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Ranch field day talks grass, rain and management

By Kylene Scott

Green grass welcomed visitors to the Fairleigh Ranch near Scott City, Kan., in mid-August to the Kansas Livestock Association/Kansas State University Ranch Field Day. John Fairleigh of the ranch was not positive visitors would have much to look at when the planning began.

“When we first talked about having this deal, sounded like fun and the ranch was brown.” Fairleigh said. “We didn’t really know what you’d have to look at. Thankfully we have had rain and this is good.”

The ranch is primarily used to graze cattle and then ship the calves off to Fairleigh Feedyard for finishing. In the fall the calves are taken to the yard.

“We kind of quickly realized that out here, we can’t count on the rain, obviously, and so we really wanted to turn cattle across the ranch, more to feed the feed yard system,” Fairleigh said. “So we run as many as 10,000 to 12,000 across the year.”

The calves seem to thrive in the system.

“It’s kind of a stop-over place so they can heal up,” Fairleigh said. “We’ve found they do so much better out on open range trying to get them healthy after/during weaning.”

Later in the program, K-State Beef Specialist Justin Waggoner discussed the benefits of early weaning in drought conditions. He said there’s always tremendous interest in early weaning.

“I think after three to four years of drought, for some of you we tend to answer a lot of questions about early weaning as we get into this time of year. We think we’ve had some successes with it,” Waggoner said. “I think we don’t realize what a blessing that really is (green grass). There’s nothing like looking at three to four years of brown grass to make you appreciate what green looks like.”

Early weaning is considered to be weaning at anything less than 180 to 220 days of age, however, Waggoner recommends staying closer to the 120- to 150-day mark.

“That’s where we seem to see a lot of success with those calves,” Waggoner said. “If we go younger than that, I think we’ve got some other of these limitations that come into play.”

There’s often a lot of trepidation and hesitation from producers to early wean because it is a stressful situation anyway.

“I think as we push that age down to 120 days of age or even 100 days of age that resistance or hesitation with this becomes even more so,” Waggoner said. “A lot of times with my conversations with producers, it seems there’s a general attitude that those calves are going to be lightweight. They’re going to be highly stressed. They’re not going to perform well. The other question, as well, can they utilize a concentrate diet if we throw in a starter pellet in front of them?”

In terms of success in terms of early weaning, the one thing that’s probably the most important thing is intake. The young calves have to get to the bunk and eat.

“The challenge with any calf that’s newly weaned regardless of his age, is kind of taking into consideration his intake when he comes into a dry lot facility is going to be relatively low,” Waggoner said. “A lot of times maybe one, one and a half percent of body weight on a dry basis.”

In the beginning of an early weaning program, initial intake will be low—1 percent to 1.5 percent of body weight. Waggoner’s goal is to get the calves to eat 2.2 percent to 2.5 percent of their body weight in some sort of dry matter by day 10 to 14.

“So getting them up and getting them to the bunk and getting as much feed into them as possible,” Waggoner said. “My philosophy and what we kind of practice at Hays when we bring our calves in is to try to keep the calves aggressive, but get enough dry matter intake into them and get them coming to the bunk and that’s a little bit of a challenge.”

Quality feedstuffs are very important when weaning, along with palatability.

“I can’t stress enough, people will tend to have the lowest quality feed stuffs, maybe some CRP hay and that’s what they think they want to wean calves on,” Waggoner said. “Well, that’s kind of the opposite approach. I want to say, put the best feedstuffs you have and put those in reserves for your calves to put in the most palatable diet.”

In his research, Waggoner said early weaned calves have the hardest time with dry matter intake. Enticing them to come to the bunk and eat is the hard part, but if they come in to eat they will do relatively well.

Other considerations are product utilization (using familiar feeds), diet aggregation (dry matter on top of concentrate and mixing), facility adaptations (water and height of bunk restrictions to smaller calves), weaning time and weather considerations.

“There’s a lot of trepidation about early weaning calves, and I think that comes from—we’ve all struggled with just weaning calves in general, and I think maybe we should look at it in terms of weaning calves is a challenge no matter what age the calf is,” Waggoner said.

Weaning calves in general can just be a challenge, and Waggoner emphasized having a plan and sticking to it.

“I think really it’s a situation where nutrition is important but the management is probably maybe more important,” he said. “It might be an 80/20 split. Management is very important, and having a plan and knowing how you’re going to manage those calves.”

Waggoner said to also consider and plan for health issues.

“You know some of those calves are going to get sick when you wean, so work with your veterinarian. Have a treatment protocol in place,” he said. “Know how you’re going to be treating them. Don’t make the phone call to go get the drugs to try to treat them. Have that plan in place. That’ll improve your response time.”

Speaking on the subject of disease, another speaker at the event discussed recently proposed trichomoniasis regulations. Justin Smith, deputy animal health commissioner for the Kansas Department of Animal Health explained the specifics of the disease first.

Caused by Tritrichomonas foetus, it is a venereal disease that can only be spread during breeding. It causes early embryonic death, pyometra and infertility. Fetal loss occurs most frequently at 50 to 70 days gestation, and left unchecked it can cause 40 percent to 60 percent open cows.

“The thing about trichomoniasis is it’s strictly a venereal disease. It’s only passed through the sexual act,” Smith said. “It’s not on the fences, it’s not on the grass, it’s not passed through the feed or your boots or anything of that sort. It’s strictly passed as a venereal disease.”

Most of the damage occurs to the cows, but the bull is the carrier and passes it from cow to cow.

“One of the biggest concerns is the bull is the carrier and he is normal. You cannot look at a bull and tell whether he’s got trichomoniasis,” Smith said. “He acts normal, he looks normal, and he’s just as fertile as he always was. You can’t tell it on a semen sample. It’s strictly you have to pull a sample and run the test on it and see whether he has it.”

And once he’s infected, he’s always infected.

“The thing that it does is this organism does not invade the bull. Its strictly inhibitive of the penile area, that the crypts and folds that are on the prepuce area as well as on the penis itself they invade and get down in these crypts and that’s where they inhabit,” Smith said. “They don’t invade the bull so he doesn’t ever gain immunity to it. There’s nothing there to stimulate his immune system. So they’re always infected, they’re not going to clean themselves up.”

Currently trichomoniasis is a reportable disease in Kansas. On the books now, rules are for bulls entering the state of Kansas. Bulls less than 19 months of age must have a virginity statement on their health certificate. If greater than 19 months of age or unknown virginity status, they have to have a negative test within 30 days of coming into the state of Kansas.

As for the changes, Smith said, it remains a reportable disease, and is going to require the testing for interstate movement of bulls of anything over 18 months of age.

“The biggest change is there’s that language in there that’s addressing the intrastate change of ownership movement in the state of Kansas,” Smith said. “So all bulls that change ownership—whether they sell, lease, borrow, steal, whatever the case may be—it has to have a negative test.”

Bulls over 18 months of age and all bulls with unknown virginity statuses will have to have a negative test, but Smith said producers who have a management plan on record with the KDAH and have been approved, can have those bulls extended to 24 months of age.

“The reason we did that—one is, that the purebred seedstock producer, we understand that that is a really low risk population of bulls,” Smith said. “They pull their bulls off, a lot of them go into a feedlot feeding pen, a test pen or whatever and have no exposure, so we understand that it’s a low risk population.”

The details that KDAH needs to know is the details on how the bulls are going to be handled in the future.

“If you’re turning them out on a hot wire fence next to somebody’s cow herd, no we’re probably not going to allow that to be a 24-month extension,” Smith said. “But if your telling us there’s a 10 mile buffer or they’re going into a feeding pen, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Other proposed changes include:

Valid test extended from 30 to 60 days from time of sample collection;

Sample collection and handling be conducted by trich certified veterinarian, and certification must be renewed every 5 years;

PCR test is only recognized test to certify bulls negative for trich;

All bulls testing positive for trich must be sold for slaughter only;

All test eligible bulls sold through livestock markets must be certified negative prior to sale or be sold for slaughter purposes only; and

Establishes requirements of cows and heifers moving into Kansas.

There are also proposed rules for interstate movement of cows. They include:

Only applies to cows and heifers crossing the state line; and

Females must meet one of the following criteria: 1. Have a calf at side with no exposure to bulls since calving. 2. At least 120 days pregnant. 3. If not 120 days pregnant, must have been exposed to only known negative bulls. 4. 120 days sexual isolation. 5. Known virgin heifers with no bull exposure since weaning. 6. For slaughter or feeding purposes only with no bull exposure. 7. Embryo transfer associated movement with no bull exposure after entering Kansas.

Finishing up the educational section of the field day, Bob Gillen, a range management specialist at the K-State Western Kansas Agricultural Research Center in Hays, Kan., spoke about where to go from dealing with several years of drought. He said cattle can perform well on drought-stressed forage if there is enough to eat. Maintaining a moderate stocking rate is key.

“Studies have shown weaning weights will increase if we pull back on the stocking rate to allow for more acres per cow during drought conditions,” Gillen said.

This type of risk adverse management also will aid in a quicker recovery for the grass. Gillen said short- to mid-grasses could recover in two to three years once rainfall levels return to normal. However, as the regrowth begins, be prepared for a weed flush due to an increase in bare areas throughout pastures.

“When it starts to rain again it’s going to be a weedy son-of-a-gun, but the grasses will shrink back,” he said. “The first year or two will be really ugly. Don’t panic. As long as there’s good grass under there (the weeds won’t survive for long.)”

If this is the case, Gillen warned that spraying might not be the most economical answer. Killing a pound of weeds will return less than one half pound of grass, and most times the weeds go away voluntarily. Also, research has shown no increase in average daily gains in steers following weed control efforts.

“Think long and hard before you do weed control when coming out of a drought,” Gillen said. “I don’t think it will pay you back.”

Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at kscott@hpj.com.

Date: 9/23/2013



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