Story & Photos by Caroline Sabin |

Back to: Ranching
July 30, 2012
Follow Ranching

Ranching for Profitability

Over 30 participants from five area counties participated in the Ranching for Profitability workshop held recently at the Lincoln-McPherson County Extension meeting room. It was one of a series of six workshops held at various Nebraska locations. The emphasis for the workshop was the presentation of strategies to meet nutritional needs of livestock as drought conditions diminish the quantity and quality of forage resources. The workshops were sponsored by University of Nebraska (UNL) Extension and Pfizer Animal Health.

Jerry Volesky, West Central Research and Extension Center (WCREC) Range Forage specialist, presented information on grass quality and the possibilities of planting annual forages as supplemental feed sources. Heat and lack of moisture are having a major impact on forages intended for hay, so selection of drought tolerant forage crops may provide the greatest yields on the least amount of soil moisture. Volesky suggested planting rye or triticale this fall as an option to provide relief for spring pastures that might still be in distress from this summer’s dry conditions or as a hay crop.

Rick Rasby, UNL range cow nutritionist, worked with producers to consider various ways to conserve forage by supplementing with mixed feed rations. If distiller’s grains are available, it works well as a protein source to mix with available roughages. A variety of rations were displayed for producers to observe their texture and quality.

Cow herd management during drought favors early weaning of calves rather than continuous creep feeding. Cows with suckling calves have greater energy needs. As the calf continues to grow, so too does its demand on its mother for milk. As pasture conditions deteriorate, it is more and more difficult for the cow to get sufficient energy or nutrients to continue to meet the needs of herself and the calf. To prepare for early weaning, producers should creep feed about two weeks prior to weaning to prepare calves for a good transition to eating from a bunk. Rasby suggests that a pre-conditioning plan also be considered.

Rick Funston, Beef Reproduction Physiologist, gave a tour of the feeding facilities at WCREC. Funston’s research is tied in with optimizing the reproductive and feed efficiency of the cows in a beef production system while working to decrease production costs. His work with fetal programming studies the subsequent feed efficiency of a group of fed cattle in consideration of the feed program that was utilized during the heifer development stage of their mothers.

Feed efficiency can be attributed to genetics and management — 30 to 40 percent is inheritable, so the greater portion of maximizing feed efficiency rests on management decisions. Through Funston’s research, it is apparent that the use and timing of protein supplementation on developing heifers does have an impact on the feed efficiency, yield grade and carcass weight of subsequent offspring.

Funston’s feeding trials involves animals that are in an early spring calving program and another group that are in a May calving program.

Other research is studying the positive effect that ionophores have on reproductive ability. If an ionophore can be incorporated into the diet, it also improves feed utilization, which is especially valuable during times of drought. Funston suggests a level of 80 mg three times per week. It does not have to be fed daily, but should not be spaced out more than three days between feedings.

The Beef Mobile Lab was the center for information presented by Aaron Stalker, WCREC Beef Range Systems Specialist. When used during presentations, the lab has a rumen fistulated animal aboard. Samples of rumen contents can be taken for examination. A microscopic observation of rumen fluids showed the presence of bacteria that aid in the digestion of ingested forages. Rumen bacteria thrive when protein levels are sufficient, but when protein is lacking, so too is bacterial breakdown of ingested feeds. Protein in the diet has a major impact on the rate of passage of feed through the gut.

“Drought conditions have created a double whammy,” said Stalker. “There is less forage and that forage is of lower quality for this time of year. “

Lack of soil moisture has affected the plant’s growth habit by stunting vegetative growth of the leaves. The ratio of leaves to stems is disproportionate to normal plant growth, and lack of moisture has been compounded by heat conditions, bringing on advanced stages of maturity to the plant. As plants mature, plant protein decreases and cellulose levels increase.

Meeting protein needs are particularly important during the breeding season. Stalker suggested that producers keep moving cows to high quality forage until breeding season is over. Then pastures should be monitored to avoid excessive grazing so grass production in future years is not reduced.

The last presentation was by Dave Boxler, WCREC Entomology Extension Educator, addressing the issue of fly control. A dry year can produce mixed results in relation to fly populations. While drier weather often inhibits fly development, the presence of flies on cattle can sap them of necessary nutrients. In a drought year with lowered forage quality and the high temperatures, cattle are already feeling physical stress. The main vectors of concern on cattle are horn flies, face flies, and stable flies. Their parasitic lifestyle can reduce milk production and negatively effect weaning weights by up to 15 percent.

“We are entering a danger zone in Nebraska because of the hot weather,” said Boxler. “It is adding a stressor to cattle.”

Horn flies spend their lives on the hide of the cow as blood feeders. When there are more than 200 flies on an animal, there is negative impact on the animal’s productivity. Horn flies will travel long distances, so if nearby herds are lacking in treatment, then those horn fly populations will scout out other cattle. Their life cycle is complete in 12-14 days, so there could be as many as 10 generations of horn flies hatched in a grazing season.

Face flies have a 21-28 day life cycle that depends on a constant supply of fresh manure. It is the female fly that does the feeding on the animal to acquire protein. In the process though, they may spread pink eye. Boxler suggests that multiple treatments be used because this is a more difficult fly to control. The adult face fly is able to overwinter in attics and rural buildings.

Bunched up cattle are an indicator that stable flies are in the area. They are blood feeders that disrupt the normal grazing patterns and reduce weight gains. They usually lay their eggs in old hay piles or feed debris. It is more of a challenge to treat because control measures are difficult to target on the legs where the stable flies settle in for a meal. Some research has been done with insecticide misters.

Boxler reviewed some of the applications available for interrupting the fly’s life cycle. An effective treatment can be the IGR (insect growth regulator) mineral. While time and labor efficient, a drawback is ensuring a constant intake and preventing the invasion of flies that come from untreated pastures. It may not impact all fly types. Use of free choice applications such as dust bags or oilers are more effective if they can be designed for forced use. The natural tendency for forced use is fencing around water tanks, which may increase erosion problems. Use of sprays are suggested for an acute problem because there is immediate kill. It is more labor intensive and often somewhat stressful to the animals.

Boxler brought up recent research done with insecticide ear tags. When applied properly with two tags per adult animal, some results are showing a 93 percent control.

“Producers often tag at branding, which is way too early,” said Boxler. “It’s best to delay until the last part of May or early June.”

It is important to find manageable ways to control flies to provide effective and consistent coverage thereby preventing animal stress and weight losses.

The participants at the North Platte location were primarily landowners from Keith, Lincoln, Logan, Custer and McPherson, but personnel from USDA agencies and agri-business were also in attendance. For Chase Dodson, a farm manager with Agri-Affiliates in North Platte, Neb., the workshop provided information that will give him insight for making proper management decisions.

“It is critical to have continuing education to make the best decisions for clients,” said Dodson. “This course proved to be pretty beneficial.”

As a farm manager, Dodson oversees the land management of irrigated cropland, dryland crops, and rangeland. The landowners he works with may be retired ranchers or farmers, absentee owners or outside investors, but the goal for Dodson remains the same — profitable yet sustainable agriculture.

The introduction of different management strategies was of particular interest to Dodson. Decisions that impact crop or livestock production often need to be adjusted when faced with adverse weather conditions such as drought. The session on forage selection provided information that Dodson felt was very useful for choosing crops that could have good yields and high quality.

When working with animals, plants and the forces of nature, cattlemen and agribusiness people often must seek out creative solutions. Leaning on research and evidence based information through university extension programs can provide the insight needed to make good management decisions. ❖

Stories you may be interested in

The Fence Post Updated Aug 22, 2012 09:06AM Published Sep 24, 2012 08:50AM Copyright 2012 The Fence Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.