July 2008
Feeding Facts

Feeding Facts

By Jimmy Hughes

An article by Becky Mills in the June edition of Progressive Farmer recently caught my attention. Not completely for the content of the article but for the name of the article. Since I was on a road trip, it gave me ample opportunity to ruminate on the title "Think Like a Cow." What does a cow think? What would a cow tell us as producers if they could say what they think? Interesting questions I would like to discuss as we enter into the summer heat and humidity in the Southeast. As you walk through pastures and see cattle swatting flies, you wonder if cattle think "Would you please do something about these flies?" External parasites, like flies and lice, cost the cattle industry over 1 billion dollars per year. Excessive amounts of flies on cattle can cause substantial weight loss. Flies are such a nuisance because they take a cow away from grazing in order to swat these pests. Reduced grazing time can also reduce milk production causing calves to not reach maximum weight at weaning time. Flies also can carry disease and are a direct link in spreading pinkeye from one cow to another. Although fly control can add additional cost to your cattle program, the additional cost will be well worth it when it comes to weight gain and disease control.

Your local Quality Co-op carries several products to help control external parasites. While no product will control 100 percent of your flies, these products will reduce the number of house, horn, face and stable flies around your cows. Your local Co-op will carry a line of minerals and supplement blocks containing either Rabon® or methroprene.

Rabon® is a very safe product cleared for use in cattle and horses. There is no withdrawal time when using this product and it is safe enough to be used with lactating dairy cows. Rabon® can be used in a loose mineral, mineral block or in a complete feed. Rabon® is an oral larvicide meaning it works on fly larvae through the manure. Cattle ingest the product and it then controls the development of horn, face, house and stable flies in the manure of treated cattle.

Methoprene is specific for cattle and found in loose minerals and blocks. Methoprene is an insect growth regulator (IGR) fed during fly season to prevent the breeding of horn flies in treated cattle. There are differing opinions of which product is more effective, but most producers indicates both products are effective in reducing flies on treated animals.

You can also purchase other fly control products like fly tags. Fly tags continue to evolve as flies build up some resistance to old fly tags. It is very important to remember when using fly tags to remove these tags at the end of the fly season. It is also important to always rotate fly tags each year to continually introduce new chemicals to the fly population for more effective control. Other fly control products include sprays and products for back rubs for cattle. Whatever method you use, your cattle will appreciate the relief from external parasite control.

Would it not be nice if your cattle could really think out loud and could tell you what they need to be most productive? What if they could tell you they had internal parasites? Sure would make it easier to worm your cattle each year. The problem is cows cannot tell us they have internal parasites and it’s up to us to implement a control program.

Internal parasites are more costly to cattle producers than external parasites. Cattle carrying a large number of internal parasites are not efficient and can be very unthrifty. It is very important with high feed cost, cattle be as efficient as possible when converting this feed into weight-gain.

You have several products available for external parasites. You can use a product like Safe Guard that comes in block form or as a drench, injectable products like Ivomec or pour-ons like Eprinex or Dectomax.

While I will not recommend a specific product, I would recommend you study the label of each product and select the product most effective in controlling the largest number of internal parasites. I will recommend you do not use the lower priced generic wormers for external parasite control. Several producers are using these generic products as a way to control flies and are continually putting the product on cows. This can lead to resistance to internal parasites and in the long-run cost producers billions of dollars. There are no new products in the works for internal parasite control which means, if we build up resistance, we will have a very difficult time in controlling internal parasites in the future.

Do you often wonder what a cow must think when it is 95 degrees, 90 percent humidity and they have little ability to cool themselves? I do understand cattle acclimate themselves to the climate and their surroundings, but it is very important to make sure your cattle have adequate amounts of shade to offer some protection. Cattle having little shade see an elevation in body temperature which affects grazing patterns, reproduction and immunity.

Several studies have indicated exposure to extreme heat will reduce calving percent and body condition scores of cattle. I would also suggest that while creeks and ponds can give cattle a cool place to stand, excessive time standing in water can lead to sore feet and possibly foot rot. I would recommend management practices to keep cattle out of these places. The problems associated with damaged cattle hoofs can be very costly.

Your local Co-op can provide all the supplies needed to fence areas and also products to help cattle overcome foot-related infections. While I realize we cannot control the heat, we can make sure we provide adequate means to give cattle some relief without exposing them to possible hoof problems. I am sure they will thank you for the help.

The final thing that comes to mind, if we could think like a cow, would be to know what a cow needs on a daily basis. During the summer, feed is usually not a priority due to grass in the pastures, but what about minerals? What if we as producers could think like our cows and see they need mineral supplementation each day? What if we knew that by feeding an incomplete lower cost mineral we short changed the performance of our cattle herd? What does a cow do if her requirements for minerals are not available or not supplied in the amounts required? These animals will show signs of mineral deficiencies by reduced reproductive performance, decreased immunity and more susceptibility to problems like foot rot and pinkeye.

Cattle will only consume the amount of minerals needed and the cost of providing a free-choice mineral can be done for a low-cost-per-day. The difference in reproductive performance and overall health will more than pay for the added cost of a superior mineral. Your local Co-op has a wide range of minerals to meet the needs of cattle producers throughout the state.

The purpose of this article is to encourage cattle producers to think about the daily needs of our cattle. I realize high input cost of fertilizer, feed and fuel have each of us looking for ways to cut cost. I encourage you to look for other ways to cut cost than by not providing your cattle with the things needed for them to be the most efficient. External and internal parasite control along with proper shade, pasture management and a good mineral program will have little impact on the total cost of production, but can have a huge impact on your pocket book at sale time.

If I can help in any manner, please contact me at 256-947-7886 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I hope each of you have an enjoyable and safe 4th of July and remember, it’s great to be an American!

Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.