A weaning practice that has received increased attention both in terms of research and producer experience is fenceline weaning. It’s a simple process: calves and cows are separated but can still go nose-to-nose and see, hear and smell one another. The goal is to help the weaning calves attain as close to normal growth rate and weight gain as possible. And if the cow is close by and there is a consistency in diet, the results can be positive.
Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Animal Science Professor Emeritus, noted in an article, Fenceline Low Stress Weaning, that “California researchers weaned
calves with only a fence (Fenceline) separating them from their dams. These were compared to calves weaned totally separate (Separate) from dams. The Separate calves could not see or hear their dams.” Selk observed that, “After two weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 23 pounds more than Separate calves. This difference persisted since, after 10 weeks, Fenceline calves had gained 110 pounds (1.57 lbs./day), compared to 84 pounds (1.20 lbs./day) for Separate calves.
There was no report of any differences in sickness, but calves that eat more during the first days after weaning should stay healthier.” In fact, another study conducted at Ohio State University indicated that Fenceline calves had a lower incidence of respiratory diseases.
Nutrition and Pasture Management are Also Key
Several producers have coupled fenceline weaning with the use of CRYSTALYX® Brigade® Stress Fighting Formula that provides diet consistency as well as nutritional help to ease the calves through the stressful period.
“Brigade® adds an additional dimension to smoothing the stress of weaning,” Mark Robbins, Research and Nutrition Services Manager for Ridley Block Operations, said. “If cow/calf pairs are provided with Brigade® for three to four weeks before they’re weaned, they get used to licking block supplements. When the calves are taken away from their mother, they’re no longer suckling—getting milk—but they still have the barrel in front of them. That gives them something familiar they can go to. Producers tell us that calves that have been on Brigade® prior to weaning, and have it in the weaning pen, will quit bawling sooner.” They associate that with stress reduction and that, in turn, means they’re going to go to feed quicker, start eating better, gain weight and stay healthy.
That was the experience for Lazy Y Cattle Company in Max, Nebraska. Brigade® barrels were placed with cows and calves on pasture one month prior to fenceline weaning. Five days before separation, the pairs were moved to a pasture that had both native range and a field of volunteer wheat stubble. The Lazy Y fenceline weaning system involved holding cows in portable corrals on one end of the pasture and placing calves in the same pasture. The Brigade® barrels were placed near the corral, at a midpoint near water in the pasture and in the volunteer wheat.
“The calves would loaf near the cows at times, but would also graze to and from the barrels,” Levi Whipps, owner of Lazy Y Cattle Company, said.
“Within three days our calves were fine, and we had no additional sick calves.”
“Producers also tell us that calves that are used to CRYSTALYX® prior to weaning will, once they are weaned and lick the molasses, have a higher affinity to seek out water. And it’s important for calves to remain hydrated when they’re weaned,” said Dr. Dan Dhuyvetter, Director of Research and Development for Ridley Nutrition Solutions.
Sturdy fence and an adequate supply of water on both sides of the fence are recommended for producers who would like to try fenceline weaning. And Brigade® can provide much needed stress-relieving nutrition as well as serving as an effective pasture management tool.
The value of nutrition in combating disease-causing stress that newly received feeder cattle must overcome has been reinforced by several recent research studies.
ANTIOXIDANTS AND FEEDLOT STRESS
Researchers at Texas A&M and West Texas A&M have presented a good case that shipping and receiving stress causes a loss of antioxidant vitamins E and A. These antioxidants have been shown to be an important component of a healthy immune system in humans.
The studies shipped commingled southeastern feeders 1,300 miles to a west-Texas feedlot. One group was subjected to a simulated dusty environment by being housed inside a dust-filled tent after arrival. Regular blood tests showed that shipping stress reduced the level of vitamin E to almost one-fourth the level tested before shipping. The dust-stressed calves also showed lower levels.
Lead A&M researcher Norbert Chirase also found that as vitamin A and vitamin E levels in the blood fall, fever in the calves can be expected to rise. This suggests the diminishing level of antioxidants may be connected to an increase in respiratory disease, the number-one killer of feedlot calves.
THE AFFECTS OF ADDITIONAL VITAMIN E
If you provide newly-received calves with additional vitamin E in their diets, what effect will it have on their performance? That was the question researchers at New Mexico State and Texas Tech took on. They provided newly-received calves with up to 1,140 units of vitamin E per day. They found that the additional vitamin E increased the level of humoral antibodies that calves produced against an experimental inoculation. Cattle receiving the highest level of vitamin E also had a statistically significant lower level of repulls for treatment. The additional vitamin E did not make a significant difference in final feedlot performance, and there was no significant difference in disease level based on supplementation.
The vitamin E research echoed the A&M research findings that feedlot stressors interfere with uptake or utilization of vitamin E. Therefore, additional vitamin E might help light, stressed calves recover from respiratory disease.
Source: Journal of Animal Science, April, 2002.
Research continues to draw the connection between mineral status and immune-system response to keep feeder calves healthy and growing. Now, three recent trials on over 1,000 calves demonstrate that connection in the field.
The studies showed that both pull rate and death loss can be cut by using a low-moisture block supplement to improve rumen function, increase appetite and
provide organic forms of trace minerals.
Brigade,® a CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplement formulated specifically to help fight stress in cattle, was placed in the backgrounding program of CPC Livestock, in Fountain Run, Ky. CPC, owned by Marshall and Brian Celsor and Ivan Pedigo, buys four-weight sale-barn calves from six nearby states, backgrounds them, and ships them to feedlots at about 700 pounds.
When CPC began using Brigade® supplement, which is continuously available to deliver additional protein, electroyles, vitamins and minerals, including organic forms of copper, zinc and manganese, the supplement showed immediate results.
A drop in pulls was seen, as well as fewer chronics and reduced death loss. Similar results were recorded on follow-up trials.
“All trials showed calves on the supplement were eating more,” says Pedigo. “After seeing the results of the trials, we’re convinced that the supplement is a tool we can use to reduce pulls, lower death loss and increase feed consumption.”
Read more about the CPC trial results at www.crystalyx.com (find article at www.crystalyx.com/beef_strat.html).
SUPPLEMENT…BUT DON’T OVERSUPPLY
Supplemental zinc, copper and selenium have all been shown to strengthen immune function and reduce levels of bovine respiratory disease in feedlot field studies. However, researchers from West Texas A&M and New Mexico State note in a recent Journal of Animal Science article, feeders should be cautious about supplying minerals beyond the amount needed to compensate for decreased feed intake and known deficiencies.
Galyean, L. J. Perino, and G. C. Duff,
1999. Interaction of Cattle Health/Immunity and
Nutrition. J. Anim. Sci. 77:1120-1134
STRATEGY: MANAGE STRESS
• To reduce risk from the start, buy cattle from a known, reliable source.
• If you don’t know the calves’ trace-mineral status coming off the truck, assume they’re deficient. Supplement accordingly.
• Formulate receiving diets to compensate for the relatively lower feed intake of stressed new arrivals.
• Although the typical inorganic forms of copper and zinc usually suffice under normal conditions, the complex—or organic—forms have been shown to increase absorption. They are a good investment when supplementing stressed new arrivals.
• Potassium is a common mineral in the body, but scouring or excessive shrink can quickly deplete it. Effective potassium supplementation—particularly starting rations—helps get calves rehydrated and recovering.
• Manage to reduce stress: Provide plenty of clean fresh water, access to high-quality grass hay, short rest before initial processing, vaccination program based on known history.
This year’s combination of multiseason drought, short grass, dusty drylots and calf-killing heat threatens to add even more stress to the most stressful time of the season: weaning. As higher than average numbers of light and early-weaned calves come off thin cows to enter weaning lots, producers will be challenged to get them eating and keep them healthy. New research suggests some non-traditional approaches can help:
• Three years’ weaning studies at University of California at Davis compared weaning seven-month old calves by one of five methods:
– Fenceline separation from dams—on pasture
– Total separation from dams—on pasture
– Total separation from dams on drylot after being preconditioned to hay
– Total separation from dams to drylot without preconditioning to hay
– Non-weaned controls on pasture
Calves allowed fenceline contact spent no less time during the weaning process feeding than unweaned controls, while those in totally separated treatments ate less. Isolated calves spent more time walking fence, standing up and bawling.
In the end, although the behavioral effects of weaning were relatively short-lived, the less-stressed calves showed higher weight gains in the days following weaning—differences that persisted for at least 10 weeks.
• Four to six weeks prior to weaning, provide supplemental minerals to enhance response to vaccines and treatments given after weaning. Now, further field trials conducted and supported by Ridley, makers of CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements, demonstrate that offering a highly palatable low-moisture block at weaning appears to offer the same jump-start to the feed-familiarization process.
When fortified and—more importantly—highly palatable supplements are placed in weaning pens, even calves that are naive to supplement experience interest that stimulates acclimation to the bunk. And eating calves are less stressed.
• Permitting calves to retain their natural behavioral instincts by adjusting your weaning management can help reduce stress.
• Providing a highly palatable weaning supplement aids bunk-acclimation.
SUPPLEMENT STRATEGIES IN ACTION
For the fourth season now, Kentucky backgrounding operation CPC Livestock has been running its own trials to try to prove whether CRYSTALYX® Brand Brigade® low-moisture blocks are cost effective or not. They have.
“The starter feed we provide these calves has everything in it those animals need,” says CPC’s feed manager and co-owner Ivan Pedigo. “So there’s no reason that block should make any difference.”
Yet, they’ve found that when calves consume only about two-tenths of a pound per-head, per-day, dry-matter intake increases, feed efficiency improves, calf gains go up and feed and treatment costs go down. Even after accounting for cost to supply the supplement, total cost of gain drops by 1.5 to 4 cents per pound, notes coowner Marshall Celsor.
“No matter how good your starter feed,” notes Ridley Block Operations’ Research Manager Mark Robbins, “there’s always a percentage that don’t eat it for several days. A fortified palatable supplement like Brigade® changes that behavior, while providing a nutritional boost when it’s needed most.”
Animal-science researchers continue to demonstrate the value nutrition plays in beating disease-causing stress that newly received feeders must overcome:
In an ongoing series of studies, researchers at Texas A&M and West Texas A&M have presented a convincing case that shipping and receiving stress cause calves to lose the “antioxidant” vitamins E and A. Antioxidants have also been shown to be important components of a healthy immune system in human medicine.
The studies, led by A&M’s Norbert Chirase, shipped commingled Southeastern feeders 1,300 miles to a west-Texas feedlot. One group was also subjected after arrival to a simulated dusty environment by being housed inside a dust-filled tent. Regular blood tests showed that shipping stress reduced the level of vitamin E to almost a fourth of the level when the calves went on the truck.The dust-stressed calves also showed lower levels.
Chirase’s work has found that as vitamin A and vitamin E levels in the blood fall, fever in the calves can be expected to rise, suggesting the diminishing level of antioxidants may be connected to an increase in respiratory disease, the No. 1 killer of feedlot calves.
Source: Proceedings of the American Society of Animal Science
Southern Section meeting, February 2002; Proceedings of the
American Society of Animal Science annual meeting, January 2000.
Researchers from New Mexico State and Texas Tech provided groups of newly received calves with added vitamin E in their diets, at levels of up to 1,140 units per day.They found that although the additional vitamin E didn’t make a significant difference in final feedlot performance, it did increase the level of humoral antibodies that calves produced against an experimental inoculation. Furthermore, cattle receiving the highest level of vitamin E had a significantly lower level of repulls for treatment.
The study authors noted that although vitamin E is believed to help the body produce antibodies that fight disease, past studies have shown inconsistent results in attempting to improve immunity through vitamin E supplementation. Echoing Chirase’s suggestion that feedlot stressors may interfere with uptake or utilization of vitamin E, they suggest supplying additional vitamin E may only be part of the answer if you don’t at the same time try to reduce other stressors that can render it unusable.
Source: Journal of Animal Science. April 2002.
Minnesota’s David Peterson—working a pre-dawn to- 2 P.M. shift off the farm and only 100 miles from the Canadian border—was losing a lot of calves to bad weather…up to 28 percent in his worst year.
“My vet said it came down to they just didn’t have quite enough nutrition at birth,” says the Thief River Falls cow/calf producer.“It didn’t seem like they had the energy to get up and fight. If they got cold, they’d just give up.
“So my feed dealer suggested I try Brigade.® I started putting it out for the cows anywhere from a month to two months before they calved. I noticed a considerable difference.With Brigade,® they are fighting to get up right from the moment they’re born. Now these calves are aggressive.They get up and they go right after lunch.”
The bottom line? This year’s calf loss: Just over 3 percent.
It’s a simple formula for successfully starting calves:
Improved Immune Status - Stress = Higher Profits
Nutritional stress in your calf herd can take money out of your pocket. Stress associated with weaning, shipping, grouping and the breeding period can result in poor weight gain, disease and even death. This fall is the ideal time to put a stress fighter to work for your calf herd.
Brigade® Stress Fighting Formula helps stimulate the appetite of stressed calves and get them off to a good start in the backgrounding lot or feedlot. It’s a nutrient-dense, free-choice supplement that continuously delivers protein, vitamins and minerals. Electrolytes are included as a stress fighter, along with organic sources of copper, zinc and manganese to help enhance immune response.
Brigade® helps reduce stress in calves at weaning or shipping, show calves, stressed calves, and replacement heifers and cows 30 days before breeding. Brigade® works to reduce stress on calves. It works to prevent death loss. It works to stimulate appetite. It works to provide concentrated nutrients in a palatable form. The bottom line: Brigade® Works.
THERE’S STRESS REDUCTION WITH CRYSTALYX® BRIGADE® STRESS FIGHTING FORMULA
Nutritional stress in your calf herd can take money out of your pocket. Stress associated with weaning, shipping, grouping and the breeding period can result in poor weight gain, disease and even death.
Brigade® Stress Fighting Formula from CRYSTALYX® works to reduce stress on calves. It works to reduce death loss due to stress. It works to get replacement heifers at their peak. And it works better than liquid protein supplements. The bottom line: Brigade® Works.
Brigade® Stress Fighting Formula helps stimulate the appetite of stressed calves and get them off to a good start in the backgrounding lot or feedlot. It’s a high energy, free-choice supplement that continuously delivers protein, vitamins and minerals. Electrolytes are included as a stress fighter, along with organic sources of copper, zinc and manganese to help enhance immune response.
RESEARCH PROVES BRIGADE® WORKS
CPC Livestock is a 30,000 head backgrounding operation in Kentucky. CPC tested Brigade®’s stress fighting capabilities in three trials. The results included a reduced number of sick cattle that had to be pulled from the pens and a dramatic result in death loss. In addition, CPC saw increased feed intake, efficiency and average daily gain.
Ivan Pedigo is a big believer in the stress-fighting benefits of Brigade,® a CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplement. Pedigo manages CPC Livestock, a 30,000 head backgrounding operation located near Fountain Run, Kentucky. CPC Livestock purchases 400 pound calves straight from area sale barns and sells them at approximately 700 pounds. Upon arrival, and after processing, the calves are turned out in lots with 300-400 animals per group. According to Pedigo the calves are “pretty green” and “most definitely stressed” coming into the lots. The operation typically deals with sick calves each day and a 2% death loss is not unusual. Over the past few months, Kirby Roberts with Agri Dealers, Inc. of Lexington, KY, persuaded Ivan to test Brigade,® a low moisture CRYSTALYX® block supplement, formulated especially for stressed cattle. Three trials with approximately 700 head per trial have been conducted to evaluate the Brigade® blocks.
Incoming cattle were vaccinated and implanted, and started on a pelleted starter ration. Brigade® Supplement in the returnable, steel half-barrel was offered free-choice in the lots.
“We were really surprised at how quickly they went to the barrels of Brigade,®” said Pedigo.
He explained they check their lots every day and pull sick calves for additional attention. After the Brigade® Supplement was in the fields for four or five days, Pedigo and his crew noticed a difference.
“Our ‘pulls’ dropped. We had from five to fifteen less ‘pulls’ each day from fields with the Brigade® barrels. After 30 days, we noticed our death loss was a percent less – about half of what it was previously,” he noted.
How do the calves on Brigade® look to Pedigo after 30 days? “They look really good. The cattle on the barrels are definitely a better group. Their hair is shinier, and they are fuller. We don’t have near as many ‘non-doers’. They’re definitely eating more during the first 30 days,” he added.
Pedigo figures the Brigade®-fed cattle will be worth more when moved out at 700 pounds.
“Right now the savings on death loss alone will pay for the barrels. There’s less labor and we’re saving on medicine, too, plus, we’re marketing better cattle. We’re going to start all our cattle on Brigade® barrels.”
Additional trials are now underway using another CRYSTALYX® free-choice supplement, Beef-lyx,® which is fed in the pens after the 30-day starting period. Ivan Pedigo is encouraged by what he sees thus far from the Beef-lyx® trial and will be carefully evaluating the performance.
Bringing calves home from the auction barn is always a gamble, but Riley Denning has found a tool to make backgrounding calves less stressful—Brigade® by CRYSTALYX.®
The steers came in at 575 pounds and went right to the CRYSTALYX.® Denning had figured the Brigade® would cost him 10 to 11 cents per head per day, and early consumption made that prediction look like a reality. But after 45 to 60 days, the calves seemed to fill up the nutritional crevices in their system and consumption slowed down. When all was said and done, his CRYSTALYX® cost was just 4 to 5 cents a day. He put out one, 250-pound barrel for every 25 head of calves.
Denning also got a return from Brigade® in the form of lower herd health costs. He didn’t lose a single calf over the winter. He had absolutely no foot rot, no coccidiosis. He never doctored a single case of pinkeye—and usually he treats a handful of bad eyes each winter.
While the improved herd health was the most noticeable advantage to feeding Brigade,® the benefits also paid off in the show ring when the calves were sold at 800 pounds. “Their eyes were bright, they had shiny coats. They sold themselves,” he says. “I will definitely use Brigade® for stressed out calves in the future.”
Winter weather is tough on everyone. Cold temperatures, wind and snow pack add up to a rough winter for your cow herd too. Producers can give their cows an advantage when cold weather comes around with the right supplement for winter pastures.
When producers think about weather related stress on their cattle, heat stress comes to mind first. However, when we have weather events that take cattle well below their comfort zone, we have a cold stress event. Hair coat as well as temperature determine cold stress events. The table below lists the lower end of the comfort zones for cattle with different hair coat lengths.
Windbreaks are the first defense against cold stress. When the air temperature is dropping and the wind is picking up, there’s nothing better than being able to get out of the wind. Providing a wind break for your cattle can help minimize heat loss from wind. The table below illustrates how much the wind affects how cold it feels.
The windbreak doesn’t need to be fancy. In a range grazing setting, it might be as simple as a low spot with a small grove of trees. Whereas in a small scale operation it could be a 3-sided shed. So long as the windbreak is angled to block the prevailing wind, it will work.
Supplementing is another way to help your cows through a cold stress event. However, what you supplement with is key. In a situation where temperatures will be low, supplementing to maximize heat generated by rumen fermentation is like putting out a space heater.
Grain based supplements will give a burst of heat and energy, however it is short lived. Not to mention that grain supplementing tends to be hand fed and eaten quickly. Providing additional forage (hay or corn stover) supplement is a better choice for a cold stress event. The structural components of forages are more slowly fermented in the rumen and produce more heat. This provides a win-win for your cows, a full and warm belly.
Regardless of the weather, give your cows on winter pasture a boost with a CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements. Cattle on dormant native range or lush rye grass pastures can both benefit from the right supplement. Don’t know which supplement is best for your cows? Contact your local CRYSTALYX® dealer or visit our website www.crystalyx.com to find the right barrel for your cattle.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is hard to pick up a livestock magazine today without reading about the impact of drought in much of the US. Grain markets have been responding daily with large increases and cattle markets have soften considerably given the current conditions. As producers evaluate the amount of forage they have in their pastures and that which will help them make it through the winter, the desire to put up hay or ensile any fiber source they can find, can lead to forages with hidden dangers. Nitrate poisoning is one that can affect annual crops that may be cut for hay or put into silage given the harsh growing conditions that many are facing. Below are some general guidelines when dealing with the potential for Nitrate poisoning:
- Common forages susceptible to Nitrate accumulation include but are not limited to: corn, barley, oats, millet, rye, sudan grass, sweet clover, soybean, wheat
- Plant growth closest to the ground have the highest levels of Nitrates
- Raise the cutter bar above 6 inches to avoid highest accumulations of Nitrates
- Younger plants have highest levels of Nitrates compared to more mature plants
- Nitrates accumulate in plants when normal growing conditions are interrupted such as during a drought, frost or periods of cool weather
- Nitrates are converted to Nitrites and finally to Ammonia which is the normal pathway in Nitrogen metabolism in plants. Excessive levels of Nitrates can lead to an accumulation of Nitrites in the rumen which is the most toxic form and can lead to toxicity
- Nitrite is absorbed into red blood cells and interferes with the Oxygen carrying capacity of Hemoglobin which leads to suffocation in livestock
- Dilute forages known to contain high levels of Nitrate with forages that are low in Nitrates
- If high Nitrate forages must be fed, gradually increase the amount fed in the diet so that cattle will adapt to the increased Nitrate levels.
- Try to avoid over grazing of forages that are high in Nitrates so livestock will not be forced to graze lower plant parts that contain increased Nitrate levels
- Fill cattle up on low Nitrate forages prior to introduction onto high Nitrate pastures to limit their exposure to large amounts of high Nitrate forages
- Limit the time that cattle are grazing or are exposed to high Nitrate pastures when first introduced to these pastures
- Ensiling forages can help reduce the Nitrate levels of forages through the fermentation process
- Cattle that are in thin condition or that are in poor health are more susceptible to Nitrate toxicity
- Don’t graze cattle after a killing frost for at least one week if possible with forages high in Nitrates
- Observe cattle frequently when introducing them to forages high in Nitrates
There are numerous Extension bulletins available on guidelines for grazing forages with high Nitrates for the various regions of the country. I have listed a few common guidelines that you should consider to help avoid or significantly reduce cattle losses from Nitrate poisoning. Drought conditions followed by some light rains can interrupt the normal Nitrogen metabolism of plants and result in forages that contain high Nitrate levels leading to toxicity.
Ruminant animals can deal with many feedstuffs resulting from the drought such as corn or small grains that fall short in crop production. These do not come without potential health hazards. Make sure you have your forages tested prior to feeding or pasture turn-out if you have any indications that Nitrate toxicity may be an issue. The value of cattle is too great to turn a blind eye.
I worked this week in parts of Indiana and Ohio that are in some of the most extreme drought conditions I have seen. The Drought Monitor shows that over half the country is in drought. I observed corn that varied from knee high to shoulder high. All the plants were stressed with curled leaves and many had the bottom leaves fired. Greater than half the plants in the hardest hit areas had no ear or limited kernel development.
Pasture conditions in many areas are very poor and there is a real concern for having enough hay. An option for forage is salvaging the corn as silage or hay. The nutrient value of drought stressed corn silage will be 60-70% of normal corn silage with the biggest difference being that it is much lower in starch. However, the NDF digestibility often will be higher. As we consider our forage needs for the beef herd, there is the potential to harvest several tons per acre of silage or hay. A general rule of thumb is each foot of plant material equals 1 ton of forage per acre. For example, 5 foot tall plants will yield 5 ton/acre. Several items unique to drought stressed corn need to be evaluated.
High nitrate levels can be toxic to cattle. Moderate levels can reduce pregnancy rates and high levels can be deadly. Nitrate will reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood by attaching to the red blood cells.
Plants under stress will stop taking up nitrogen and stop producing protein. Unused nitrogen will accumulate in the lower parts of that plant as nitrates. With severe and prolonged drought there is less risk of nitrate accumulation in the plant. If there is a rain event, the harvest should be delayed at least 5-7 days. Nitrates tend to accumulate in the bottom third of the plant, so it is recommended to cut at least 12 inches height. It is not advisable to graze or green chop drought stressed corn. Fermentation of silage will reduce the nitrate level by 50-60%. If corn is harvested as hay, there will be NO reduction in the nitrate levels, therefore, standing corn needs to be tested for nitrate before the decision to harvest as hay. Silage offers the advantage of reducing the nitrate levels through fermentation. However, silage is not easy to transport long distances, which make corn hay an attractive option.
Sampling Prior to making hay; 12-15 whole plants should be cut at the harvest height, chopped into 1 inch pieces and mixed. A 0.5 lbs. sample (large freezer bag) should be sent to a commercial forage testing lab for nitrate analysis.
Silage should be allowed to ferment for at least 3 weeks prior to feeding. At that time, a 0.5 lb. sample should be sent to a commercial forage testing lab for nitrate analysis.
Based on the nitrate level in the hay or silage, it may be necessary to dilute the diet with non-nitrate containing feeds to get to a safe level. Work with a nutritionist to determine the best feeding recommendations. Below is a general guideline on nitrate levels.
Nitrate Feeding Guidelines
Method of Reporting Nitrate Level
Percent of Forage Dry Matter
0.0 - 0.44
0.0 - .10
0.0 - 0.73
Safe to feed in all situations.
0.44 - 0.66
0.10 - 0.15
0.73 - 1.10
Safe for non-pregnant animals. Limit to 50% of diet dry matter for pregnant animals.
0.66 - 0.88
0.15 - 0.20
1.10 - 1.47
Limit to 50% of diet dry matter.
0.88 - 1.54
0.20 - 0.35
1.47 - 2.57
Limit to 35-40% of diet dry matter. Avoid feeding to pregnant animals.
1.54 - 1.76
0.35 - 0.40
2.57 - 2.93
Limit to 25% of diet dry matter. Avoid feeding to pregnant animals.
DO NOT FEED
Source: Sniffen and Chase 1981, Nitrates in Dairy Rations, Dept. of Animals Science, Cornell University
Suggestions for making corn hay.
- Know the nitrate level before making hay.
- Cut the corn with a mower conditioner to speed up the drying process.
- Consider using a stalk chopper to process the stalks and speed up the drying process.
- If a rake is used, avoid raking too close to the ground as you want to avoid pulling up roots and the lower portion of the stalk where nitrate may be higher.
- Use a hay preservative such as BulletProof™ to prevent heating and dry matter loss. More information can be found at www.bulletproofyourforage.com.
Suggestions for making corn silage.
- Know the moisture level for proper fermentation. Ideal moisture level for corn silage is 60-65%. It is nearly impossible to determine moisture level by visual means as most of the moisture is in the stalk. Work with a nutritionist to do a dry matter test prior to chopping silage.
- Cut at 12 inches to reduce the chance of high nitrate levels.
- Avoid harvesting weed infested areas, as many common weeds will be high in nitrates.
- Spread the silage in thin layers and pack the silage well. There will be considerable moisture variation within a field which will make achieving an even pack density difficult. Poorly packed silage will have more trapped oxygen which will inhibit fermentation.
- Use a forage preservative such as BulletProof™ to help eliminate trapped oxygen, prevent dry matter loss and speed up fermentation.
- Allow silage to ferment at least 3 weeks prior to feeding.
The drought of 2012 will be a challenge for many livestock producers. Salvaging the corn crop as a forage replacement will be a viable option. Nitrate levels need to be considered, but can be managed. Corn silage or hay from drought stressed corn can provide some needed tons, and be a good quality feed for the cow herd.