Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance Training

Make your way to one of our local BQA events. By becoming or staying BQA certified you are an integral part of beef's positive story to consumers. A story that can increase their understanding and confidence in how you're raising a safe, wholesome, and healthy beef supply. BQA Certification Training is May 19, 2021, 9-11 am at Saunders County 4-H Building - 635 E 1st, Wahoo Nebraska. RSVP to Connor Biehler at 402-624-8007 or cbiehler2@unl.edu. For more information on this event, other BQA events, or general questions on Nebraska BQA, visit bqa.unl.edu or call 308-633-0158.

Heifer Development

Developing replacement heifers is a long and costly process that can potentially become even more expensive if heifers must be culled from the herd for various reasons. This makes it vital to ensure any work put into developing heifers provides them with longevity to remain productive in the herd for years to come. Often, producers have invested so much in heifers through parturition of their first calf, they decide to backoff on development post-calving, setting them up for failure to get bred again. Since heifers are still growing at this stage themselves, it is paramount to not get behind on meeting nutrient requirements through the lactational phase. On the other end of the spectrum, heifers should not be over fed to the point of over-depositing fat in their mammary system, as this will later impair milk production. Developing heifers to maintain an average daily gain of ~1-1.5 pounds should be adequate to allow proper growth without wasting feed and adding too much condition.  

If purchasing heifers, attempt to learn their vaccination history. If this information is unavailable be sure to administer a modified live viral vaccination no less than 30 days prior to breeding or go the safer route by using a “killed” vaccine. The response to an adequate vaccination protocol is enhanced in cattle that are in appropriate body condition and on a sufficient mineral program. The postpartum interval to first estrus is longer in first-calf heifers than mature cows. Setting heifers up to calve a few weeks before the rest of the older cow herd reduces the risk of reproductive failure leading up to their second breeding season. 

After the heifers have calved, do not take your foot off the gas, and let them coast through lactation, continue to provide them with the necessities that will allow them to remain successful. Take care of heifers in breed back phase – if not all the hard work and monetary value associated with developing heifers is washed away if she cannot get bred and must be culled. You do not want to have to play “catch up” to add condition as this is costly and negatively impacts the next generation. 

For more information on Nebraska Beef Extension or selection of heifer development reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. 

Succession and Estate Planning workshop

The workshop is targeted toward dairy producers, but the information is applicable to all ag producers. Everyone involved in agriculture is invited to attend.

The cost is $25/family. Owners, spouses, children, and anyone involved in the transition process are encouraged to attend together. The details are below, and attached is a flyer for each location.

Attendees can attend either location. The same information will be shared at both locations.

Date:

Time: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm

Lunch is provided

There will be adequate time for questions throughout the day.

Registration is required for the meal count. 

Selecting Replacement Heifers

Every year, cow-calf producers make decisions to either buy or keep heifers for the purpose of replacing older or unproductive cull cows. The number of heifers retained or bought can fluctuate based on things such as drought or market prices of feeder cattle and feed commodities, but usually averages around 15-20% of the total herd. The main purpose of replacement heifers is to eliminate thinner cows that are no longer getting bred in a timely fashion and interchange them with younger, more productive females that can generate greater profits over a longer period of time. 

Selection of replacements should fall right in line with specific goals of an operation. Replacement females should not be selected on one trait such as a specific phenotype. Similarly, to selecting sires, producers should optimize balance and not attempt to maximize specific traits in females. Most times when a single, specific phenotype is desired and bred for over multiple generations, it ends up causing unintended consequences. For example, if a producer selects for high milk production, it will cause an increase in nutrient requirements prompting a higher feed bill. For every positive action there is an associative negative action, so be sure to not “put all your eggs in one basket” per se.    

There are numerous mindsets when it comes to selecting replacement heifers, but a few things that should be considered in all scenarios include:  

  • Select for low input heifers who possess traits associated with longevity. 
  •  Evaluate reproductive tract scores. Work with a veterinarian to identify heifers that have narrow pelvises and might have difficulty calving. 
  • Select heifers that are older and quicker to reach puberty not just, bigger. Heifers that are born early from the first cycle puts greater emphasis on inherited fertility while allowing for a tight calving interval. 
  • Evaluate feet and leg structure and overall conformation. Any problems observed as weanling will only be exacerbated with age and size.
Sire Selection

Spring sale season in the Great Plains is in full swing. This is the time of year where seedstock producers get to showcase their programs progeny, and buyers can acquire bull power for the upcoming breeding season. The primary purpose of buying bulls is to improve herd genetics through an outside seedstock producers’ breeding program. Since nearly all herd improvements overtime are a deliberate effort through purchased bulls or modern technologies such as artificial insemination, genetics are instilled in a herd through new bulls. Making proper selection of bulls a focal decision for cow-calf operators. 

Finding the correct bull is the quickest way to improving a commercial herd. The process of purchasing a new bull should begin prior to pulling a trailer to a local sale and picking through the catalog while eating the provided meal. It requires a systematic approach to identify genetic priorities that will enhance genetic progress within the herd. Following are factors that should be considered when selecting the next sire. 

  • Begin with the end in mind by establishing specific production goals and select sires that complement the needs of your cow herd and work toward meeting your personal marketing goals. 
  • Do your homework to evaluate Expected Progeny Differences (EPD) performance pedigrees and accuracy of the data.  
  • Never purchase a bull without a breeding soundness exam (BSE) or knowing the terms and conditions of purchasing a sire. (ex. Seller retains part interest in bull) While not commonly a part of BSE, testing cattle for trichomoniasis could be done at the same time. 
  • Sires that increase fertility, number of calves born alive, add growth while improving the maternal strength of cows should be considered a sound investment. 

Do NOT hone in on one specific trait or EPD. Remain cognizant of a wide variety of production traits to be successful in marketing weaned calves or retaining through finishing. Traits such as milk, carcass, birth, weaning, and yearling weight should be prioritized to a specific marketing program, but it is important to remember that adding too much of one trait can negatively affect other traits. A couple of examples of this would be pushing terminal traits and decreasing fertility and structural soundness or focusing on breeding low birth weight calves that then lack growth through maturity and their terminal end point.  

My Grandfather has always said “Quality remains long after the price is forgotten” and this should be a consideration when purchasing bulls. An inexpensive bull that does not excel in specific traits of importance and is purchased with the sole purpose of getting cows bred likely will not make your herd more profitable. However, over-spending on a bull that will not return profit is just as important of a decision to make. Therefore, it is important to find a middle ground on purchasing bulls that will return profit while meeting your needs as a sire. The key to procuring a strong bull battery is balance, in other words “optimize not maximize.” 

For more information on sire selection reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or my cell (402)413-8557 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. 

No Bull, Examine Your Sires' Breeding Soundness

Profitability of cow-calf operations begins with high conception rates. Modern technologies such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization increase pregnancy rates when administered correctly. However, many commercial producers still utilize herd or clean-up bulls. This means conception rates are dependent on the bull as much as the cow. Emphasizing the importance of making sure sires productively increase early season conception rates. Higher percentages of calves conceived in the early portion of breeding season produces greater pounds at weaning, generating greater income when the calf crop is marketed. The best way to test a bull’s productivity is through Breeding Soundness Exams (BSE). 

BSE should be conducted by your veterinarian 60-75 days prior to bull turn-out. Conducting the test during this period allows ample time to replace unsound bulls or retest any questionable bulls prior to breeding. A BSE is a snapshot in time and liable to change. After a long, cold winter, like the one experienced throughout the Midwest this past year, bulls might have experienced damage to their external sex organs and should be tested even if they were tested in the fall. 

A BSE begins with a physical examination to determine soundness of feet and legs, examining external and accessory sex organs, and evaluating the motility (movement) and morphology (shape) of sperm cells under a microscope. The objective is to identify problematic bulls that fail to meet the minimum standard. Generally, 75% of bulls tested meet requirements. This procedure does not evaluate a bull’s breeding behavior. Instead, BSE informs producers he is biologically equipped to cover cows and does not examine sexual behavioral traits such as libido, mating ability, and social adaptability with other bulls in mating environment. These behaviors should be observed during breeding season. 

When testing, make sure to allocate proper time. BSE are time-consuming and rushing this process increases frustration and margin of error. Make sure slide examination of semen can be conducted indoors. Otherwise, cold weather may damage sperm motility and morphology. Testing for infectious diseases such as trichomoniasis is not routinely included in BSE. Visit with your local vet to see if testing for diseases is recommended. 

For more information on Nebraska Beef Extension reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. 

 NEBRASKA EXTENSION TO HOST BEEFWATCH WEBINAR SERIES ON DROUGHT MANAGEMENT

In March, the BeefWatch Webinar series will focus on planning for and managing during a drought. Each session will feature industry experts and plenty of opportunity to interact to get your questions answered. More information about the BeefWatch Webinar Series can be found on our webpage: https://beef.unl.edu/beefwatch-webinar-series

Each webinar is free and will begin at 8:00 PM Central Time.

March 2, Preparing to Make Decisions During a Drought

  • Dr. Jay Parsons, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    • Jay will discuss decision making and the importance of early planning. He will outline a process for being better prepared to make decisions in stressful situations, creating better alternatives, and avoiding common pitfalls.  Register here.

March 9, The Forecast is Hot and Dry - What are my Options?

  • Aaron Berger, Beef Educator, Nebraska Extension
    • Management options such as feeding, shipping and selling will be discussed along with their potential repercussions. Register here.

March 16, Pre-During-Post Drought Management of Rangelands

  • Dr. Mitchell Stephenson, Panhandle Research and Extension Center
    • How do we prepare for a drought and manage our rangelands during and after? Mitch will walk us through trigger dates and how we can make decisions to manage our rangelands including how to use tools such as grass cast. Register here.

March 23, Alternative Forage Options During a Drought

  • Dr. Jerry Volesky, West Central Research and Extension Center
    • What are some alternative forage sources during a drought? This presentation will review different annual forages and how they might be used to increase grazing capacity or provide extra hay.  Grazing management of these forages will also be discussed.  Register here.

March 30, Stretching Forage to Meet Cow Requirements During a Drought

  • Dr. Travis Mulliniks, West Central Research and Extension Center
    • What do you need to consider when managing cows during a drought? Travis will discuss the importance of proper nutrition for the cow during a drought and how we can meet nutritional needs depending on forage availability.  Register here.

More information about drought management and planning can be found at https://beef.unl.edu/cattleproduction/drought

CONTACT:

Dr. Kacie McCarthy, Beef Cow-Calf Specialist, 402-472-6074, kacie.mccarthy@unl.edu

Dr. Mary Drewnoski, Beef Systems Specialist, 402-472-6289, mary.drewnoski@unl.edu

Processing Newborn Calves

Producers anticipate calving season by working relentlessly to make sure their herd is properly managed, healthy, fed, and vaccinated. Once a cow has calved ideally there is a healthy calf to tend to, and a new set of protocols are administered for raising that calf. Due to the broad scope of the U.S. beef industry, producers’ strategies after weaning may vary. But before that time comes, specific procedures need to be conducted to properly manage the calf through weaning and prepare them for the next stage of production. 

Calving should be attempted to be conducted in a clean and dry environment, and out of the elements if possible. Calving in confinement has its advantages, but if the environment is muddy or dirty newborn calves can develop scours or respiratory issues. Once a newborn calf is dry it is important to make sure that they receive colostrum within the first 12 hours of birth to help administer antibodies that calves are born without and will build up their immune system. 

Colostrum is a source of immunoglobins, energy, vitamins, and minerals that transfers immunities from the cow to the calf to help prevent illness. Maximum antibody exposure from colostrum is the greatest within the first four hours post-calving. Weak calves should be tube fed stored colostrum if they have not nursed within the first four hours. After 12 hours the offspring’s ability to absorb the immunoglobins in colostrum drastically decreases.  

Producers should work closely with their veterinarian to develop a herd health protocol tailored to their operation. Some protocols that should be administered in the first 24 hours include dipping the newborns navel in iodine, tagging, and weighing the calf. Dipping the navel as soon as possible after birth helps to prevent bacterial infections. Tagging works as a temporary and early identification system to easily determine the dam of a calf if pairs were to get separated. Weighing calves is important for purebred/seedstock producers to record EPDs. Cows should also be checked to see if they have cleaned up their afterbirth. If a cow retains her placenta, contact a veterinarian, or administer a long-acting antibiotic, but DO NOT try pulling it out. Pulling those membranes does more harm than good and can cause issues such as delayed heat cycles. 

After 24 hours post-calving, calves should look perky and well fed. Calves will sleep a lot in the first week of life, but when they are up, observe for signs of weather stress, lethargy, or starvation. Remember to check calves more frequently in instances of severe weather. After 72 hours all pairs that are doing well should be moved from calving area to pasture. Keeping pairs on large, well-drained pastures reduces incidence of scours. 

For more information on processing newborn calves reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or my cell (402)413-8557 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. Wishing you all a safe and prosperous calving season!

Lactational Nutrition

Raising beef cattle during the winter comes with its own obstacles, such as freezing temperatures and blizzards which ultimately lead to a forage shortage. These conditions create additional obstacles requiring greater nutrient intake for all classes of cattle, but spring calving cows have additional nutrient requirements for late gestation and early lactation. Postpartum requirements are crucial to meet because the cow has a calf on her side, is repairing her reproductive tract, resuming heat cycles, breeding, and if this was her first calf, she is still growing herself. All these processes put significant strain on her body.   

In times where forage is not enough to make up for the increased requirements producers are forced to feed cows to ensure they remain productive and wean a healthy calf or risk their herd getting too thin to rebreed. The lactation stage is the part of the production cycle that requires the greatest nutrient intake, and generally occurs before early spring growth of forage. 

If environmental conditions are not taken into consideration when planning a supplementation program, it can induce a drop in body weight and body condition score (BCS). Deeming it important to ensure that the proper steps are taken to alleviate seasonal stresses on gestating and lactating cows. If cows are already thin this could also be used as a time to increase body condition by exceeding requirements. This however should be a last-ditch effort to add condition before lactation. Cows should be fed adequately year-round to remain in good condition but can get behind and need a little extra cover to guarantee a proper body condition (BCS Score of 5-6) entering breeding season. 

Anytime there is a discussion on supplementation programs, economics of feeding needs to be a part of the conversation. It is easy to find a feeding program but making sure the economics make sense before purchasing commodities should be taken into consideration to prevent any expensive errors. It is easy to spend a lot to improve reproductive performance, but the cost of feed per cow needs to be calculated to understand if this is a feasible approach to achieving goals. Seasonal price changes of commodities means that the cheapest feeds in terms of per unit of energy or protein could vary from year to year. So just because a certain feed was cheaper last year or in the fall producers should still compare feeds on a per unit of energy and protein basis and not a per ton basis to ensure the cheapest rate per unit of protein or energy.  

Finally, accurate nutrient composition for each commodity is important for formulating cow rations. Otherwise, nutrient requirements for cows can be under- or over-shot and cutting into the operations bottom line. Sampling forages and other roughages will ensure nutrient requirements are met accurately without enduring any unnecessary costs. For more information on lactational nutrition reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or my cell (402)413-8557 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. 

Planning for Spring Calving Season

Winter is here, fall breeding is completed, spring calving cows are in their third trimester and the next big event on the farm (with exception of the winter chores everybody loves) is spring calving. This is arguably the most crucial time of year for most operations, so it is pertinent to be prepared to have calves hitting the ground at least a month prior to your first calving date. The subsequent practices should be considered when preparing for the upcoming calving season. 

One of the first things to consider, is getting together all the supplies you will need for calving, otherwise known as a calving kit. This kit should include things such as: mild liquid soap, paper towels, at least two clean buckets to be later filled with warm water, obstetrical sleeves, lubricant, iodine, a notepad to record calf details and any dystocia issues, and calving assist tools (such as chains, handles, or head snare). Hopefully, the last one will not be needed, and should only be used by experienced professionals. 

Calving facilities should also be prepared well in advance of calving season. If these are single use areas that have not been used in months make sure to inspect all alleys, gates, and head catches. For a multi-purpose area ensure that the space is ready for calving. Have good lighting and have replacement bulbs on hand. These facilities should also have clean, dry bedding and be in good working order. Dirty and muddy bedding is a breeding ground for bacteria and as a result, can be detrimental to the health of newborn calves. 

The final trimester is a great time to vaccinate cows with a killed-virus vaccine to promote immune health. This boost of immunity from the vaccination creates antibodies that pass from the cow to the calf through colostrum. This brings me to my final point of ensuring that each calf consumes at least one quart of colostrum within 6-12 hours of birth. Absorption of immunoglobulin found in colostrum drastically decreases after this window. Making it critical to insure adequate consumption during this time. If there are any issues with the quality or quantity of colostrum other sources, such as colostrum replacements can be utilized. If outside sources of colostrum are being introduced in the herd it can promote disease transfer, so it is best to use colostrum from within your own herd. 

For more information on planning for calving season reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or my cell (402)413-8557 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. 

Three State Beef Conference - Free & Virtual

Join us next month for our FREE Three State Beef Conference. It will be held virtually from January 12-14 and begin at 7:00 pm (see flyer attached). If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at my office (402) 624-8007.

Winter is Here!

With nighttime temperatures averaging below freezing, it is safe to say winter is upon us. Winter provides its own set of challenges with colder temperatures, shorter days, and lack of green grass to graze. Along with this beef cattle’s nutritional requirements for bodily maintenance increase as a result of their environment during these brisk months.  

As a response to frigid temperature exposure, beef cattle create body heat by increasing metabolic function through increased heart rate, respiration, and blood flow. This extra use of energy requires greater nutrient intake. Therefore, it is critical to ensure cows are meeting requirements for maintenance as well as the negative energy balance associated with sub-zero temperatures. Outside of feeding greater quantities or higher priced feeds, some simple tactics can be utilized to minimize extra energy being averted to keeping cows warm, thus reducing feed inputs. 

Blistering cold temperatures combined with high wind speeds further increases the metabolic rate of a cow. Considering this, installing wind breaks or utilizing natural wind breaks can alleviate some of the effects windchill can have on your herd. Constructed wind fences can be portable or permanent, and placed strategically in pastures or pens. These structures can block up to 80% of the air while still allowing air flow through. 

Natural wind breaks, such as staggered rows of trees commonly referred to as shelterbelts, planted 50 feet upwind from pens will provide protection from wind as well as reduce snow drift build-up. These areas should not be grazed to minimize damage potentially shortening the life of the trees and underbrush.  

Snow and ice compact and build-up in lots, walking on these uneven surfaces can be hard on the foot and joint structure of cattle. Reduction of structural issues and increases in longevity can be achieved by maintaining clean cattle lots. One wrong step can cause a high producing cow with a few calf crops left to go lame and receive little to no salvage value. 

For more information on wintering strategies for cattle you can reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or my cell (402)413-8557 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension.

Finding Value in Grazing Corn Stalks - Part 2

With feed costs often comprising greater than half of a beef operation’s annual expenses. Providing cattle with feed sources to get the most “bang for your buck” should be deemed with the utmost importance when searching for feed sources. Grazing cattle on corn residue can provide one of the most cost-effective sources of fall and winter roughage as well as providing other benefits for corn growers.  

Grazing corn residue can provide cattle with 6% crude protein and 53% TDN. (on a dry matter basis) Depending on the condition and stage of production of the cattle, intake of the stalks alone could be sufficient. If they are lactating or growing cattle, they will likely need additional supplementation to make up for net energy for maintenance or gain. Another instance where cattle will need an additional supplement is when freezing rain occurs and the residue freezes to the ground. Cattle can root for crop residue under the snow but cannot access the residue if it is frozen to the ground. 

Thanks to advances in modern technology, only 1-2% of the ears will be left behind in the residue in most fields. However, there may be instances where ear loss is higher as the result of storm related damage. If there is a greater amount than this the cattle should be limited to what they can graze. Since cattle select the highest quality feedstuffs first, high levels of grain left behind could lead to digestive issues, causing bloat. Grazing of small strips, referred to as strip grazing, is an alternative form of grazing that requires some input but will not allow cattle to be as selective. Once the cattle have had appropriate time to consume the available residue, make the strip wider (using temporary fence) to allow them a greater area to graze. This will allow for a more effective removal of the residue by forcing them to eat greater quantities of the lower quality husk. 

For more questions on grazing corn stalks you can reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or my cell (402)413-8557 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. 

Finding Value in Grazing Corn Residue - Part 1

This fall as corn harvest wraps up, cattle that have spent the summer grazing pasture in the western part of the state will begin to move east to graze on corn stalks. Corn stalks can provide a great fall/winter forage source to graze. Even if you are not a beef producer, but own farm ground, it is still possible to lease your property to a cattle producer to utilize the crop residue left on the fields. Corn growers are often apprehensive to turn cattle out on stalks for various reasons, such as the concern that compaction will potentially decrease yields. While there are certain soil types and topography that should not be grazed, these instances are not found in southeast Nebraska. However, high traffic areas such as cattle trails and areas around waterers might have high levels of compaction, they will still not reduce yields the following year. Studies conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State University have shown that fall grazing of corn stalks does not decrease yields the following year. 

Landowners commonly wonder how much to charge. Before that question can be answered, it is important to breakdown the costs of grazing cattle on corn stalks. The University of Nebraska Beef Systems Team has developed a corn stalk grazing calculator to help figure this cost. It can be found online (https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/westcentral/ag-economics/), or feel free to contact me personally to help with utilization of this tool. Additional costs to consider as a beef producer are freight, water, feed, adverse effects of inclement weather, and responsibility of taking care of the stock. There should be a legal document clarifying ALL specifics so that all parties understand their duty in the business exchange. 

The price should be dependent upon what is provided by the landowner and expectations of the cattle owner. Landowners can provide as little or as much as they prefer. For example, if a land owner wants to have cattle grazing their stalks but does not want to be involved, they can require the cattle owner to put up their own fence and take care of the health of the cattle. Common ranges for these instances on the eastern side of the state are generally between $0.15-$0.30 per head per day. In some scenarios the owner of the cattle might not live close enough to take care of the cattle and need someone to check health and feed if necessary. These scenarios can allow the landowner to charge up to $1.00-$1.25 per head per day if they provide such services. At the end of the day rental rates are negotiable between the landowner and the cattle owner and should be discussed far in advance of cattle reaching the stalks. For more questions on grazing corn stalks you can reach me at my office (402)624-8007 or my cell (402)413-8557 or follow my twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension. 

Meet Your Beef Educator

Hello everyone! My name is Connor Biehler and I am the new Beef Extension Educator with adult education responsibilities for Saunders County and 14 other counties in southeast Nebraska. I am a native of south-central Illinois where I developed a passion for agriculture through my family's operation as well as 4-H beef projects. My degrees include an Associates of Science in agriculture from Lake Land College, Bachelor of Science in animal science from Oklahoma State University, and Master of Science with a focus in cow/calf and sire nutrition from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Prior to pursuing my master's, I worked as a feed salesman in Oklahoma. My office is located at ENREC near Mead, and I am looking forward to educating and building lasting relationships with producers and the communities in southeast Nebraska.