Aug. 15, 2016
Managing beef cow margins: Round bale pitfalls, part 2
by Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension livestock marketing specialist
Cow-calf production is best viewed as the business of producing and marketing grass. The most successful and profitable cow-calf operations are generally those that most efficiently use grazed forage. However, seasonally limited quantity and/or quality of grazed forage means that producers often need additional nutrition in the form of harvested forages or purchased supplemental feed.
Most beef cow-calf operations in Oklahoma and surrounding areas rely on grass hay to help meet cow nutritional needs. A variety of grasses are harvested as hay to provide supplemental protein and energy for cattle. The quality of grass hay varies widely depending on the type of forage; the management/condition of the forage; baling conditions; and quality degradation during storage. For example, well-fertilized Bermuda grass, harvested early will have 12-15 percent crude protein and total digestible nutrients (TDN) over 55 percent. Crude protein in under-fertilized, mature Bermuda will drop below 6 percent with TDN less than 50 percent. Prairie and meadow hay typically has crude protein values between 6 and 9 percent and TDN of 50-52 percent. If harvested late and very mature these values may drop to 4 or 5 percent for crude protein with TDN below 50 percent. Whether purchased or produced, it is critical for producers to know the quality of hay. Round bales of unknown quality and bale weight, subject to significant storage and feeding losses is wasteful, expensive and make it very difficult to manage cow herd nutrition.
Round bale technology is convenient and saves labor. Unfortunately, the convenience of round bales has also frequently encouraged production of low quality hay and poor storage and feeding management. Often hay production is a residual to poor pasture management where mature, rank grass that was not grazed effectively is baled. Good pasture management and good hay management are two sides of the same coin. The labor saving and convenience of round bales has, in many cases, fostered poor pasture management that results in increased hay needs and production of poor quality hay.
Perhaps rounds bales are too convenient. In days of old, producers feeding small square bales were typically more aware of the quality of the hay, how much they were feeding, how much was being wasted and, as a result, often did a better job of managing cow herd nutrition and feed cost. It takes some additional management to capture the advantages of round bales without wasting hay and incurring additional cost. Hay production per beef cow has more than doubled in the past 40 years in Oklahoma. It appears that now significantly more hay is wasted and that poor pasture management has increased the number of days that cows are fed hay. Round bales very probably have contributed to this trend.
Considerations for round bale use:
- Manage the quantity and quality of pastures to extend grazing and minimize hay needs. Consider stockpiling pasture for fall and winter grazing. Feeding hay costs 2.5 to 5 times as much as grazing. Every day that cows graze instead of receiving hay will save $0.50 to $1.50 per head in feed costs.
- Know the quantity and quality of purchased or produced hay. Buy tons of hay… not bales. Weigh it and test it.
- Know how much hay cows are actually eating. Measure storage and feeding losses in order to know actual consumption and the true cost of hay.
- Calculate the cost of hay nutrients compared to other supplemental feed sources. Projected record grain crops mean that energy and protein from other feed sources will likely be cheaper this winter. Supplements using grain and/or by-product feeds may actually be less expensive than poor quality hay.
Late summer temperatures shorten gestation length of fall-calvers
by Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension animal scientist
Each year in August, it is time for an important reminder. Fall-calving season is here. In fact, the start of the fall calving season often begins before some producers expect it. The target date for the beginning of fall calving very often is Sept. 1. Most printed gestation tables predict that calving will take place 283 days (some 285 days) after artificial insemination or natural breeding. Cows and heifers that gestate in hot weather will often calve a few days earlier than expected.
Oklahoma State University physiologists studied early fall (August) and late fall (October) calving cows. Data from two successive years were combined for 60 Angus X Hereford crossbred cows. The early and late fall calving cows had been artificially inseminated in early November or early January, respectively. Semen from the same sire was used for all cows. All cows were exposed to a single cleanup bull for 35 days at 4 days after the AI season. The weather prior to calving was significantly different for late pregnancy in the two groups. The average maximum temperature the week before calving was 93 degrees F. for the early fall group. The average maximum temperature the week before parturition in the late calving group was 66 degrees F. There was a 100 percent survival rate for calves in both groups and both groups of cows had very high re-breeding rates (90 percent and 92 percent, respectively).
The average gestation length for the early cows was 6 days shorter (279 days) as compared to the late cows (285 days) in year 1. The average gestation length for the early cows was 4 days shorter (278 days) as compared to the late cows (282 days) in year 2. Keep in mind that the gestation lengths listed are AVERAGE. This means that about half of the cows calved earlier than that. Records from millions of Holstein dairy cows across the entire United States report a similar pattern (Norman, et al.2009 J. Dairy Sci; 92:5). Holsteins bred in January and February (calving in October and November) averaged 2 days longer gestation than did Holstein cows bred in October (calving in July and August). Many of these would be in Northern climates with less heat stress and more moderate temperatures in the summer months. Here in the Southern Plains, late summer heat is more intense and persistent. Therefore, producers with early fall-calving cows should expect calves to start coming several days ahead of the textbook gestation table dates. They should begin their routine heifer and cow checks at least a week to 10 days ahead of the expected first calving date. Source: Kastner, Wettemann, and co-workers. 2004 OSU Animal Science Research Report
Cow-Calf Corner is a weekly electronic newsletter from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Agency.