August 2005
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Beef Management Workshop Addresses “Hot Topics”

In late June at the Ray Cattle Company shop in Hackleburg, State Veterinarian, Tony Frazier (left), Kent Stanford, Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Darrell Rankins (right), Associate Professor of Animal Science at Auburn University, spoke to a crowd of cattle producers from Fayette, Franklin, Lamar, Marion, Pickens, Walker and Winston counties at a Beef Management Hot Topic Workshop. The workshop was followed by a meal and a view of Ray Angus cattle.


Beef Management Workshop Addresses “Hot Topics”

Alabama State Veterinarian, Dr. Tony Frazier, was the first speaker at a Beef Management Hot Topic Workshop held recently at Ray Cattle Company in Hackleburg.

He pointed out that Alabama was one of the first states to officially implement procedures designed to register a producer’s premises as part of a national animal identification program. Diseases such as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), [and Dr Frazier stressed to those gathered to never refer to the disease as ‘mad cow disease’ because of the bad image it projects] and foot and mouth disease, have speeded up the process of developing this ID program.  The program is intended to help Alabama livestock and poultry farmers reduce the financial and social impact of animal health incidents. He said producer groups and government officials agreed upon the ID system that Alabama will use and that forty-seven states now have the system working.

The long-term goal of the department is to work in cooperation with the USDA and the livestock industry to establish a system that can identify all premises and animals that have come in contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease within 48 hours. 

He pointed out that this isn’t the first time producers have had to identify their animals. Several years ago, Brucelosis and pseudorabies were put in check using permanent IDs. Then, any animal from this state had the number ‘64’ as the first part of the ID signifying that the animal was from Alabama. With the new system, 840 will be the only identical number in the sequence and will identify the animal as being from the United States.

Premises registration is simple, free, and voluntary.  The form collects information such as location of the farm, owner of the property, and species type of the animals.  It does not request production data. The first step in the Premises Registration System is for farmers to fill out the two-page registration form.  The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) staff then processes this information and the premises owner will be provided a seven digit alpha-numeric ID number.  

Next up was Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Kent Stanford, to talk about how to select and evaluate a herd bull.

He said that he had observed that many cattle producers across the state spend considerable time in making their next bull purchase while others may only buy on impulse because the price is right. In order to be most effective, producers must have a clear vision of what bull genetics will complement and improve their beef herd. The primary step in the process is to determine what type cattle make up the current cowherd and then develop production goals for that herd. Once that is accomplished, you can then decide what particular breed or breeds will help achieve those goals.

After narrowing down your focus to your breed of choice and understanding what traits you will focus on, it’s time to start looking at bulls and their numbers either on-farm or at sales. Major emphasis should be placed on structural soundness on the bulls you are considering. It doesn’t matter how good the numbers are if the bull can’t walk! Check out the rib capacity, muscling, and scrotal quality as well. Attention should also be given to the bull’s individual performance data such as birth weight, weaning weight, and yearling weight. Evaluation of the expected progeny differences (EPD’s) for the bull will allow you to compare his numbers against other bulls in the offering or against the breed average for the traits you are concerned with.

He concluded by insisting that as a producer you should determine where you are now with your herd and where you want to go; set optimal production goals that will let you be sustainable; decide which breed and traits will get you there; use all the tools available for selection; and always take every opportunity to learn more!

Darrell Rankins, associate professor of animal science at Auburn University was there to talk about cattle and calf nutrition. He started off by stating that we are blessed with a variety of forages in Alabama and that an experienced producer can grow high quality forages here to grow cattle off profitably. He also said that August and September were months in which forage quality is quite limiting. Thus for a calf weaning program, supplemental feed will be required to achieve acceptable weight gain by the calves during this time of the year. He said that winter annuals such as rye, wheat, oats and ryegrass are the most efficient to use, but that forces farmers to finish cattle during the cool seasons.

He digressed to point out that the first order of business in the weaning process is to have an adequate weaning pen. This pen should be strong enough to hold the calf crop because they’re going to try to get back to mama. Most recommendations would indicate that a lot of about 3 to 5 acres is the optimal size for weaning 100 head of 500 lb. calves or about 80 head of 600 lb. calves.

He said that the biggest problem in the first two to three days of a weaning program is getting them to eat. High moisture feeds don’t work well for weaning. He said to use dry hay instead. A few small square bales of high quality hay work very well for these first few days of getting the calves to eat and they should be fed all they want. Ideally, this would be fed in the same trough or bunk that the concentrate feed will be fed in so that the calves become accustomed to eating out of a feed bunk. Whatever you do, expect the calves to bawl for a 3 to 4 day period and then settle down and accept the situation.

One of the simplest strategies for getting good performance from the calves and doing it in an economical manner is the use of soy hulls. These soybean hulls are extremely palatable to young calves and getting them on feed is usually not a problem. Calves weighing 600 pounds will quickly be consuming in the range of 20 pounds of soy hulls per day if they are offered in a free-choice manner.

The real caution for using this system is the potential for a calf or calves to bloat when consuming this amount of soy hulls. This may be a rapid bloat such that your first clue of any bloating is a dead calf. The best preventative for this is to incorporate an ionophore like Bovatec into the feed. Another alternative would be to feed a mineral that contains the ionophore. It is also important to make sure that the calves always have free-choice hay and do some exercising. A lack of either of these two factors will exacerbate the bloat problem.

Another consideration during this time of the year is adequate shade. Similarly, a liberal supply of drinking water is also a must. Once calves begin consuming 18 to 20 pounds of dry feed in the summer heat, daily water consumption will increase dramatically. Further complicating the water problem is that these calves will tend to move around and drink as a group. When 50-100 calves come to the water trough and begin drinking, the reserve capacity of the water source needs to be quite large.

He stressed to those gathered that trace mineral salt is not a complete mineral; it contains no calcium or phosphorus. When evaluating the composition tag on a bag of minerals look for the following: 15 to 30% salt, 6 to 12% calcium, 6 to 12% phosphorus, 1 to 4% magnesium (8-14% for hi-mag in the spring), .09 to .18% copper, .18 to .36% zinc and .0026 to .0052% selenium. If concentrations of these minerals are considerably outside of these ranges, look for another. Consumption levels should be between 2 and 4 ounces per day. There will be extreme differences in prices, make sure that you consider composition and daily intake when evaluating these price differences - the least expensive bag is not necessarily the best buy! Some minerals will contain only 1% phosphorus, this is not enough unless the pastures are constantly fertilized.

Other points to ponder:

  1. If the cows routinely run out of mineral then consumption levels will not be in the 2 to 4 ounce range - it is important to have mineral available at all times.

  2. If you feed a “hot mix” during the winter (e.g., cottonseed meal and salt) then special care will need to be taken to ensure adequate trace mineral, calcium and phosphorus consumption is achieved.

  3. A good homemade recipe that will work is to mix a 50-pound sack of trace mineral salt with a 50-pound sack of dicalcium phosphate and feed this free-choice.

  4. High-Mag mineral does not need to be fed all year, the most critical time is during the spring.