Winter Ranch Management Series provided timely information for Kan. livestock producers |

Winter Ranch Management Series provided timely information for Kan. livestock producers

Esther McCabe, K-State shows a U.S. map separated into separate regions based on the amount of lots of cattle herds sold, and average price for each region.
Photo by Amy Hadachek

From animal health to nutrition, management, genetics and reproduction cow-calf producers got an earful about the latest news in the industry Feb. 11 in Mankato, Kan., during the 2020 Winter Ranch Management Series hosted by Kansas State University’s River Valley, Central Kansas and Post Rock Extension districts.

Also, the popular town hall style question and answer session at the end, was appreciated by the producers gathered at Mankato’s Community Center.

Understanding and Diagnosing Pregnancy Losses was a key topic, and producers listened intently as several prominent veterinarians who are also K-State professors explained how to reduce calf loss on the ranch including stillbirths and abortions.

“Most losses occur between 30 to 60 days, and although there could still be a loss typically there’s much less after that time,” said Gregg Hanzlicek, DVM, Ph.D., veterinarian at Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Manhattan. He also mentioned that producers may not realize they have a loss at that time because the newly-formed calf is so small it might be hard to detect a lost pregnancy.

To get a handle on what might have caused pregnancy losses in a herd, in 2019, nearly 30 percent of abortions were attributed to BVD. Another 30 percent were linked to Neospora. Hanzlicek also listed these causes of abortions:

• Bacteria (many species)

• Mold: silage, hay, cubes, cake

• Toxins: nitrate

• Vaccine: IBR (MLV unvaccinated pregnant animals)

• IBR: field exposure

• Lepto: carriers, wildlife

• BVDV I and II: not in every herd, neighbors, wildlife

• Neospora

• Nutritional: protein/trace-mineral/vitamin/energy deficiency

When diagnosing an abortion, Hanzlicek said, “If you include the placenta, you’re three times more likely to receive accurate results from a diagnosis.”

Determining whether cows are open is important in order to cull them out, so that you’re not winter feeding them, Hanzlicek said.

Regarding whether a calf was possibly either stillborn versus having weak calf syndrome, there can sometimes be confusion. “Check the lung tissue for signs of breathing. When you place a 2 inch by 2 inch lung tissue in water, and if it floats, that means there was at least one breath taken,” (meaning that particular death was attributed to weak calf syndrome) Hanzlicek said.

Preventing pregnancy losses for biosecurity means minimizing exposure to disease strains — which overwhelms the immune system of the animal.

“The best advice to prevent this is from your local veterinarian due to geographic differences,” Hanzlicek said.


Another speaker encouraged cow-calf producers to beef up strategies when marketing their cattle.

Esther McCabe; K-State Ph.D student in animal sciences, delivered a power point presentation called, Value Captured from Improving Production Practices regarding selling through Superior Livestock Video Auctions.

“What do you already have invested in the calf and in the nutrition of the dam, or in the cost for a bull or AI?” McCabe asked the audience. “What about vaccinations for your cowherd and how do you capture more calf value so someone looking at your calves will know about it?” She showed a map of the U.S. separated into regions based on the amount of lots of cattle herds sold, and average price for each region. The region that combined the Rocky Mountain states with the north central states sold the most with 1,801 lots and had the highest price per hundred weight (cwt.) followed by the West Coast with 1,259 lots, then the south/central region with 1,046 lots. The southeast sold the least with 265 lots and the lowest price per cwt.

The importance of a quality vaccine program was emphasized.

“People are willing to pay more for a good vaccination program. Think about how you’re marketing your calves,” McCabe said. She also suggested that if you know who is buying your calves, you can get slaughter data records from them to see how your calves have done, and use that information which can help you in your breeding and nutrition program. “The more information you can give your buyer, the better,” McCabe said.

Forage analysis was also highlighted as an important management tool, since variation in feedstuffs can be significant. Most weather damage occurs in the outside 12 inches of big round hay bales.

“Be sure to sample between 10 to 20 percent of your big round bales randomly and as close to when you’re going to feed the bales, as possible,” said Brett Melton, livestock production Extension agent at K-State Research & Extension/River Valley District in Concordia, Kan. The further you penetrate into the bale the more accurate the sample. Melton also recommends using an approved forage sampling device.

When sampling from a large silage pile, Melton urged extreme caution when using a loader or rake. “Be very careful not to get trapped in a silage avalanche,” said Melton, and be sure to have another person assisting for safety.

Ranchers found the winter ranch management information to be a big boost for their programs.

“This time of year I’m interested in reproductive loss and the different causes for loss of calves. Something I hadn’t heard before was that if the calf died, to test a sample of its lung (to see if it was stillborn or a live birth/known as weak calf syndrome)” said rancher Marty Hanson of Hanson Cattle Company in Lebanon, Kan. “Also, some of the data from Esther about consignment lots at Superior Livestock, I’ve never used Superior but it’s interesting to know, and it gave me insight going forward about their pricing programs and how to better market your animal when you go to the sale barn,” said Hanson, who farms and calves-out registered and commercial Black Angus cow-calf pairs. He also holds private treaty sales on registered bulls and heifers in spring.

“I’ve been to the sale barn enough to know the importance of giving the auctioneer all the information you can about your calves, so the buyers know about the quality of your calves. So great information tonight to try to get that extra price, letting the sale barn know whether your calves are bunk-trained, and whether they’re weaned for however many days. If I were selling, I’d also mentioned ours have actually been vaccinated three times by the time they’re weaned, they’ve been poured and are eating out of feed bunks,” Hanson said.

Livestock producer Ken Heitman of Webber, Kan., who has a mostly Angus commercial cow calf herd, said the program will help producers improve their operations.

“The veterinarian (Dr. Hanzlicek) was really patient with everybody. The whole program was good. I always enjoy going to those programs they’re always coming out with new ideas and ways of doing things,” he said.

The town hall style meeting at the end of the program was hosted by the entire line-up, similar to a full who’s who of prominent K-State specialists; Bob Weaber, Ph.D., associate professor and K-State Extension cow-calf specialist who earned both his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in animal science fields at Colorado State University, and received his Ph.D in animal breeding at Cornell University. Also; Sandy Johnson, Ph.D., Extension beef specialist at Northwest Research and Extension Center in Colby, Kan., Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., professor/Extension specialist, as well as Hanzlicek, McCabe, Brett Melton, and other area extension agents.

There was a sigh of relief when the experts were asked about any potential, long-term effects on last year’s newborn calves that were born during Kansas’ unusually harsh 2019 El Nino winter and early wet, cold spring.

Justin Waggoner, Ph.D., K-State professor/Extension specialist summed it up in one powerful statement. “Calf health was not as bad as expected.” ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at

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