking is a more expensive process, but the benefit to you, and your livestock, is a more consistent product.
Other low-moisture blocks use a less expensive continuous flow process that lacks the critical vacuum step. This results in a less consistent product, especially when it comes to removing varying amounts of moisture from molasses. When you’re considering low-moisture block supplement options, cost is certainly a factor.
But there’s short-term cost savings versus cost-effectiveness. Consistent product performance combined with the latest manufacturing technology and state-of-the industry quality assurance puts CRYSTALYX® far ahead of the competition, and gives customers cost-effective delivery of key nutrients. Every barrel. Every time.
There’s plenty of bad economic news for producers these days: rising feed costs, rising fuel costs, rising equipment costs and rising labor costs. The good news is that feeding CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements can make a significant difference in your bottom line.
Efficiency Is the Key
There has never been a greater need to be efficient. Efficiency in the use of labor and equipment is key, especially when you factor it into your overall cost. And reducing waste and shrinkage is an important factor in feed efficiency, as is maintaining performance and having supplementation that is convenient, as well as cost-effective.
Fuel costs alone have driven producers to look at ways to control costs. So supplementing with CRYSTALYX® means eliminating daily trips to the pasture, saving time and money. One producer who has found this to be true is Jim Graves of Wheatland, Wyoming. He supplements with CRYSTALYX® and has experienced cost savings and value. “Our supplement cost is about $30 to $35 per cow, per season,” Graves said. “We like the convenience, the time savings, the use of less equipment, and the way the cows perform. It’s easier than having to feed every day, especially when you have to fight the weather.”
It’s All in the Numbers
The cost of CRYSTALYX® has increased somewhat, but not nearly as much as the cost of other feed and supplement types and their delivery. While CRYSTALYX® has gone up 22 percent, hand-fed supplement costs have skyrocketed by 41 to 150 percent. If you take a 63-day time period and compare costs between CRYSTALYX® and a hand-fed supplement, you’ll see the difference.
In 2002, the hand-fed cost for supplementation was $25.19 per cow, while the CRYSTALYX® cost was $18.23. In 2008, the hand-fed cost over that same time span was $35.47 per cow, while the 63-day CRYSTALYX® cost was $22.36. The whole story is that hand-fed costs were up 41 percent, while CRYSTALYX® costs were up only 22 percent. Meaning, the cost-per-day impact of supplementing due to an upward price jump in ingredients is not as significant when feeding CRYSTALYX.®
Consider All the Costs
If you just look at the price tag of the supplement itself, you’re not getting the entire picture. This is where CRYSTAL CLEAR ECONOMYX® can help. Start with the
supplement cost (don’t forget to factor in waste) and the delivery costs to get your total cost per head, per day. (Delivery costs include equipment, labor, delivery vehicle, and tractor costs.) The chart below shows the various costs for a cattle feeding operation, comparing the use of CRYSTALYX® VP®-30, cubes, liquid and DDGS. CRYSTALYX® is the clear winner, with a total cost difference from $1,000 to $4,200.
Producers can find out how their situation compares by going to www.crystalyx.com/calculator/cce.cfm to learn more about CRYSTAL CLEAR ECONOMYX.® You can download a free software program based on a computer spreadsheet format that provides projections to help you evaluate a supplement program and make an informed economic decision.
CRYSTALYX® is the only low-moisture block supplement program designed to get results and save producers time and money. Evaluate your costs and compare the returns. Why spend more for supplements that are expensive to deliver when the choice is clearly CRYSTALYX®?
Research during the past decade by Montana range scientist Derek Bailey has demonstrated that during the fall, cattle supplement placed at key spots on open ranges will help draw animals to graze high, rough terrain, improving overall pasture use. But one stumbling block has limited widespread adoption of this logical tool: Perceived cost of CRYSTALYX.®
Now, Bailey’s latest work demonstrates that choosing a high quality low moisture block as that supplement source — even though the up-front cost may be up to triple the per-ton cost of traditional supplements like cubes or range cake — actually shows the innovative practice to be more affordable.
Bailey compared the grazing patterns and economics of cows given either 20% crude protein cake three times weekly or fed CRYSTALYX® Brand BGF-30 barrels continuously.The barrels were tended only every two weeks.
During the mid-October to mid-December, 2002, trial on the 160 nonlactating cross-bred cows:
• Cows spent more time near the CRYSTALYX® Supplements and used higher, rougher terrain than cows fed range cake.
• The body weight gain and condition score changes of the two groups were not statistically different.
• The frequent feeding schedule necessary to use cake—even when it wasn’t hauled to the roughest terrain, as the CRYSTALYX® Supplements were—ate up all its initial per-ton cost savings…and more. The CRYSTALYX® Supplements saved 25 percent in overall daily costs.
Over the course of three years, Hiram Begert, a Limousin breeder from Allison, Texas, has switched over from regular cube feeding to providing constant access to CRYSTALYX® barrels.
“With the price of fuel the way it is and the labor to haul something out there every day,” he says,“it doesn’t take long to add up.”
He may not have the precise dollar-against-dollar advantage of CRYSTALYX® on paper, but he sees his choice as clear nonetheless: If cubes were the only option, he would quit supplementing his 10,000-some acres of grazing land year-round. CRYSTALYX® is the only affordable tool to make that productivity improvement practical.
The price of fuel is more volatile than ever. As a producer, you can’t rely on the oil market to make your marketing decisions. There are factors you can control that will directly impact your bottom line, starting with transportation and fuel costs. And that’s just the beginning of the CRYSTALYX® solution.
A SUPPLEMENT PLAN WITHOUT ALL THE MILES
The cost of getting supplements to your herd depends, in large part, on the kind of supplement you choose. The cost per-ton of supplement doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Hand-fed supplements such as grains, range cake or byproducts require frequent delivery. The uncertainty over the cost of fuel means producers have to make sure they are using the most energy-efficient supplementation method possible. Taking all the expenses involved in supplementation into your cost analysis is more critical than ever.
CRYSTALYX® low-moisture blocks are self-fed and offer controlled supplement intake. They typically last two to three weeks when recommended stocking ratios are followed. That means you can greatly reduce the number of trips needed to supplement your herd. Let’s assume you need to replace CRYSTALYX® every 14 days. With a range cake supplement, most producers will feed every two days or three times per week. If you conservatively figure your travel costs at 40-cents per mile for your delivery vehicle, you can quickly do the math and see the advantage of supplementing with CRYSTALYX.®
TIME AND LABOR FACTORS
Labor and equipment costs can also eat away at your bottom line. Again, the supplement you choose affects the labor intensity and equipment needs and expenses you’ll be paying. Hand-fed supplements increase your labor requirements, time management and handling and storage costs.
Lower-priced supplements can look desirable on the surface, but may need to be delivered more frequently. Some contain increased levels of water, while others require additional processing, storage needs or feeding equipment. It all adds up. You can eliminate costs associated with storage and delivery, because CRYSTALYX® is a self-contained supplement in an easy-to-handle steel barrel.
CALCULATE YOUR SUPPLEMENTATION COSTS
CRYSTAL CLEAR ECONOMYX® is an economic tool that fairly compares different supplementation programs. The program gives you a complete look at all your supplementation costs. It evaluates and then displays, in a computer spreadsheet format, costs that are sometimes overlooked or difficult to calculate. Download the free program here.
We all know the economic story these days. Higher prices for fuel and commodities are putting a squeeze on a producer’s bottom line. So what is a producer to do? Cut back? Change course? How about none of the above? Now, more than ever, it makes good economic sense to supplement with CRYSTALYX.®
Supplementation is still a good investment, and it is especially so in times of higher prices. CRYSTALYX® has always been a better value than hand-fed supplements, when all costs associated with supplementation are considered. It is especially true right now.
“In fact, it makes more sense today, and, ultimately, tomorrow, than it did before,” Dr. Dan Dhuyvetter, the Director of Research and Nutrition Services for Ridley Nutrition Services, said. “The nutritional benefits such as increased digestibility of forage and improved conception and weaning rates are only part of the picture. When you take into account all the costs of supplementing with a hand-fed supplement: labor, time, equipment, and compare it with the cost of supplementing with CRYSTALYX,® it’s no contest.”
Do the Math
Feeding economics are different today, with the cost of minerals nearly doubling, and hand-fed supplements up more than 50 percent. Producers looking for the most efficient method of supplementation have a clear choice: CRYSTALYX.® Why? Here are five key factors:
1) Less Labor & Equipment
2) Reduced Waste
3) Equal or Better Performance on Less Volume
4) Nutrition in One Package
5) Accuracy of Nutrient Delivery
“Even back in the days of $1.50 gas, CRYSTALYX® made more economic sense,” said Mark Robbins, Research and Nutrition Services Manager for Ridley Block Operations. “As increasing fuel costs have more than doubled, it makes even more sense. It’s just too expensive to be driving out every other day to resupply supplements, not when you can place CRYSTALYX® barrels out there, and not have to resupply for two to three weeks.”
So while the economic climate keeps changing, Crystal Clear Economics doesn’t. Figuring supplementation costs on a per-head, per-day basis and taking all costs, including fuel and labor, into account will help producers maximize their investment, no matter what they’re paying at the pump.
In the fight to hold down winter supplementation costs, producers are often advised to compare supplements based on cost per pound of protein. That’s been pretty good advice.
Some detailed budget analysis shows that if you stop there, you could still lose money by overspending on supplement delivery. Focusing strictly on the purchase price of supplements— even on a pound-for-pound of nutrient basis—means you’re neglecting as much as nearly half the total cost to supplement, depending on conditions and the supplement form.Those costs can include:
• Labor costs, including realistic values for your own time.
• Truck cost per mile.
• Tractor and other equipment needs.
• Wasted feed lost to wind and weather both in storage and during delivery.
• Overconsumption or underconsumption, caused by irregular delivery, poor intake control, or “boss cow” syndrome.
• Disruption of efficient forage use when animals stop grazing to rush the supplement truck.
• Interference with grazing distribution when animals don’t stray far from a location of repeated supplement delivery.
“You put a hired person behind the wheel, you figure out all the wear and tear and depreciation—those are real costs,” says Kansas State Animal Science Professor Dale Blasi.“But what’s harder to figure out is what are the real savings [in cutting down delivery frequency].” For the cow/calf producer who’s checking cows daily for calving progress, for instance, those costs are already “sunk.”
Still, self-fed supplements that ensure adequate nutrition independent of the cow-checking schedule offer other opportunities for managing time and labor resources:
• At times of the season when it’s not critical to see cows daily.
• At times when labor is being eaten up by other demands, such as at calving or seasonal cropping operation activities.
• For operations with low levels of calf loss and calving difficulty, which don’t demand constant cow attention.
• For producers who want a dependable, self-fed supplement available if they are unable to make a scheduled daily check.
It’s a cost/benefit analysis each operation ultimately has to conduct on its own, Blasi acknowledges.That analysis starts with thorough accounting of all the costs going into calving management, independent of supplement delivery.
RESULTS BY THE BARRELTM
Don’t believe the numbers? Run an economic analysis of your supplement choice, using your own total supplement costs, with the new Crystal Clear Economyx™ supplement calculator available on-line.Crystal Clear Economyx™ is a free software program, courtesy of the makers of CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements.
It can help you evaluate all of the different costs looked or have been difficult to quickly calculate in the past, by hand.
Click here to download your free copy of Crystal Clear Economyx™.
In my last blog (about 7 weeks ago), I predicted that it always rains at the end of a drought. For many of us in the northern plains, we received one to two feet of snow in April. Some had more, and some had less, but in many areas it was the first appreciable amount of precipitation in months. Could it be that it may snow at the end of a drought? Perhaps so, but it is way too early to say we are coming out of the great drought of 2012. There will be ample moisture in many places to spur some spring growth of cool season grasses. Jon Albro had an excellent Blog on March 19th about the increased likelihood of grass tetany following a dry winter. As you read this today, many of you may already be experiencing that. Hopefully you have had high magnesium supplements out ahead of the threat.
As we move into May, many of you are close to turning your bulls out, and for those of you that calve in February, they are already out. Whether you have had to deal with grass tetany or not, your next nutritional opportunity is your summer mineral program. While the grass may be lush, and you may be tempted to reduce supplement costs, your summer mineral program is one of the cheapest times of the year to meet your herd’s supplemental nutrient needs. This is primarily because (most of the time) you do not need to supplement protein, and self-fed supplement intake in the summer time is generally low. Spring and summer supplementation programs also ensure that your beef herd is in optimal condition to conceive next year’s calf crop. I would place that fairly high on any Cattleman’s priority list. Should we really be cutting corners here?
But do you need supplements on lush spring forage? For your local area, your County Extension Agents would have the best information. From a broader view, we can look at the NAHMS (National Animal Health Monitoring System) 1997 forage survey, which summarized over 700 forage samples in 23 states. Of 38 native grass samples submitted, only 18% were adequate for copper and only 23 % were adequate for zinc. Similarly, of 70 introduced grass samples submitted, 30% were adequate for copper and 34 % were adequate for zinc. Only about 23% of all 108 grass samples were adequate for selenium. While it stated that these samples were fairly mature at the time of sampling, it still demonstrates that your grass pastures are more often than not, going to be inadequate for copper, zinc and selenium. These are three of the most important trace minerals for reproduction in a beef cow.
But, you say, will they be adequate in the spring? Can I skip spring mineral supplementation? While grasses will likely have their highest concentration of trace minerals in the spring, there is still a chance that they may not be adequate. If we look at the two graphs below form work conducted in Oregon, we can see the average concentration for zinc and copper, in 10 grasses sampled, never do reach an adequate level over a 2 year period (10 ppm for copper and 30 ppm for zinc). Again, your local Extension Agent would have more specific information for your local forages.
Adapted from Ganskopp and Bohnert 2003
Adapted from Ganskopp and Bohnert 2003
May and June are very busy times for all Ranchers and Farmers. But self-fed summer mineral programs will generally only cost from 6 to 12 cents per head per day. While your grasses may be deficient in just a few trace minerals, it is important to supplement with a properly balanced mineral product. CRYSTALYX® Brand Mineral Supplement blocks are available to your herd 24/7, and are formulated to take the guess work out of those ratios. Additionally, CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements can be used to lure your cattle to underutilized rangeland and pastures, so that you get maximum utilization of your grass and efficient herd breed-up, all with a minimum requirement on your time, to just roll out the barrels.
Being ‘green’ is all the rage now. Electric cars, canvas grocery bags and the local food movement all make people feel better about how they live. Amanda Radke, writer for Beef Magazine, points out that beef production has been green for a long while. Her recent editorial has inspired my blog for the week of Earth Day.
As the number of farmers in the US declines, the average consumer is more than 2 generations removed from agriculture. A consequence of this is that their idea of agriculture is formed by stories from grandpa of 4 row planters, 2 dairy cows and 30 beef cows. Thus, the pastoral visions of yesterday are ingrained and accepted as the norm and the reality of modern agriculture is a shock to the system.
The key fact missing from grandpa’s stories of days gone by is the environmental impact. Modern livestock production makes much more efficient use of precious resources than it did just 30 years ago; so much so that beef producers can produce the same pounds of beef with 4 animals when it took 5 in 1977. The graphics below illustrate how the environmental impact of beef (red) and dairy (blue) production has changed in the past 30 plus years.
Graphics from Making safe, affordable and abundant food a global reality, 2011 Jeff Simons, Elanco Animal Health.
By embracing advances in the technology, beef producers have been able to do more with less and improve environmental stewardship. One area that is often taken for granted is how cattle are fed and supplemented. CRYSTAYLX® Brand Supplements have been part of improving supplement technology since 1976.
A part of the reason that beef production is able to use less land today, is that we have been able to get cattle to graze the entire pasture. Research has shown that cattle will follow CRYSTALYX® barrels throughout the pasture, meaning you can lead your cattle to an underutilized part of the pasture and keep them in the area. Additionally, providing the right supplement at the right time can improve forage utilization. Supplementing protein while cattle are grazing low-quality or dormant pastures improves rumen efficiency. When the grass is green, a mineral supplement provides key nutrients to the rumen and the animal.
The next step in the green path is to advocate. We can all be an advocate for the green in beef production by arming ourselves with the facts. The Beef Check-off Program has funded two information-packed websites, www.explorebeef.org and www.factsaboutbeef.com, for producers to pick up talking points and consumers to learn more. The Sustainable Beef Resource Center (www.sustainablebeef.org) has links to research as well as talking points for setting the record straight on beef production. The CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements website (www.crystalyx.com) has links to research on grazing management as well as information on product offerings and container options to best serve your operation.
Being green may be all the rage, but it’s been part of beef cattle production since the start. We are all stewards of the land and it’s time to share our story with our customers.
Last week I reviewed cost of production information that can help producers with benchmarking within their own operations. A representation of calf prices in relationship to feed costs and total direct expenses are shown below in Graph 1. Don’t forget to go to the following website if you would like to evaluate these benchmarks in more detail when comparing to your operation http://www.finbin.umn.edu/. This week I wanted to look at adding producer returns during the same time frame. In Graph 1, I added this information as returns over direct expense. It is interesting to note that these returns over direct expenses for the years 1993 and 2011 are within $12 of each other and would be well over $200 per head. Even though the price of feed and for that matter all direct costs, have increased dramatically, calf prices have more recently kept pace to provide similar returns over direct expenses.
Some would argue that producers could earn the same money on a per head basis for a calves valued at $500 back in the early 1990’s compared to calves now requiring to be valued at $800 per head. This significant change in the last decade has been felt throughout the beef industry as it requires much more capital to buy cattle and place them on feed or grass in addition to breeding stock purchases.
There is no doubt that input costs for feed and other direct expenses have moved up with calf prices. There was a period from 2006 to 2009 where calf prices came down while costs continued to rise, resulting in a decrease in returns for cow-calf producers. We do, though, appear to be on a path of correcting this reduction in profit as you look at 2010 and 2011 results from both FinBin data – Graph 1, and information gathered by CattleFax – Graph 2. If you look at projections by CattleFax – Graph 3 we might feel optimistic possibly as far out as 2015.
So why have I included 3 graphs in this blog? First, be assured the reason is not to add confusion. On the contrary, I hope that these graphs will help illustrate a few points about the upcoming years in the cow-calf business:
- Even though input costs impact your returns and costs have went up over the last decade, look at the relationship of returns over direct expenses to calf prices. It is no surprise that these lines mirror each other since returns are highly dependent on calf prices received. It also shows that even though direct expenses have been going up, that returns are also on their way up.
- It is interesting to note the similarities in the data that FinBin reports (Graph 1) as well as CattleFax (Graph 2) in terms of cow-calf profit and loss or returns over direct expenses. When you evaluate the years, the shape of the cycle mirrors each data set very closely. This tells me that the relationship is something that can be extrapolated to many areas of the US, not just the Northern Plains.
- The most encouraging aspect of these 3 graphs is when you put the returns together with projected calf prices out to 2015 (Graph 3) and you see that the opportunity for profitability in the cow/calf business appears to only get stronger!
While there is no doubt that cow-calf production costs are increasing, calf prices are estimated to be at levels that should more than offset these increases and result in very profitable returns this year and in the near future. There are always dangers in these types of projections as mother nature can heavily influence localized conditions and cost structures. Persistent drought can be a major impact that may force increased expenses and potentially severe reductions in animal numbers. One should always focus on what they can manage and costs of production, like feed costs, is no exception. I would caution producers not to get caught up and dwell on these increases when you consider what the value of calves are today. Be careful not to trim expenses too closely where it starts limiting production. The price of calves is indicating we are in a period where there will be great returns for the Cow-calf producer. You’ve earned it!
Graph 1: Feed costs, total direct expenses and return over direct expenses are as reported by FinBin, a Farm Financial Database supported by the University of Minnesota, http://www.finbin.umn.edu/. CattleFax 550 lb choice steer prices are from the March 13’ CF Factors to Watch Report.
Graph 2: Projections for cow-calf Profit and Loss from CattleFax Forecast 2013
Graph 3: CattleFax Annual 550 lb Steer Prices with Projections for years 2012 to 2015
One thing about writing a blog, you often think about what topics are on the minds of producers in the industry and then start looking for information to help shape our opinions and come to a conclusion about that particular topic. We are all aware of the recent increase in calf prices over the last decade and how that has impacted the beef industry (see graph). Weaned calves weighing 550 lbs were once in the $400 to $500 range in the 90’s and are now more like $800 or higher at the present time. A common question that often comes up when looking at the dramatic increase in calf value in recent years, is what has happened to the costs of production associated with raising weaned calves, especially when considering feed costs.
When gathering information to address this question, I came across an article authored by Steve Metzger who is the ND Farm Business Management Coordinator. He had focused his article on Cow-calf costs over the last 10 years based on records from the ND Farm Business Management program. After talking with Steve, he directed me to a very easy to use website with a variety of agricultural production records that have been collected through various University efforts. It is called FinBin and is a Farm Financial Database collected from producers who use FinPack farm financial planning and analyses software. It can be accessed at http://www.finbin.umn.edu/ and is supported by the University of Minnesota. The benchmarking database has cow-calf records from primarily ND, MN, NE, MO operations accessing over 40,000 cows with an average of 333 farms/ranches each year starting in 1993 up to 2011. The website pulls together the Beef cow-calf enterprise and provides a comprehensive overview of the costs and returns from the information provided. It is very easy to use and I would encourage anyone who is interested in comparing their production records to use these benchmarks.
Getting back to the question at hand: Have the costs of production went up more, less or at the same pace as calf value in recent years? Being a nutritionist the first area I am always interested in is with feed costs. As you look at the graph below you can see why feed costs are so important. Because feed costs make up a substantial amount of the total Direct expenses associated with maintaining the cow herd, it is always a logical target for managing costs. Feed costs were generally $200 per cow in the 1990’s up until early 2000 to 2001. They then moved to around $300 per cow in 2007 and are presently at around $350 per cow. As we look at total direct expenses that would also include veterinary charges, supplies, fuel and repairs, we see these increased in a similar manner with a sharper increase in the last few years. I then included historical CattleFax prices for 550 weight calves to look at the trend over time. You can see that the calf prices generally have more variability from year to year compared to either feed costs or total direct costs, but the trend for calf prices appears to be providing enough returns to more than compensate for increases in feed cost.
Because of year to year variability, one should really look at the trends as one could really skew the take-home message by pulling out individual years. If we estimate calf prices were about $450 in the early 90’s and today they are $800 you see that they rose about 178%. Likewise, if you look at feed costs per cow at $200 in the early 90’s and they are $350 now they increased 175% or at basically a similar rate. How have these changes impacted profitability for Cow-calf producers?
In the Second part of this discussion next week, I will bring in some observations that CattleFax has made over the same time period and see how impacting calf prices, or increased direct costs, including feed costs, impact profitability.
Graph: Feed costs and total direct costs are as reported by FinBin, a Farm Financial Database supported by the University of Minnesota, http://www.finbin.umn.edu/. CattleFax 550 lb choice steer prices are from the March 13’ CF Factors to Watch Report.
For many of us that have been around cattle the biggest risk is becoming complacent and not putting safety first. Agriculture is a dangerous occupation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and The Center for Disease Control regularly collect injury and death rate information and the numbers are alarming. From 2003 to 2007, there were on average 583 agriculture related deaths per year. In 2011 agriculture had 557 deaths. Transportation and construction had more deaths, but agriculture had the highest death rate at 24.4 deaths per 100,000 workers. As the graphs below indicate, farming is the most dangerous occupation compared to other industries.
Most of the deaths occurring on a farm, involve equipment and tractor accidents, but 25-30% of all deaths are related to livestock production. A study conducted by the Iowa Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation with the Great Plains Center for Agriculture Health examined all the livestock related deaths in 2008 for Iowa and Nebraska. This study pointed out that handling cattle accounted for 85% of deaths.
Table 1. Trends and activities associated with reported deaths
During the calving season we may allow our focus on safety to waive. Feeding hay and the daily chores may have become routine. However, the activities associated with calving season are the ones shown to be associated with increased risk of injury and death. We are MOVING animals into calving pens and we may need to work in an ENCLOSED AREA to assist them during calving. Often we are LOADING animals to take them to different pastures.
Low Stress Animal Handling From a Safety Prospective
The animal is the primary cause of injury in 85% of the Iowa and Nebraska deaths. If we take into account some principals of how animals react to stimulus we can then anticipate their response. We can begin to use low stress handling techniques to get the desired result with less stress on the animal and less risk for injury to ourselves. The items listed below are the basic concepts to keep in mind when working with animals. Calving season is a time when we are in close contact with animals and these low stress handling tips can help decrease the risk of injury.
Field of vision
Cattle have very good periphery vision which covers 340 degrees except for the blind spot directly behind them. Staying out of the blind spot can help avoid kicking risk and rapid movement by the animal. Cattle will want to keep you in their line of site.
Every animal has a flight zone. Once a threat enters this area they react by moving away.
Pressure zone and point of balance
Every animal has a zone where they will react to pressure or stimuli from handlers. Pressure is just the human presence and movement. On the diagram below, the A is outside the pressure zone and movement will stop when at this location. The B is inside the pressure zone and will initiate movement. Point of balance is the spot where our pressure can move an animal forward faster or change direction. Most of low stress handling training is learning how animals react to minor changes in your location relative to the point of balance. We do not need prods, canes, load noise or shouting to get animals to react.
Cattle will want to go back to where they came from. Take this into consideration for layout of head gates and calving pens. A cow will walk past an open gate and continue down a straight lane. If they are allowed to turn around and go back, the will turn into a pen or head gate alley if they think they are going back to where they were.
Calving season is a great time. The calves are the reward for our efforts to provide the proper care and nutrition needed for a profitable herd. It is a time when we are in very close contact with the animals. Take some extra to consider safe handling practices.
When was the last time, you knew ahead of time, that your car would run into the ditch, in a blizzard? Or maybe, you absolutely knew that the Tornado warning on the radio was for a tornado that was headed directly at your home? I’m guessing these events have never occurred with certainty. That is why you may pack a survival kit in your car every winter, or why you head for the basement or some other tornado shelter, when you hear the warnings. If possible, many of us purchase insurance to protect against such unknown events. You make certain choices in life, to be prepared, just in case…….
When was the last time that you knew in February, that your newborn calves would break with scours, during a late March blizzard? When was the last time you knew in March, that Summer would bring another drought? Or, that the plentiful green grass you were counting on to put lost condition on your cows, would not be there this year. You can make certain choices in life, to be prepared, just in case…….
Is your cow herd prepared for what Mother Nature throws at them every Spring? Are they prepared for what Mother Nature may throw at them this Spring and Summer?
You may ask, “How do I prepare for the unknown threat or risk ?”
The answer is below in the Safety Pyramid of reducing hazards. Figure 1, illustrates that there could be 115,000 possible hazards, in one year, at a particular company. These unsafe acts likely lead to 11,500 close calls. These close calls translate into 1,150 recordable injuries, 115 of which are lost time injuries. On average, 115 lost time injuries can lead to 4 fatalities. Obviously the company would like to avoid the lost time injuries and fatalities, but they cannot simply zero in on them, as they cannot possibly see them before they happen. Sound familiar ?
What all companies do with a safety program, is target the 115,000 unsafe acts, as those ultimately lead to lost time injuries and fatalities. You work with the entire workforce, versus just the ones that may have a lost time accident or fatality.
You can apply this to your cow herd too. Look at figure 2. If you have a herd of 100 cows to be bred this Spring/Summer, you could likely have 1,000 threats to the entire herd, due to sub-optimum nutrition. That is just 10 situations per cow, that may cause her not to breed back in 1 of 3 cycles. Because of these fertility threats, perhaps half the cows do not settle in the first cycle, and half of those, miss the 2nd cycle. If half of those do not get bred after 3 breeding cycles, 12% of your herd is open. Later that summer, if nutrition is still sub-optimum, you could have 3 cows abort. Suddenly, you have 15% of your herd open. Today, that could be worth $15,000 when you sell your calves.
Again, you cannot specifically just target those 12 cows that will be open in September no more than you can identify the 3 that will abort. You have to prepare all cows for the 1,000 threats. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements are an easy way to affordably provide protein, trace minerals, vitamins and phosphorus in a supplement block that’s available 24/7, while minimizing your investment in time, labor and equipment. Use CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements as insurance to maximize the breed-up on your cow herd.
Are you and your beef cows ready for calving season? What supplies and equipment do we need to have ready before the first calves arrive? What are the metabolic changes that impact the cow’s energy, protein, mineral and vitamin requirements?
Preparation for calving season needs to include gathering the items listed below. Calving season could start 10-14 days earlier than expected so don’t wait until the last minute to get items together and organize your calving equipment. The items need to be stored in a clean and easily accessible area. Give some thought to how the OB tools and puller will be cleaned after each use. How and where are the OB tools washed and dried? The calf’s immune system is naïve until it consumes colostrum and the cow’s immune system is suppressed around calving. The emphasis on sanitation is to prevent exposing the calf and the cow’s reproductive tract to pathogens during this high risk period. If an animal is needing assistance with calving her stress level is higher than normal. If it is a very difficult pull there will be additional trauma to the reproductive tract. What we do during these few hours will impact the cow’s ability to recover from calving and breed back on schedule.
Supply and Tool Check List
Source of warm water Bucket for OB tools and disinfectant
Disinfectant Empty soap bottle for squirting disinfectant solution
OB gloves OB lubricant
1 Long OB chain 2 Short OB chains
Calf puller (check cables) Head snare
Soft brush for cleaning cow Brush for cleaning equipment
Navel disinfectant Colostrum Replacer
Small pail for mixing Calf bottle – extra nipple
Milk Replacer Paper towels or clean cloth towels
Esophageal feeder Syringes and needles
Biological processes that increase nutrient requirements
Most of the calf’s development occurs during the last trimester of pregnancy which increases the demand for energy, protein, mineral and vitamins. The majority of mammary system development is occurring at this time as well as the production of colostrum. The cow will pull from maternal stores to meet the growing calf’s demand. This is especially true for the trace minerals copper, zinc and selenium. These trace minerals are needed for many functions, but critical for maintaining a strong immune system. Milk is a poor source of copper and zinc, which implies the calf will be using the stored minerals the first several months of life. In short, the pre-calving period is when we need to have the best nutrition program possible. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplement offers a wide variety of supplements to fit your operation. The Breed Up® formulas are designed with a higher nutrient profile just for the calving and breeding season.
Now is the time to prepare your calving equipment and supplies and check your nutrition program for a successful calving season. A little effort and planning now can make assisting at calving go much smoother.
The holiday season is a good time to reflect upon the past year. We might ask ourselves, what went wrong, right, what we’d do again, and what we learned not to do. 2012 was a challenging year in many respects. No doubt the drought was the most challenging and a news making event. It will be a large factor in shaping our industry for the next several years.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the negatives but there is some good news, or at least things to be thankful for. Winter has not taken a hard grip (at least not at the time of writing this) making it just a little easier to deal with limited feed resources and higher cost. Yes, we in the feed and supplement business have been challenged by more production demand and in making feed programs more efficient but we are grateful to be in this business. In addition, beef cattle prices have remained solid. Sure, there have been some ups and downs and production costs have been rising, but by in large the cow-calf producer will be profitable in 2012 and experts point to an optimistic 2013 given a little help from mother nature. With all the above being said, if you were to ask a cow to reflect on 2012 and the Christmas season, she might write a letter to Santa Claus and I have a feeling it would go something like this:
Its dry and I’ve consumed low quality forage this past summer & fall. I’ve got by okay due to some supplemental help. I’ve not been naughty this year, I’ve been nice. I’ve done my best to breed well, maintain body condition and even gained some because I’ve been fed CRYSTALYX® on the ranch this fall. I’m sure some naughty cows in other places might not get any supplement this winter and will have to “just rough it.” Maybe it’s because they think it costs too much. I’m sure they will be sorry come calving or rebreeding time as they’ll have more problems. The lump of coal in their stocking might be a trip to the sale barn next summer or fall.
Again Santa, I’ve been more nice than naughty so some supplement like CRYSTALYX® would sure help again. It sounds like the calf market will be good next year and I’ll raise a good calf if I’m fed right. I’ll also breed back, and do it early in the breeding season as to have a heavier calf to sell in 2014. This will be even more likely if you allow me to have a good CRYTALYX® mineral program through the summer months, or a good fly control program too? If you do this, I’ll be able to withstand the stresses of summer, especially if it’s dry again, and will be in good shape next fall. In fact, I’ll be easier to feed next fall and winter if I’m taken care of this winter into spring and next summer.
Santa, my job is pretty simple. I graze, get bred, calve, and nurse a calf. If I can do it under budget and perform each year, I’ll stay on the ranch. I do need some tools however and CRYSTALYX® fits well. Thank you Santa and have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. P.S. Please send rain.
There are uncertainties in 2013 but the future is never fully clear. We do know that Beef Cattle numbers and beef production will be lower in 2013. This coupled with decent demand (certain or uncertain?) should translate into good beef cow-calf economics. So if you look at supplementation like playing Santa Claus, I hope you think of your cows being more nice than naughty. Take care of the cows that take care of you. Thank you Livestock Producers for allowing us to serve you and for your resilience in 2012. We wish you success in 2013!
It is almost Christmas time. Before you know it, the holidays will be over, and some of you may actually be looking forward to this! You may also be wondering if we will go over the Fiscal Cliff. As I write this, no one seems to have any answers.
Back to cows…. come January 1st, 2013, many of you will be within 60 to 90 days of calving. So, your cows are approaching a “Nutritional Cliff”. For the brood cow, calving through re-breeding is a high stress time, coupled with high nutrient requirements. The final 3 months of gestation see somewhere around 70% of the total growth of the fetus. Several key nutrients are transferred from the cow to the calf during the final 3 months of gestation. If cows are short on protein, weak calves can often result. Good quality colostrum is a must for healthy calves.
For spring calving cows, most forages are deficient in the trace minerals and vitamins necessary for production of good quality colostrum. Supplementation of trace minerals, vitamins and phosphorus is then absolutely essential to building the quality of colostrum that will provide the calf with a robust immune system necessary to avoid scours. This transfer of nutrients to the newborn calf puts a drain on the maternal reserves at a time when she needs them to recover from calving and then breed back.
Another factor to consider this year is how the impact of recent drought conditions and dry summer/fall pastures impacted your cow herd. Limited forage availability as compared to typical grazing conditions may have resulted in less energy converted to cow weight gain. Are your cows coming into the winter with their normal body condition stores or are they a bit thinner than normal? Given the time of the year you still have ample time to influence fiber digestibility and harvest more energy from your current forage supplies.
How can you avoid this nutritional cliff? It is not hard at all. Make sure you ramp up your cow herd supplementation at 3 months prior to calving. If your cows are not going to calve at a Body Condition Score (BCS) of 5 or better, you will need to feed more energy to get them to a BCS of 5 by calving. Failing to have your cows in this good of condition will often result in poorer conception rates this spring and summer.
There may be some of you thinking that you don’t want to make a drastic increase in the plane of nutrition for cows late in gestation as it may result in more dystocia or calving difficulty. There have been a number of studies that refute this observation when elevating the nutritional plane for cows prior to calving. Generally you may see a small increase in Birth Weight of the calves but more importantly, you find that cows are much better prepared physically to handle the birthing process and are able to calve unassisted when compared to under fed cows. I would caution anyone who wants to use this reasoning to not supplement their cows prior to calving if they indeed want to have cows that will provide high quality colostrum milk after an unassisted calving followed by producing strong healthy calves that can face the uncertain spring environmental conditions with minimal health concerns. Simply put, don’t let your cows go into calving underfed!
If you are concerned that you have not prepared your cows for the upcoming nutritional cliff, take steps to provide supplemental nutritional well ahead of the cliff. CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements are an easy way to affordably provide protein, trace minerals, vitamins and phosphorus in a supplement block that’s available 24/7, while minimizing your investment in time, labor and equipment.
Technology is everywhere. Our homes are wireless, tractors all but drive themselves, and you can even get reminders on your phone to put out fresh barrels. As much as technology is readily accepted in other areas of everyday life, there is hesitation when it comes to technology and food production. Public concern over the use of feed additives in food animals is high with those outside the ag community. However, what would happen if the growth enhancing technology (GET) we take for granted in cattle production (ionophores, implants, etc.) where no longer available?
A review in the October 2012 issue of the Journal of Animal Science tackled just that question. The table below illustrates the changes needed to maintain pounds of beef produced in the U.S. at 1 billion pounds. The GET types that were included in this review include in-feed ionophores (monensin, lasalocid), in-feed hormones (melengestrol acetate), beta-andrenergic agonists (ractopamine, zilpaterol) and steroid implants.
Losing GET will result in more cattle, land, feed and water needed to maintain current beef production levels. It will also increase the cost of production. The review suggests that production costs to get a steer to 1,200 lbs. would increase from $1,704 to $1,860. This $156 per head increase translates to reduced profits and eventually reduce production. There would be increased competition with pork and poultry at the meat counter as well. It would not be the end of beef production in the US, but would mean lost jobs and perhaps the next generation not being able to stay on the ranch.
We can’t overlook the natural and organic cattle producers in this discussion. They have paved the way for production without the use of most or all GET and have many successes. There is a thriving market for cattle produced in this manner. However, the beef industry as a whole cannot afford to not utilize GET. It’s just not feasible when you look at the numbers in the table above.
We have to be our own advocates when it comes to GET. We as beef producers, stewards of land and animals, have to be ready and willing to explain our methods. The standard answer of “that’s the way dad/grandpa did it” doesn’t work anymore. We have to be mindful of the products that we’re using with the cattle. We must use them properly, read and follow the directions on the tag. We should be asking ourselves: why are we using it? does this group of cattle really need it? what are the withdrawal times?
We can’t rely on an industry that doesn’t take every advantage of approved technology to feed our country. The void in global beef production left by the lack of GET use in the U.S. would be made up by another nation. Countries like Brazil would be mostly likely to increase production, however, that would mean clearing land to add pastures. Additionally, not all countries hold to the same standards for food for human consumption that are in place in the U.S.
When you consider that with GET, beef producers in the U.S. can feed our nation and part of the world, why would we want to take a step backwards? It would be the loss of a way of life, the loss of the ability to feed ourselves and the beginning of relying on outside sources of beef. When you think of it in those terms, it goes against the American spirit.
Read the abstract or download the entire article here.
We are in the middle of the Holiday Season with many gatherings of family and friends to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. The primary topics of conversation will involve family happenings and recent events. Since most of the population is at least a generation removed from production agriculture, these gatherings gives us an opportunity to educate our friends and extended family about raising cattle with why we manage cattle a particular way and current trends in beef production. Everyone will have some interest since the cost of beef has been noticed by most consumers. The two current topics below are what I consider to be important messages and many of the statistics are taken from Cattle Fax Updates. We have done more with fewer cows for several decades but we may be at the tipping point for the beef cow herd.
Technology is good and it will drive efficiency. Beef today is not “Franken Food”
Look around any room and compare the advancement in electronic and cell phone technology to technological advancement in agriculture and beef cattle production. The first computers were massive central processing units that filled rooms. The technology advanced quickly into desk top units, then laptops, tablets and now smart phones. Most consumers do not fear their phone.
Technology used in animal agriculture is not as threatening to the general population when discussed in this context. Today the beef industry produces more beef with fewer animals. The total cow herd has been on decline since the late 1970s; however, since 1980 more beef has been harvested each year from fewer animals.
The smart phone is the result of many individual advancements and the improvement in beef production is a result of many factors. When consumers realize this additive effect they are less apt to believe scare tactics of some anti-agriculture groups that want to portray modern food as a science project gone bad. Explain the improvements in breeding programs, nutrition, animal health and management programs to produce a safe and wholesome product. Most cow calf producers can show a picture of a cow with a calf on pasture with pride and confidence that this is a true representation of their part of the beef industry. Our next steps are to explain how that cow is the result of three generations of selective breeding for the traits THEY want and then explain how the calf will be feed a diet that is better balanced than their own diet and at times that calf may be fed antibiotics to keep it healthy and other feed additives for improved feed efficiency. However, we need to remember to relate this back to what most consumers consider important: safe, affordable food and humane animal care.
The Beef Cow Herd is at a Tipping Point. Doing Less and Costing More with Fewer Cows.
Beef will cost more due to declining supplies. Beef production has been maintained since 2010 due to higher finish weights and increased cow culling. The average per capita consumption of beef is 56 pounds per person, which requires a cow herd of at least 31 million head. Due to two consecutive years of drought, the cow herd is expected to be near 29 million head in 2013. With the high cost of gain in the feed lot, it is unrealistic to expect a continuation of feeding to larger weights unless beef prices increase. There will be fewer heifers in the feedlot. In recent years, the heifer placement in feedlots has been in the 35-39% range. It will require 5-6 million heifers to grow the cow herd and this will further decrease the beef supply.
For this Holiday Season, you can proudly discuss the history of the beef industry and take credit for many of the efficiencies and the advancements in food safety. Cost will be brought up and relating it back to the current cow herd situation is another way to help explain how using technology is a good thing. This topic may be less controversial than debating the results of the election.
Fall is quickly coming to an end and the winter months are soon upon us. For most cattle producers actively growing pastures have also begun to go dormant and you either have stock piled forages, crop residues or stored hay supplies to help get you through to next Spring. Drought conditions could also have impacted your typical winter nutrition program with limitations in your normal forage base. It is a good time to put your program together now as you do not want to fall short prior to spring green up, especially if you have a spring calving herd.
The first step is to get a good handle on both the quality and quantity of your forages. Take samples of the different types of forages you have available and send them in for nutrient content analyses. Be sure that you save good quality forages just prior to and through calving if you are not yet to green grass by then. Nutrient requirements of your herd are at their highest once they calve.
One feature of a beef cow herd that provides considerable flexibility in a nutrition program is their ability to store energy as measured by body condition. While many other livestock segments focus on balancing diets with animal nutrient requirements, beef cows have the ability to bank body stores to help them through periods of erratic nutrient intake. Why is it that feeding beef cows can differ so much in this regard, compared to dairy cows, sows or calves in feed lots? One major reason is feed intake and another significant factor is the environment. When you consider hog, dairy and feed yards, they know exactly how much animals are consuming by closely monitoring feed deliveries. Furthermore, many of the environmental impacts on nutrient requirements of the animal are also controlled with enclosed production barns.
Beef cows are raised across North America in a wide variety of production systems under an equally diverse set of environmental conditions. How many producers know the first part of any nutrition equation… how much are your cows eating? The truth to this answer is quite honestly, very few. It becomes difficult to dial in a nutrition program when total intake is not known.
We often use an estimate of forage dry matter intake of between 1.5% and 3% of cow body weight. The lower estimate is used on low quality forages during gestation and the higher amount is used on high quality forages once cows have calved. When planning hay needs make sure that you also account for losses associated with feeding which can range from 5% to as high as 45% depending upon method of feeding. For planning purposes, a value of 3% of cow body weight is often used for planning stored forage needs during the winter period.
It becomes apparent that in order to maintain a cow that rebreeds on time each year, proper cow condition management is key. Even though we may not balance a cow’s diet down to the last ounce of energy she needs every day of the year, we need to make sure we focus on her body condition over the course of the year by paying close attention to how she comes into the winter months through calving, leading up to green grass in the spring.
When selecting a supplement to help maximize the nutrition of your forage make sure you have an adequate supply of forages to get through the winter. If the drought has left you short, an alternative nutrition program may need to be considered unless you are reducing the size of your herd or purchasing additional forage. Supplemental protein will help increase intake and digestibility of lower quality forages. Well-fortified self-fed supplements from CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements can help cows maintain their body condition when fed with low quality forages. In addition, the labor savings delivery requires significantly less labor and equipment when compared with other supplement programs. When evaluating supplements, whether they come in the form of a cube, liquid, tub or blocks, make sure you evaluate the delivery of the nutrition program in its entirety. Some references are commonly made that comparisons should be on cost per unit of protein delivered on a dry matter basis. While this is good advice, it doesn’t go far enough when comparing supplements as delivery can, in some cases, cost as much as the supplement itself. Make sure you evaluate supplements that are delivered all the way to the cow.
As we all know, hay is in short supply this year due to drought. Feed costs represent 40 to 60% of the total budget for a cattle operation. Of this, hay represents a sizable proportion. Your choice of hay feeder design can significantly influence how much hay is wasted and thus your total feed costs.
Researchers at Oklahoma State compared four common types of hay feeders. These were the modified cone (CONE), the open-bottomed steel ring (RING), polyethylene pipe (POLY) and the sheeted-bottom steel ring (SHEET). Table 1 (see below) outlines the results. Modified cone hay feeders (See Figure 1) were by far the most efficient means to feed hay to cattle.
Table 1. Comparative hay wastage in four hay feeder designs. Oklahoma State University
The most popular means to feed hay to cattle are the open-bottomed steel ring feeders (see Figure 2) or even no feeder at all (which has been shown to result in waste in excess of 50%). If you as a producer fall into either of these categories, you can quickly see the money you are leaving on the table. The costs of waste above were calculated assuming a cost of just $70 per 1,200-pound bale. As we all know, with hay in tight supply, prices per bale this fall and winter can easily shoot much higher than this.
Investment in cone feeders or cone-inserts onto existing ring feeders will quickly pay for themselves, especially in a year like this. One thing to remember, however; is that cone feeders require a tractor with a front-end loader to place bales into feeders. Those without access to a tractor should consider one of the other hay feeder types as they can be placed over bales by hand.
Figure 1. Example of a cone feeder. According to the Oklahoma State data, this type of hay feeder is by far the most efficient and results in the least amount of waste.
Figure 2. Example of an open-bottomed steel ring feeder. Note the wasted hay being trampled all around the feeder. According to the Oklahoma State data, 1/5 of the bale will be wasted using this type of hay feeder.
Water is a vital nutrient that we take for granted. We assume that if water is available, we’ve taken care of that requirement. However, there are a number of factors that can negatively affect water quality and livestock performance. So far we’ve talked about cyanobacteria and nitrates. This time, I’ll cover sulfates.
Rumen microbes need sulfur for growth and metabolism. Sulfur is needed to make sulfur-containing amino acids (methionine, cysteine and homocysteine) as well as thiamine and biotin. However when excessive amounts of sulfur are present (greater than the ability of the rumen microbes to utilize it), the excess sulfur is absorbed into the bloodstream as sulfides. As sulfate level in the total diet increases, from water, feed and/or forage, the level of sulfide in the rumen increases. This can cause a number of problems.
Sulfides in the body can lead to necrosis of neural tissues. This is thought to be the primary cause of polioencephalomalacia (PEM). In addition, some sulfur-compounds can destroy thiamine activity. Additionally, sulfides interfere with trace mineral availability. The sulfides bind with copper in the rumen making it insoluble, thus increasing copper requirements for ruminants. Selenium utilization by livestock is antagonized by high sulfates, by increasing the excretion of selenium. Sulfur also negatively interacts with zinc and calcium absorption.
So when do you need to be concerned about sulfates in water? Testing is the only way to determine the safety of your water source. Signs of a sulfate related problem will change with the level of sulfates in water as shown in the table below.
Sulfate level in water
1,500 – 2,000 ppm Reduced water intake, diarrhea, decreased performance
2,000 – 2,500 ppm Maximum tolerated intake (provided feed level is low)
3,000 ppm and over Reduced feed intake, weight gain, possible water rejection, PEM,
Cattle can be acclimated to tolerate higher levels of sulfates in water. Diluting high sulfate water with low sulfate water is a good option for newly received cattle. The upper limit for calves is 500 ppm sulfates and 1000 ppm for adult cattle. Sulfate/sulfur levels of the feed that cattle consume also needs to be taken into consideration as they will compound each other, just like nitrates. Sulfur intakes of 0.3% of diet dry matter or less are considered safe for all classes of cattle. Cattle on forage based diets have been able to safely tolerate as much as 0.5% of dry matter intake.
In summary, excess sulfur in water is a hazard to cattle. Testing is the best way to know where sulfate levels are for water and feeds. Contact your county extension service for advice on proper sampling techniques and testing options.
As we are finishing harvest, it is a good time to consider what needs to be done this Fall to keeping your beef cow herd profitable. The economic impact of using information from this “To Do” list is more critical this year due to the higher forage and feeding cost caused by the drought.
Pregnancy Check Cows
Estimates of $500 to $550 per year to maintain a beef cow are common. If a cow is not producing a calf, she is a liability and non-productive asset. Cull cow prices are best early in the fall and then decline into the winter. This is a year where you will benefit by early culling by getting a better price and limiting the amount of feed invested in cull cows.
Not only take a physical count of hay supplies but take some samples of the different cuttings to group your hay by nutrient content and quality. Work with a nutritionist to get representative samples of the hay and use the results to determent what cattle will be fed the different hays and how to best supplement that group.
Body Condition Score Cows
Due to declining pasture quality with the drought there may be some cows and especially first calf heifers that may be too thin and are at risk for lower pregnancy rates next spring. Cows with a BCS of 4 or less will have pregnancy rates in the 70% range compared to over 90% for cows with BCS of 5 or greater. The Crystalyx® Beef Cow Body Condition Score App is an excellent tool to generate a pictorial history of cow BCS to help you best manage your herd and feed resources.
Group Cows According to BCS
This may be a year where having multiple beef cow feeding groups will result in better allocation of limited forage resource and better animal performance through targeted supplementation strategies. Grazing corn stalks is an excellent way to extend the grazing season for cows in good body condition. Protein content of crop residue is low and feeding a self-fed supplement like Crystalyx® BFG™ 30 is an excellent way to provide additional protein and improve digestibility for a low cost per head per day feeding program.
Cows or heifers that are thinner than desired may require some higher quality forage or supplemental energy and protein from higher intake sources. Often a mineral type supplement such as Mineral-Lyx® or Crystal-Phos® can be used to deliver mineral and vitamins.
Review Production Records
Evaluate cow performance compared to the rest of the herd? Evaluate your records to answer 3 questions;
1 How many pounds of calf did she produce for me this year?
2 What part of the calving season did she calve in?
3 How is this year compared to past years? This last question may reveal that she is falling later and later into the calving season and becoming less productive.
This Fall “To Do” list will provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions about your feeding program, supplement needs and culling decisions. The profit potential for the cow calf sector has probably never been better! Keeping profitable cows in your herd will make it easier to reach your financial goals now and into the future.
Last winter we put our toe in the water and developed an App that can be used to monitor Body Condition Scores within your beef cow herd. We have had less than a year to use and collect feedback from cattle producers now and learn how we might be able to improve it. An updated version is now available with additional features and added content that we think will make the App more responsive while retaining its simplicity of use. Some of the updates are related to housekeeping items. You can now delete records that are no longer of use to you to help clean up your herd’s information. In addition you can edit/save a record as a draft which provides the opportunity to collect the photos in the pasture but to actually score the cattle at a later time or edit the records if needed. This will allow producers to quickly collect photos and then score the cows when time permits.
The value of a picture record is that, when taking BCS photos of the same cow 45 to 60 days later, a producer can determine if the management changes are having the desired effect. Producers are encouraged to body condition score cows at least 4 times during the year to determine best management practices: 1) Weaning, 2) Pre-Calving, 3) Breeding and 4)Late Lactation. Now is a good time to be evaluating cow condition with the recent drought stricken pastures and the timing of traditional weaning for spring calving herds. It will be a good visual record of how cows are going into the fall as there is still plenty of time to put some condition back on the cows if needed.
A new feature of the program is the flexibility of using photos of cows within your own herd or cattle type to use in the reference gallery. No matter what color or breed type of cattle you own, you can now build your custom collection of BCS photos to use in your reference gallery. We understand that it may be easier to compare cow body condition within a breed type and added this flexibility so Hereford producers can use Hereford cows, Brangus owners can use Brangus cows and any Composite operations can use their Composite cows.
We also realized that once you have collected BCS measurements from a pasture or group of cows at one point in time and then followed up with BCS measurements at another point in time, you probably would want to know what is the actual difference in Body Condition Score. We have now added a feature that will calculate the mean or average for a date range that you provide. You can then compare that with another point in time and determine if cows are gaining, slipping or maintaining their condition.
We have had very positive feedback with the BCS app and its usefulness as a quick and easy tool for collecting extremely important information when managing beef cows from small to large herds. It is available on iOS (iphone) and Android platforms and you can go directly to the App stores with the QR codes or hot link below.
Scan the appropriate QR Code with your iPhone or Android to download your app today!
Iphone QR Code
Android QR Code
Cows grazing cornstalks, it’s a common practice in the Midwest, albeit some information is being written about it as though it was a new practice. It isn’t. However much has been learned with more recent research data and the ability to efficiently utilize this resource has improved with different strategies. This season, with the drought conditions plaguing a large area of beef cattle production, grazing not only cornstalks but other crop residue will have a new value component.
What’s in the Residue?
Corn Residue or Cornstalks do provide an abundant source of forage. In Nebraska and other states of the Western Corn belt, it’s been called our winter pasture. Corn residue is composed of the husk, leaf, stem, and cob and waste grain left in the field after harvesting. The stem or stalk portion of the residue comprises nearly 40% of the dry matter, while the leaf and husk comprise about 45%, and cob about 10-15%. All of these components will vary in nutritional quality and digestibility and most attention should be given to the husk and leaf portion; which is what will provide the majority of the diet based on grazing management and diet selection of the animal. Thus, husk and leaf is about 60% digestible (based on in-vitro dry matter digestibility data) and will average about 3.5 -7.5% crude protein. Comparatively, cornstalk grazing is similar in quality as moderate to low quality hay.
What’s Grazed and When?
Most cornstalk grazing management recommends a 50% removal of the residue. When cattle are first turned into fields for grazing, they seek out waste corn first, then the husk and leaves. The stalks are normally the last components to be grazed and are lowest in quality. The amount of waste corn is variable due to harvest efficiency, ear drop caused by weather damage or other factors. A general rule is the amount of waste corn will average near 4% of the total dry matter available. If a great deal of waste corn is present (more than 8-10 bushel/acre) the risk of acidosis may be a concern, especially if the stocking rate is low. Having some waste corn in the residue does improve overall diet quality and digestibility, but this quality disappears quickly over time and is hastened by stocking rate. The diagram below illustrates this decrease in in-vitro dry matter digestibility as grazing days prolong.
Determining Stocking Rate
Appropriate stocking rate is related to the corn grain yield. A general rule is that 175 bushel per acre corn yield would supply about 1.5 AUM/acre of grazing; about 45 days of grazing for a 1200 lb. cow.  Grazing at 1 AUM per acre would be considered a light stocking rate and 2 AUM would be considered heavy. There is a free spreadsheet named “Corn Stalk Calculator” available through the University of Nebraska Extension Service. This spreadsheet can help calculate stocking rate, days of grazing, and total grazing cost. It can be found at www.unl.beef.edu. This is very handy to use and would be a good guide this year as corn yields under 175 bushel per acre are more common with the drought. Past stocking rates will probably not be a good guideline this season.
When evaluating the protein and digestibility values of various corn residue components, a convincing argument can be made for supplementation, especially protein. Quality of cornstalk grazing will be determined by stocking rate. The higher the stocking rate the faster the “goody” found in cornstalk grazing will be used up. Thus, the longer cows are grazed cornstalks in the same field, the lower the quality of their diet. There have been recent and ongoing studies evaluating the need for supplementation with cornstalk grazing. It would appear that with appropriate stocking rates, minimal weather challenges and a not so demanding stage of animal production ( 2nd trimester of gestation), mature beef cows would maintain Body Condition without protein or energy supplementation. I would caution the readers of that research to consider many things as it’s also shown that by supplementing on cornstalks, Body Condition can be gained. Mineral, vitamin and salt supplementation is also still necessary.
The 2012-2013 season is one where we will find many drought stressed cows and gaining a condition score in October, November and December will be a good thing, much better than just maintaining. In addition, with limited forage supplies, the use of cornstalk grazing or feeding cornstalks in many rations will be increased. As a cow-calf producer, one may be tempted to graze stalks a little longer or utilize more than the 50% recommended, simply due to the cost of forage. So with this in mind, supplementation is and will be warranted to best utilize the forage available. Crystalyx® has many good answers in products ranging from 20-40% crude protein. Consider these, and ones with a small portion of the protein from non-protein nitrogen (urea) to best utilize the fiber.
Nitrate, Mycotoxin, and Acidosis Concerns
Nitrates have been a concern in drought stressed corn. The good news is that most nitrate concentration in corn is found in the lower portion of the stem/stalk. Again, this would be the last component of the residue cattle would graze so avoiding nitrates is relatively easy with proper management and not over grazing. Similarly, with mycotoxins, the concern is in the corn grain fraction which, in most cornstalk grazing, is not a significant portion of the diet. Again, if more that 8-10 bushels per acre are determined to be wasted, acidosis may be a concern. In this case, management can help by cleaning up spilled areas of corn grain, strip grazing cornstalks (if practical), or simply increasing the stocking rate which removes the corn grain sooner and by a larger number of animals.
Cost of Cornstalk Grazing?
The numbers are all over the board. Here in Western Nebraska, the rates may have doubled in the last two years. Crop and hay values, coupled with drought and limited forage, have driven this. Cornstalks may not be the bargain they once were but still are a good value; even at $25.00 an acre, which is the asking price in many areas, it’s less than many summer grazing rates. Again, this number will vary from free for “Aunt Betty’s north quarter”, to as high as $50 or more by some exaggeration of coffee shop talk. What it is worth, is what’s paid for it. Thank goodness we have some cornstalk grazing this year
 Calculation based on 175 bushel per acre yield = approx. 16 lbs. of residue material, 50% of which is available for grazing. 50% X (16X175) = 1400 lbs. of DM available. A 1000 lb. cow = 1 AUM and requires 780 lbs. of DM/month. 1200 lb. cow = 1.2 AUM or 936 lbs. of DM/month. (1400)/ (1.2 X 780) = 1.50 AUM.
Traditionally, the use of CRYSTALYX® supplements has been in fall and winter months with running age beef cows. This is still where the vast majority of product volume is used but growth within other segments of beef cow production and during spring and summer months has been growing. Earlier blog articles have described the benefits of using CRYSTALYX® as a vehicle to deliver not only protein and energy but mineral/vitamin programs in the summer, additives for fly control and growth promotants, etc…
The types of CRYSTALYX® products could be categorized into about three to five different groups, with the main three being: Protein, mineral, and specialty supplements. These would all fit into a year round program per se but simply feeding one or more year round would qualify as year round feeding. Forage quality and environmental conditions would dictate just what products fit the best. Below is a chart that illustrates what a year round CRYSTALYX® program would look like. This would be typical for a ranch in the Northern or Central Plains states or Rocky Mountain Region.
Cost figures for the above program would be about $100.00 per cow per year. That may sound like a lot but just think about the cost of all feedstuffs today and what you really return from a supplement program. Supplements that perform do require an investment. Doing little or nothing will normally return anything or will reduce performance. This cost estimate above is also based on typical intakes of CRYSTALYX in traditional programs. In year round programs, it’s been my experience that cattle tend to consume less CRYSTALYX® thus having lower cost per day figures.
The Benefits of Year Round CRYSTALYX®
I’ve had the opportunity to work with and get to know Roger Koberstein, a very good Angus producer near Holyoke, CO the past 18 month. Roger began using CRYSTALYX® Breed Up® 28 with BioMos® just prior to the 2011 spring season with one group of cows. He used only this supplement and salt through calving, breeding, summer grazing and into fall. He had excellent rebreeding and calves weaned from this group of cows were 40-50 lbs. heavier than calves from cows on a traditional mineral program. The weight gain alone from these calves more than paid for the CRYSTALYX® program. CRYSTALYX® Breed Up® 28 is now the year round program on the ranch and fed 365 days per year to all cows. Overall consumption of Breed Up® 28 has been lower than typically expected in various forage conditions as well. This may be due to the fact that cows being offered a year round program are in a more consistent, positive plane of nutrition and will consume supplement more consistently and at lower levels.
I’ve been asked by producers countless times, “which CRYSTALYX® barrel is the cheapest to use?” My answer is usually, “the highest priced one.” What I’m implying here is that some of our best fortified products (like the Breed Up® 28) are the highest cost and usually are consumed at much lower rates, thus the cost per animal per day is the lowest. Having consistency in a nutrition program will translate into consistent performance, good herd health and lower overall total cost of production. Way too often I see programs that are not fed correctly or a started, then stopped and then started again. This “see-saw” effect of supplementation probably winds up wasting more nutrients. A supplement program that is not fed or managed correctly is simply a waste of money.
If you like the way CRYSTALYX® works for your fall/winter program you’ll probably like it in a year round program too. It doesn’t cost, it pays, and is easy to manage. Take a closer look. www.CRYSTALYX.com
Most of the cattlemen reading this blog will likely admit that they are in a drought, to some degree or another. Interestingly, some may have even sold hay from a bumper crop last year, for what seemed like a tidy profit at $125/ton, only to have to buy some back this year at prices $20 to $50 above that. What a difference el niño can make! For whatever reason, many Cattlemen are buying hay this fall, in order to get through the winter. And, for some cattlemen, hay may be scarce in their part of the country. CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) hay may be part of what they can make a deal on.
Earlier this summer, the USDA opened much of the CRP land for emergency haying and grazing. This greatly increased the forage available to cattlemen in drought stricken counties. If you are like most of us, when you hear the term “CRP hay”, you immediately begin to get a visual of some pretty low quality forage. Something a little bit better than straw, but not as good as your neighbor’s 3-year old pile of alfalfa round bales. While this does describe one end of the quality spectrum, some of the CRP hay can be much better. The previous year’s old growth (or perhaps the lack of any growth this year) is what makes the quality decline so badly. If, for some reason, there is not too much old growth in it, or if there is a fair amount of alfalfa in the mix, you could see crude protein values as high as 10%. This is pretty good feed for a gestating beef cow, but CRP hay at the other end of the spectrum may be 6% to 7% CP or less. This poor quality CRP can really use some help in the form of supplemental protein. As with any purchased forage, you need to have a good representative (not just 1or 2 bales) sample tested, at a reputable feed lab. This would be especially worth the investment with CRP hay, as the value/quality can vary greatly, and should impact the asking price.
So, while you are looking up el niño’s phone number in the phone book, to give him a piece of your mind, also jot down the number of your nearest CRYSTALYX® dealer, as you will be needing some supplemental crude protein to help digest that lower quality CRP hay. The added protein in CRYSTALYX® beef supplements allow cattle to unlock more energy from the CRP hay they consume. Vitamin A activity is also likely to be low in that quality of forage, and we know from past experience that most all forages in the US are deficient in copper and zinc. We are developing quite a grocery list of nutrients we need to go with this CRP hay, but, rest assured that CRYSTALYX® protein supplements for beef cattle contain 1 to 2 times the NRC required nutrient levels for trace minerals and vitamins A, D and E. CRYSTALYX® Brand self-fed supplements are an excellent way to maximize your returns from a supplement program that’s available 24/7, while minimizing your investment in time, labor and equipment.
On the CRYSTALYX® website, go to “Condition Type” and choose “Low Quality Forage” for a complete list of the appropriate CRYSTALYX® protein supplements for that bottom end CRP hay.
Maximizing Rumen Bacterial Growth and Forage Digestion
Several recent Block Blogs have discussed various aspect of feeding cattle to get the most out of the available forage. Mark Robbins discussed the use of Non-Protein Nitrogen and Dan Dhuyvetter reviewed how a natural brown seaweed meal called Tasco® and how they impact forage digestibility through improved rumen function. If we examine rumen function at the microbial level we get a better understanding of how nutrient and additive delivery through a low moisture block (LMB) self-fed supplement like CRYSTALYX® can dramatically improve fiber digestibility.
Rumen Microbial Populations and Rumen pH
The rumen is a large fermentation vat, with a total volume of 40-50 gallons for a 1500 pound beef cow. The rumen provides a site where billions of rumen microorganisms can digest carbohydrate, proteins and fiber. These microbes convert feedstuffs into energy in for the form of volatile fatty acids (VFA) and microbial protein that can be utilized by the animal. Rumen bacteria can be grouped into different categories depending on the material they digest. It is estimated, there are over 100 billion bacteria in the rumen. Protozoa and rumen fungi (yeast) make up the remaining microbial population.
The microbes are very sensitive to rumen pH and nutrient supply. At pH between 6 and 7 the VFAs produced are acetate (50-65%), propionate (18-20%) and a small amount of butyric acid (10-18%). Acetate and butyric acid is utilized for body fat and milk fat synthesis. Propionate is utilized to maintain blood glucose levels. A small amount of butyric acid is used as an energy source for the cells lining the rumen wall. At pH 6 to 7 and the resulting VFAs provides an optimal amount of energy and microbial protein to the cow. The predominate bacteria are the fiber digesters. Rumen pH below 5.8 will shift the microbial population from primary fiber digesters to starch digesters. These microbes will produce lactic acid. The amount of feed and how quickly it is consumed will impact rumen pH. Feeds high in starch will result in rapid fermentation and a subsequent drop in pH. In general, as the forage to concentrate ratio decreases, the acetate to propionate ratio drops. If pH drops below 5.5 there is a risk of acidosis due to the accumulation of lactic acid. The bacteria that digest fiber die and it can be several days before their numbers return to normal levels. The rumen is in a constant flux and maintaining a balance of the microbial population is critical to maximizing forage digestion.
Rumination and the Benefit of Saliva
Cows that are chewing their “cud” for 8-10 hours per day will recirculate about 45 gallons of saliva. Cattle are great at recycling. The saliva is composed on sodium, potassium, chloride and bicarbonate ions. These minerals are recycled back to the rumen and act as a powerful natural buffer helping maintain a consistent rumen pH. Saliva also helps make the cow more efficient in nitrogen metabolism. As proteins are broken down in the rumen ammonia is produced. Fiber digesting bacteria require a certain level of nitrogen available in the rumen as ammonia. When there is excess nitrogen in the rumen it is absorbed and recalculated through the saliva. In general, as the level of grain in the diet is increased, the amount of rumination and saliva produced is decreased which can result in the rumen function being less efficient due to the loss the natural recycling of buffer and ammonia. LMB supplements will stimulate saliva production due to the licking action need to consume them. There is an enhancement in rumen function beyond just the nutrients that the LMB supplies.
Nutrient Deliver Impact on Net Nutrient Availability
Feedstuffs are analyzed for energy and crude protein content. These are lab methods that estimate nutrient content based on chemical analysis. However, the true nutrient value is what the cow is able to digest. We often think of corn as an energy source, but research has shown that 3 pounds of corn fed in a diet of low quality forage resulted in reduced fiber digestion compared to 1 pound of LMB. The sugars in the LMB do not lower pH like the starch in corn and are consumed over a longer time frame. The net result of corn diet was less energy being made available to the animal due to lower forage digestion. On paper, the nutrient analysis of the hay in the diet was the same for the corn and LMB treatment. However, the amount of nutrients metabolized from the forage was much higher for the LMB treatment.
In practical terms, the energy content of forage is more dependent on how it is fed and the other ingredients in the diet than what the lab reported energy content. We have seen instances where one farm will have exceptional animal performance and another farm with very similar forage will have poor animal performance. If we look at digestion at the microbial level we are able to explain some of these differences. Were there different methods of feeding and what were the other ingredients in the diet? Often a nutritionist or cattle producer will doubt the benefit of delivering 0.5 to 1.0 pound of a LMB supplement. CRYSTALYX® offers a wide variety of self-fed supplements for a variety of forage quality and feeding situations. At the rumen microbial level, a consistent supply of rumen friendly carbohydrate and protein and a stable rumen pH can result in optimal performance and maximizing your forage.
The drought will have lingering effects on cow-calf producers well into next year, especially in the areas of forage quality and availability. Any technologies, management practices or additives that can help us better use forages we have on hand should be evaluated to determine if their benefits will outweigh their expense. Probably the most predictable forage utilization responses observed are those directly affected by protein supplementation, particularly on low quality forages that are less than 8% crude protein. If you have lower quality forages, the addition of supplemental soluble protein that is degraded in the rumen provides an improvement in forage digestibility and often times increased forage intake. This provides added energy to your cow-herd from the forages that you have on hand in two ways. Cows will digest more nutrients from the forage and they will consume more of these low quality forages.
You should make sure that you are selecting protein supplements that contain ingredients that are digested in the rumen. Mark Robbins wrote an earlier Blog related to the use of Non Protein Nitrogen (NPN) ingredients like urea as a ruminally degradable protein (RDP) source. Rumen microorganisms that ferment/digest fiber need a certain level of nitrogen available in the rumen that comes from the diet. Urea is one of the lowest cost means of providing this first limiting nutrient in order for fiber digesting microflora to work efficiently. A mix of other natural protein ingredients can then provide more slowly degraded protein to the rumen that will be used as microorganisms grow and ferment forages. If you use supplements that contain high levels of ruminally undegradable protein (RUP) such as feather meal, blood meal or corn gluten meal among others, you should be aware that much of the protein supplied by these ingredients is not digested in the rumen and therefore are not made available for rumen microorganisms. The key is to fix up the rumen first and then if additional protein is required to meet animal requirements, supplements with high levels of RUP can be optimally used.
As one looks at additives that can help improved forage utilization for Beef cows, the list is generally not very long. Particularly when looking for products that are labeled for mature beef cows. We did, however, find a marked improvement in forage digestibility with a natural dehydrated brown seaweed meal called Tasco®. This work was conducted at North Dakota State University and the results published in the peer reviewed Journal of Animal Science 2005 83:2938-2945. A digestibility study was set up to evaluate several feed additives on low quality forages (CP of 6%). The steers were provided either no supplement, a 40% CP supplement (19% as NPN from urea) or the same 40% CP supplement that contained the Tasco seaweed meal feed additive at 10 grams per head per day. Supplements were fed at .77 lb per head per day, typical of CRYSTALYX® low-moisture block supplements.
The results of the study showed that protein supplementation of low quality hay increased dietary intake and digestibility as we would typically expect. We also showed that when Tasco seaweed meal was added to the protein supplements, we saw an additional improvement in organic matter digestibility which came predominantly from NDF or fiber digestibility improvements. The increase in digestibility was approximately a 10% improvement over and above the increases already observed with protein supplementation and resulted in an additive benefit. This means that if a cow is consuming 25 lbs of hay or forage per day she will realize an added 2.5 lbs of forage digested, just with the addition of Tasco® in the protein supplement.
As you are looking for economical ways to stretch your limited forages, first consider protein supplementation and for added returns make sure to ask for CRYSTALYX® Tasco® 35-CP supplement from your local CRYSTALYX® dealer. The additional benefit from Tasco® seaweed meal will pay dividends as the value of forage increases. Let CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements help you get the most out of your forage supplies.
We are still a long way off from knowing the final effects of the most widespread drought in the United States in more than 50 years. Given current market volatility and fears of feed shortages, it only makes sense to do everything in your power to make the most of available feedstuffs. Below are a list of tips that can help you make the most efficient use of available feed.
1. Reduce the amount of wasted forages.
You can do this by utilizing more efficient methods to feed hay (for instance use of a hay ring instead of a free-standing round bale). Another method to reduce waste is use of CRYSTALYX® brand supplements to draw livestock into underutilized areas of pasture to assure maximum grazing coverage. Additionally, studies have shown that use of CRYSTALYX® brand supplements helps rumen microbes more efficiently utilize available forages.
2. Treat all animals for parasites.
Now is the time to get aggressive in ridding your animals of both internal and external parasites. Deworm, treat for coccidia and maintain adequate fly and tick control (see Figure 1). You want to make sure that available forages, feeds and supplements go toward supporting your livestock, not parasites.
3. Have all hay forage tested.
This relatively inexpensive tool will allow you to better allocate available hay to the animals that need it the most. By knowing the nutritional value of available hay, you will be able to make more informed buying decisions when it comes to purchase of supplemental feedstuffs. Contact your local Cooperative Extension agent or feed store employee for more information about forage testing services.
4. Cull unproductive animals.
If she didn’t give you a calf/kid/lamb this year, now is not the time to give her “one more chance”. Don’t carry livestock that don’t fit into your genetic parameters. Better to use available feed resources to support superior genetics than to keep mediocre breeding animals.
5. Use high quality mineral supplements to fill gaps created by commodity feedstuffs.
Tight feed markets are going to increase use of “opportunity feeds”. These are the commodity items that you’ve probably not used in the past but are tempted to use now based on availability, price or both. One of the downsides of utilizing these types of feedstuffs is that while they may contain very high levels of one or more nutrients (i.e. protein), they lack other key nutrients (i.e. trace minerals) and are not balanced. Without the benefit of a high quality supplement, like one of the CRYSTALYX® Breed-Up® supplements, to offset potential imbalances, production is likely to suffer in the long run. Fall and winter are critical times in the production cycle, as most livestock are pregnant. Proper mineral and vitamin nutrition directly affects the developing calf/kid/lamb as well as the dam’s ability to rebreed in a timely manner.
Figure 1. Each horn fly feeds on the host 10 to 38 times per day. Excessive horn fly infestations tax cattle already stressed by heat and limited feed resources and result in lowered milk production, reduced growth and lowered reproductive efficiency.
2012 has been a tough year for many in our business so far. The negatives of the drought and its effect on the industry continue to make headlines. In times such as these I find it important to remind customers, prospects and fellow colleagues of the basic fundamentals of CRYSTALYX® supplement programs. During opportune or inopportune times (depending on how you see the glass as ½ full or empty), a lot of producers and sales people study alternatives which means there are new people looking at CRYSTALYX® programs.
I’ve been fortunate over the years to work with a lot of good sales people and producers in the field of Animal Nutrition and have learned a great deal from the many professionals in our industry. Whether you are a rancher, farmer, feed professional or involved at any other level of food production in the U.S., you’ve had to learn basic fundamentals of your business and practice them to be successful. Below I’ve listed what I consider to be three fundamental reasons CRYSTALYX® is successful, and made reference to some past research. Much of these areas have been discussed in more detail in past blogs here on www.crystalyx.com.
CRYSTALYX® Fundamental Number 1: Forage utilization
The word supplement means to improve, help, or make better. This is what CRYSTALYX® does for forage, especially low quality forages. What 0.75 pounds of CRYSTALYX® does to stimulate fiber digestibility, increase rate of passage, and improve rumen microbial activity and turnover is classic in terms of what protein supplementation does for utilization of low quality forages. This is supplement strategy. The benefits are greater intake of the forage fraction of the diet; which means more energy intake all because of a little protein supplement. Nutritionists call this Positive Associative Effects. A Cowman calls it better feed efficiency and the cow herself will call it maintaining Body Condition. One CRYSTALYX® study conducted at Kansas State Univ. in 1997 measured a 19% increase in dry matter intake which translated to a 26% increase in digestible energy intake of steers on low quality forage (< 6% Crude Protein and >70% neutral detergent fiber). Again, in cow language, this is more energy from low quality forages. With the ongoing drought, high forage cost and a limited supply, every stem of fiber is important.
Crystalyx Fundamental Number 2: Predictable Intake for the ideal delivery mechanism of self-fed supplements
Have you ever heard the adage, “A supplement is only as good as it is consumed?” CRYSTALYX® being a molasses based supplement is very palatable and cattle will seek it out and consume it consistently on a daily basis. Research has proven it’s a great tool to use in attracting cattle to underutilized rangeland/pastureland (when placed farther from water or in difficult terrain) and that cattle prefer CRYSTALYX® over salt and dry mineral when given the choice. Consistent intake makes CRYSTALYX® an attractive supplement in managing costs, and in offering supplemental additives such as feed through fly control compounds (Altosid® or Rabon® Oral Larvacide) or the Ionophore Bovatec® for improved feed efficiency. In addition to consistent intake, CRYSTALYX® is fed with virtually no waste and very low time and labor inputs.
Fundamental No. 3 -- Herd health and Productivity
More recent research and production applications with weaning/receiving beef cattle and in dairy production have shown the health benefits of CRYSTALYX®. When animals are stressed they don’t eat as well putting them at risk for immune suppression, disease and poor performance. It has been well noted that when CRYSTALYX® Brigade® for beef cattle or Transition Stress Formula™ for dry and fresh dairy cows has been fed, a positive intake of the basal diet dry matter occurs. CRYSTALYX® does not replace anything in the basal diet but it will provide important nutrients during stress periods and can help stimulate appetite. It only makes sense that when cattle consume feed better there is less sickness, less death loss, and more efficient performance.
These are some of the fundamental features and benefits of CRYSTALYX® programs. With better forage utilization, consistent intake, and positive health benefits, CRYSTALYX® performs. Its reputation and success would not have lasted over 30 years if it didn’t. Mother Nature always has challenges for beef producers and 2012 is obviously no different. Put CRYSTALYX® to work in your herd and help manage the fundamentals of your business.
Most Cattlemen are aware of two types of protein supplements. Those that are called an “all-natural”1, and those that utilize some urea, or other form of non-protein nitrogen (NPN). It is not unusual for Cattlemen to hesitate, or outright refuse to use a supplement containing NPN. Instances of overconsumption with free-choice supplements containing NPN have occasionally caused animal deaths. This is usually due to a combination of environmental factors (e.g., forage or water availability), and often times it is exacerbated by the previous plane of nutrition of the cattle involved. Still, many cattle are safely and effectively supplemented each year with a supplement containing some NPN.
You may have heard that with a ruminant animal, you do not feed the animal, but rather, you feed the microorganisms in the rumen, and they in-turn feed the animal. This is true to a large degree with the protein needs of beef cattle. Aside from a few key amino acids, what beef cattle really need from protein in feeds and supplements under most production conditions, is the nitrogen (N). This N, along with some energy (e.g., molasses in a supplement block), is used by the microorganisms in the rumen to reproduce, while they digest the forages the animal consumes. The microorganisms are eventually flushed out of the rumen, into the small intestine, where they are digested, providing protein and some energy to the animal. The key here, is that, the microorganisms in the rumen can just as easily use N from NPN as they can from true proteins. The value to Cattlemen, is that N from NPN is much cheaper than N from true proteins. Under many grazing systems maximizing rumen function is first and foremost the limiting factor in cows maintaining body condition because it is so critical for extracting energy from the forages as well. If the rumen microbes are starved for Nitrogen, fiber fermentation stalls out and conversion of forage to body condition or growth in beef cattle is limited. This is the proverbial “low-hanging fruit” that Cattlemen must make sure is optimized before going further in evaluating the nutrition program.
Ridley Block Operations recently conducted an experiment to evaluate the differences in ruminal digestion of forages by an all-natural supplement, and 2 supplements containing some NPN. The experiment was conducted in an artificial rumen called a continuous culture fermenter.
The treatments were as follows:
- Low quality Hay as a control
- Treatment 1 plus a 25% all natural protein supplement
- Treatment 1 plus a 25% protein supplement with 14% NPN. The majority of the natural protein in this supplement was from distillers dried grains with solubles.
- Treatment 1 plus a 25% protein supplement with 14% NPN. Some of the natural protein in this supplement was from soybean meal.
Digestion coefficients for the four treatments are shown in the table below.
While the only statistical difference between treatments was for digestion of non-structural carbohydrates (NSC), dry matter, organic matter and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) were numerically higher for the two supplements that utilized some NPN. Does this mean that the supplements with some NPN are superior to an all-natural supplement? Perhaps not, but, I believe it does show that they are, at the very least, equal to an all-natural supplement, in terms of ruminal forage digestion.
As I stated earlier, not all Cattlemen will be comfortable using a relatively lower cost supplement containing some NPN, but those of you that are, rest assured, you are using a supplement that is every bit as good as a supplement that is touted as being an “all-natural”
The protein by-product ingredient market conditions have been increasing due to drought across much of the US. This will make the manufacturing of “all-natural” protein supplements very costly. Selecting free-choice supplements that have controlled intake minimizes the risk of over-consumption when NPN is formulated in to help reduce costs of your nutrition program. These results support the use of NPN as a portion of the protein being supplemented on lower quality forages and the economic advantage for doing so may be even more convincing given the current prices in protein meals. We would encourage you to consider this option when planning your supplement needs.
1 The term “all-natural’, as used here, and in the feed industry for decades, has more recently been confused as a supplement intended for use with cattle in a “Natural Marketing Program”. The two are not interchangeable. It is entirely possible to have an all-natural supplement that contains allowed animal proteins (e.g., feather meal), while most all Natural Marketing Programs will not allow feeding of animal proteins. The subject of this article is not to differentiate between “natural” cattle and “all-natural” supplements, but to look at the efficacy of an all-natural supplement versus a supplement containing some NPN.
Hay is going to be more valuable than ever this year in light of the drought. For this reason, it is critical to maximize usable hay. Round bales are a popular means to harvest hay in many parts of the country. Proper round bale storage can make or break you. If your current storage method is allowing several inches of bale to rot, you might be surprised at how much hay is being wasted. The outer 4 to 6 inches, where most losses occur, make up a large percentage of the bale as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Percentage of Bale in Outer Inches
Percentage of Bale in
Amount of loss depends on several factors including storage method, length of storage, rainfall, bale density and size. Changing the method of storage is the most practical way to decrease hay loss. Table 2 gives average losses for different storage methods.
Table 2. Hay Losses for Storage Methods
Outside on Ground
Hay tarps are an attractive option for many producers because of low initial cost. They are especially popular for hay storage on rented land. Tarps come in many different sizes. Bales size and stacking method will determine tarp size needed and how many bales will fit under one tarp. Hay tarp prices range from $150 to $300 and tend to last from 1 to 5 years. Even if resources do not permit the use of a tarp, several changes can still be made to reduce storage losses outside.
Select a well drained area
Get bales off the ground by using rock, poles, tires or pallets
Do not store under trees
Tightly place bales end to end in a north-south row
Leave at least 3 ft between rows
Use individual bale wraps or bonnets
In summary, proper hay storage will reduce overall losses and reduce feeding costs. Make necessary storage changes now to maximize the amount of hay available later. CRYSTALYX® offers a complete line of economical protein and mineral/vitamin supplements ideal for augmenting stored hay for all types of livestock. For more information about these products and how they can fit into your current management system, contact your local CRYSTALYX® representative or visit www.crystalyx.com.
Adapted from Univ. of Tennessee publication P&SS Info#300
Self-fed intake guidelines for CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements can be made under the general categories of protein supplement formulations or mineral supplement formulations. However, within those two categories, you can see additional factors that impact consumption outlined below.
For mature beef cattle (1,200 – 1,300 pounds), most CRYSTALYX® protein supplements will have a typical intake of 0.7 to 0.8 pounds per head per day (lb./hd/d). For a CRYSTALYX® mineral formula, these same cattle may consume only 0.15 to 0.50 lb./hd/d.
With any group of animals consuming self-fed supplements, you will see these factors affect the typical intakes from above:
- Larger animals will typically have higher intakes and smaller, or younger animals will nearly always have lower intakes.
- Product formulations containing significant levels of magnesium, calcium or phosphorus often result in lower intakes compared to formulations with lower levels of those minerals.
- If you stock 20 animals per container, you will have a relatively higher intake per animal than if you stock 30 animals per container.
- If forage becomes less available, intake will increase accordingly.
- The presence of other supplements in pastures at the same time will generally result in lower CRYSTALYX® consumption.
- Location of supplements in relation to water, shade, wind and loafing areas can either increase or decrease consumption depending upon environmental conditions and the time animals spend near the supplement.
- Animals that have not been on a mineral or protein supplement may consume up to twice the normal amount of supplement for a 7 to 10 day introductory period.
- Animal nutrient requirements change with their stage of production. As nutrient requirements go up, animals will try to increase consumption of all self-fed feedstuffs (supplements, forages & grains).
We have much data with CRYSTALYX® BRIGADE® in weaned calves. These 500 to 600+ pound calves will generally consume 0.25 lb./dh/d in a drylot. Mature animals will generally consume around 0.75 lb./hd/d of BRIGADE®. While the increase in consumption is not linear with the increase in weight, it does give an idea of the change in consumption due to increasing weight and age. Weaned calves on BRIGADE® in a pasture would likely consume slightly less than 0.25 lb./dh/d.
In a previous Blog, I talked about some data from Western South Dakota where mature cow-calf pairs were on CRYSTALYX® CRYSTAL-PHOS® mineral supplement. The time period was from June to August, and the grass was fairly green during this time. Research data we have over several years on CRYSTAL-PHOS®, when fed during the fall and winter, indicate that intake is quite predictable at four oz./hd/d. However, on the lush Summer grass, intake has been measured at half that, or about 2 oz./hd/d. As the grass dries out and or matures, intake of the CRYSTAL-PHOS® will increase.
These are just two actual examples of how the animal and its environment will both impact the self-fed intake of a supplement. While the formula of the supplement itself will impact self-fed intake, there are many more factors (some listed above) with the animal and its environment, that can also impact self-fed intake of a supplement. Some of the animal and environmental factors can change in a matter days.
As a reminder, many CRYSTALYX® supplements do not contain added salt. Salt should be fed free-choice with CRYSTALYX® supplements that do not contain salt.
I often hear cattlemen say, “With the cost of hay so high, I cannot afford to also buy a supplement.” If a supplement makes sense in your operation with lower priced forage, it only makes more “cents” with higher priced forage.
When we buy a supplement, most of us want to know what sort of payback we get from it. Supplements replace nutrients that are either missing or only available in lower than desired quantities in the base diet/forage. Supplements can also provide performance enhancing additives that are not available naturally. Supplements can provide a third return—their ability to modify the grazing distribution of the herd in a pasture. This is best accomplished by self-fed supplements that are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
These three benefits “pay” you back for the cost of the supplements, generally with increased gain, better health/reproductive performance, or more efficient production overall. The payback can vary from supplement to supplement and situation to situation.
Providing supplemental crude protein to low quality forages will boost the digestibility (release of energy). It is not uncommon for supplemental crude protein to increase the digestibility of a low quality forage by 10 percent. This gives you 10 percent more energy from every ton of forage or, theoretically, you could feed 10 percent less of the forage and achieve the same performance. Either way, you have 10 percent more forage energy than if you chose not to feed a supplement. Ten percent of $150/ton forage will always be worth more than 10 percent of $50/ton forage.
If you have two trucks and only have room to put one in a shed ahead of an oncoming hailstorm, which do you choose? The new truck worth $50,000 or the old one worth $15,000? Just as your reward today for saving a single 600 pound calf that gets sick at weaning is worth over $950 versus around $680 three years ago, your payback for using a supplement on $150 forage is far greater than on $50 forage.
CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, available to your herd 24/7, are an excellent way to increase the payback from your forage, no matter the forage cost. Just remember that your payback increases as your forage cost increases.
Cash Flow Considerations THEN and NOW
As I travel in cow calf regions and visit with cattlemen, I have noticed a distinct shift in their plans for retaining heifers. Last year at weaning, a heifer calf was more valuable as a feeder than a breeding animal. On many farms and ranches cash was tight due to increasing input cost. Generating some cash and paying bills by selling the heifer calf had very little risk. If a cow in the herd needed to be replaced a young cow could be purchased for about the same or less money.
This year the economic considerations for retaining heifers for replacements have shifted. Input costs have increased, most notably forage cost, but we are seeing record prices for feeder calves and replacement heifers. Projections are the nation’s cow herd will be smaller due to the prolonged drought in the southwest.
Another difference between this year and today is related to the value of ground for row crops versus pasture. People that had to decide between planting more acres verses keeping cows and pasture made their choice last fall. Those cows are not on the market today. These and other factors have pushed the value of breeding animals to the point where cash flow is not the only consideration in deciding to keep heifers for breeding stock. We now have more questions to discuss at meetings, coffee shops and sales barns.
- What will replacement heifers and cows cost in the future?
- Will raising your own replacements be less expensive?
- Is there more income potential in selling replacement heifer?
Below is a summary of some recent bred heifer sales.*
Avg. Heifer Price
Nov. 26, 2011
Dec. 5, 2011
Dec. 10, 2011
*Sales results should not be considered “official” and were taken from posted sales data and radio market reports
Winter is coming. It’s not just a phrase on a popular premium cable TV show, it’s a fact. The leaves on the ground, the frost in the morning and the calendar tell us it’s inching closer. Whether your winter means a snow pack or grazing rye grass, the common denominator for all of us is what to do about supplementing.
More often than not, we use the cost per ton as the deciding factor when choosing a supplement program. However, we need to remember to add in other on-farm costs the cost per ton of supplement. These include labor to handle the supplement and mileage to and from the pasture. Derek Bailey, with Montana State University, looked at 2 supplement strategies, cake and low moisture blocks, to determine cost effectiveness. 160 cows were divided into 2 treatments, 20% cake fed 3 times/week and CRYSTALYX® BGF-30 offered free choice, on pasture October thru December.
The results of study showed that cattle supplemented with BGF-30 performed the same as cattle supplemented with cake while eating less. The BGF-30 cattle consumed an average of 0.70 lb (with 0.46 lb of free choice salt) whereas the cake cattle consumed an average of 1.69 lb (with 0.13 lb free choice salt). The exact driver behind the performance results was not determined in this study, but it does leave a person with a lot to think about. Another interesting observation in this study is pasture utilization. The BGF-30 cattle were tracked utilizing pastures at higher elevations than cattle fed cake.
From this research we can pull out 3 criteria for determining the economics of a supplement.
Supplement Cost – The total cost includes cost per ton of supplement, cost per ton for delivery to farm/ranch and storage cost per ton in addition to how many pounds/head/day during the supplementation period.
Labor Cost – How many hours does it take to put out the supplement for each feeding, and how many times per week do you do this? What is your time or the hired hand’s time worth when other tasks could be completed?
Travel and Equipment Cost – How much does it cost you to drive your truck/tractor to the pasture round trip?
What it adds up to is cost of feed + cost of labor + cost of travel = total cost of supplement program. To see the numbers come together for yourself, click on the Crystal Clear Economyx® page. There you can use our cost calculator to do a quick comparison on the cost of a low moisture block to another type of supplement. Or you can download the Crystal Clear Economyx® spreadsheet and really crunch some numbers.
For more information on the research mentioned above, click on the ‘HOW IT WORKS’ tab above, then Supplementation Research and select Effects of Self-Fed vs Hand Fed Protein Supplements… under the Northern Agricultural Research Center Montana State University drop down.
I recently had a visit with a 20+ year veteran of the livestock premix business. He told me his customers seem to be just as profitable, or more so, when feed costs are high. I’m sure that statement would open up a lot of argument, but there may be some interesting perspectives before jumping to any conclusions. One of which may be that fine tuning and optimizing nutrition for the best return on investment would make sense when profit opportunities are highest (high market value of cattle) or when managing overall high input costs.
I also remember a conversation in the middle part of the past decade with a well-known stocker operator in the Eastern U.S. that said, “Yes, these cattle are costing more money right now, but they will make me more money because the gain is worth more.” It makes sense that dollar for dollar, right now looks to be a good time for stocker cattle investments. There is always risk, perhaps more now than ever, with high price volatility, but nobody can predict the future. Many marketing analysts have demonstrated that the stocker market has been profitable more than 20 years out of the past 25.
When stocker cattle were selling for $85 per cwt, a supplement program costing ~8 cents per animal per day resulting in 0.25 lbs of additional gain netted a return of 13 cents. Given today’s higher market, assuming cattle at $135 per cwt, the same supplement program that may now cost ~12 cents per head per day would net a return of 21 cents. Hmmm – I guess what worked back then works even better now? The total dollar return per head is better today, thanks to higher valued cattle. Supplementation still works and is even better now.
With feedlot cost of gain at or near record highs, it makes sense to add as much gain as possible on lower cost pasture grazing programs. Thus, there seems to be a lot more interest in the traditional yearling or stocker cattle market. Some areas of the U.S. are dry and some are wet but nevertheless, those areas with grass available should provide a good stocker cattle opportunity.
It’s probably not news that hay prices are climbing in many areas due to several factors (high demand, drought in the southern plains, and supply). With high cereal grain prices, hay and pasture supplies are not likely to increase anytime soon. In fact, pasture rental rates are under upward pressure as well.
A good supplement program not only improves gain performance but can do so without adding any significant cost of gain on pasture. Assuming pasture rental rates at roughly $20 per animal per month (highly variable depending on locale and grass type for stocker cattle) with an average daily gain of 2 lbs without a supplement, cost of gain on pasture would be ~ 33 cents per pound. By adding 12 cents per day in supplement cost and achieving 2.25 lbs of daily gain, the cost of gain changes only to ~ 35 cents. With even higher pasture rents (or lower baseline gain performance), the spread narrows and actually becomes positive.
Yes, the investment paid for stocker programs is a large one. I often wonder if lenders and borrowers overlook the additional income a good stocker supplement program can provide. After all, the additional dollars needed to purchase supplement is a real cost, but the return on those dollars is money well spent – even better spent in today’s market!