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Cow-Calf Corner • The Newsletter

Monday, January 3, 2022

A New Year’s Resolution for Cow-Calf Producers

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


Cow-calf producers are constantly managing many production and marketing challenges. However, as we consider the coming year, one that deserves special attention is to produce and market forage for maximum value.  Cattle producers are frequently reminded that they are really in the forage business and that cattle are a means to harvest and market forage.  There are numerous considerations to market forage for the highest value.


In part, marketing forage involves considering cattle production and marketing alternatives that represent higher value for forage.  For cow-calf producers, this includes considerations for marketing calves at weaning or retaining calves for backgrounding/stocker production as well as marketing cull breeding animals.  The market environment in 2022 may provide more possibilities with reduced cattle numbers favoring weaned calf production and marketing yet, at the same time, higher grain prices and elevated feedlot cost of gain increase the value of added forage-based weight gain on feeder cattle.  Producers will have more options and potential to add value and planning now can improve returns to cattle and forage production later.


Feed costs are the largest cost component for cow-calf production. Part of managing forage for increased value is to utilize grazing better to reduce cow feed costs.  Grazing is the least expensive feed for cows, so this means managing pastures for maximum quantity, quality and duration of grazing and having cows do most of their own feed harvesting.  Early planning is necessary to plan annual forage production and grazing management.  This must be done in conjunction with plans for cow-calf production, retained stockers and forage use as part of cull cow marketing.


Feeding harvested forages (hay) is at least twice the cost of grazing.  The goal should be to minimize hay use with grazing management.  To the extent that hay use cannot be avoided, manage hay for reduced waste and to decrease hay expense.  Test hay to know the nutritive value and how the hay will contribute to meeting cattle nutritional requirements.  This is done on a pound basis so it is important to know the weight of round bales.  Evaluate the economics of hay versus supplemental feeds to provide needed protein and energy relative to the cattle stage of production at different times and any available grazable forage.


Store hay to maintain quality and reduce waste.  As I’m driving, I see lots of rounds bales from last year or the year before which are now melted into the ground with little or no feed value.  Plan hay storage relative to how long the hay might need to be stored.  The longer hay must/will be stored, the more you can justify investment in storage facilities (sheds, coverings, pads and drainage).  Feed hay to reduce waste and know exactly how much cows are consuming.  Think about how much hay cows need and how much they are getting.  Round bales are more convenient and save labor but do require feeding management otherwise they can add significantly to annual cow costs.


With generally rising input costs, cow-calf producers need to put additional effort into cost management.  Managing feed costs will be a key to minimizing cow costs and capitalizing on better cattle market conditions in 2022.  It’s not too early to plan the next year of forage management and grazing.


See Dr. Derrell Peels Livestock Marketing 2021 Roundtable from Sunup TV on January 3, 2022. 



The Importance of Colostrum

Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist


Being ready and prepared before the start of calving season can make life much easier for cow-calf producers and potentially save a calf.  By the time calving season starts, you need everything on hand that might be necessary and all equipment and facilities in working order.  Operators need several doses of colostrum or colostrum replacer on inventory before the start of spring-calving season.  


Adequate colostrum intake is extremely crucial for newborn calves in order to gain passive immunity.  Calves born after a prolonged delivery through the pelvic canal can suffer from severe respiratory acidosis. Such calves are less efficient at absorbing colostral immunoglobulins or antibodies even if artificially fed colostrum. The only disease protection baby calves will receive is from the passive transfer of antibodies from the colostrum they ingest. Colostrum also contains transferrin and lactoferrin, which bind iron and restrict bacterial growth. These factors, together with immunoglobulins, help limit growth of bacteria in the gut.


Colostrum or colostrum replacer will need to be administered by bottle suckling or tube feeding within a few hours of birth for maximal absorption of immunoglobulins.  The general rule of thumb is the sooner colostrum is ingested the better and calves will typically stand, walk and nurse within one hour after birth.  Bottomline: if there is any question of if a calf has received adequate colostrum, then colostrum should be administered immediately to the newborn.  Calves that miss getting timely colostrum ingestion are much more likely to suffer from calf scours, which can have lifelong effects on general hardiness and disease resistance. 


Previously obtained colostrum must be kept frozen to protect the integrity of the large protein molecules that make up the various immunoglobulins. Fresh colostrum can be stored in one-quart doses by putting that much in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. Lay the bags flat to freeze in the freezer. When the time comes to thaw the colostrum and feed it to the newborn calf, the “best practice” is to thaw in a warm water bath at 122 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.  Avoid thawing at room temperature of in a microwave oven.


The amount of immunoglobulin ingested is a major factor in final blood immunoglobulin concentration and disease protection. A practical rule-of-thumb is to feed 5% to 6% of the calf's body weight within the first six hours and repeat the feeding when the calf is about 12 hours old. For an 80-pound calf, this will equate to about 2 quarts of colostrum per feeding.


Commercial colostrum replacers contain more than 100 grams of immunoglobulin per dose. Always read the label before purchasing. It is important not to confuse supplements and replacers.  Supplements are used to boost antibody protection a calf gets from nursing and contain 40 to 60 grams of immunoglobulins, which is not enough to provide protection in a calf that has not nursed.


Glenn Selk discusses the long-term effects of inadequate colostrum on calf health in a classic Cow-Calf Corner on SunUp TV from January 9, 2021 


Stretching Short Wheat Pasture with High Grain Prices

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State Extension Beef Cattle Specialist


This year most of central and western Oklahoma has gone for over 40 to 60 days with less than 0.25 inches of rainfall and in the Oklahoma Panhandle it has been over 70 to 120 days with less than 0.25 inches of rainfall. We had decent wheat pasture prospects with a rainfall event in mid-October that was at just the right time to get much of our grazing wheat acres going and provide enough forage to turn calves out. There was not enough stockpiled forage to maintain stocking rates if conditions weren’t right. The lack of rain since calves were turned has limited regrowth and pastures are short again.


When wheat forage gets short we often look to research from the OSU Wheat Pasture Research Unit at Marshall from the 1990’s where concentrate supplements containing monensin were fed at 0.65 to 0.75% of body weight (for example, 4 pounds per day for a 533-pound steer) and stocking rate was increased 22 percent to 44 percent. Weight gains during the fall/winter grazing were increased by 0.33 pound per day with a mean supplement conversion of 5 pounds of as-fed supplement per pound of increased gain per acre. This supplement contained monensin that has been shown to increase gains of growing cattle on pasture by 10 to 15% and reduce forage intake by about 10%. This supplementation program can also be used to stretch wheat forage when pastures are 60 to 80% of normal. The economics of this program are usually very good when feed prices are low to moderate with costs of added gain around 50 to 75 cents per pound of added gain when feeds cost $150 to 200/ton, but escalate to over $1/pound when feed prices are $400/ton.


Although intake of low quality roughages is not high enough to offset wheat forage intake and can reduce performance of growing calves. Research has shown that offering high quality roughages such as corn silage or sorghum silage or high quality round bale silages can be used to replace short wheat pasture or double stocking rates on wheat pastures. In the 1980’s research showed that feeding silage daily to calves on wheat pasture allowed stocking rates to be increased by up to 2X without reducing steer performance. When faced with short wheat pastures on some research fields a few years ago, we used this research to keep calves on short wheat pastures using round bale bermudagrass silage. Several of our fields had normal forage yields of 2500 pounds of forage per acre, where we grazed during the fall and winter with 1 calf per acre with forage allowance of 4 pounds of wheat per pound of steer and had gains of 3.3 lbs/day. Other fields were planted later and only had 70% of normal (1800 pounds of forage per acre) that we stocked at 1.5 steers per acre (forage allowance of 2.1 pounds of forage per pound of steer) and fed free-choice round bale bermudagrass silage (14% CP and 56% TDN) weekly. Even with higher stocking rates and less forage per acre these steers gained 2.6 pounds per day and total gain per acre increased from 250 for our ‘normal’ production to 300 pounds per acre. This only took about 4.5 pounds of silage dry matter per pound of added gain per acre. Using high quality, palatable hays or silages are able to stretch wheat pastures when concentrate feeds are expensive.


A recent Rancher’s Thursday Lunchtime Series from November 4, 2021 included discussions on stretching wheat pasture or other alternatives ranchers are using when wheat pasture is not available.

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