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Angus Advisors


Southern Great Plains

by David Lalman

Oklahoma State University


Spring-calving herds 

  • Producers throughout the southern Great Plains have reported improved timed artificial insemination (AI) pregnancy rates in beef cows using the new 7 & 7 Synch protocol. This protocol was developed and tested by University of Missouri scientists. Compared to the long-standing five- and seven-day Co-Synch systems for timed AI, the new protocol requires one additional trip through the chute (four total). Details for the 7 & 7 Synch protocol are available at https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/g2023. Other established estrous synchronization protocols for beef heifers and beef cows can be found at https://beefrepro.org/arsbc/.  

  • Consult your veterinarian about timing and product selection related to vaccination of cows prior to implementing an AI program. 

  • If cattle must be moved to a different location after breeding, they should be transported within four days if possible. In the southern Great Plains region, heat stress is possible during mid to late-spring, especially during times of high humidity. Therefore, care must be taken to avoid compounding transportation stress with heat stress. In situations where animals will not be in transit for more than an hour, transportation during early daylight hours is advisable. Longer trips may require pre-dawn or nighttime transportation.  

  • Fewer females show signs of estrus during heat stress. For this reason, AI programs in the southern Great Plains region planned for mid to late-spring may benefit from using a timed AI protocol rather than estrous detection. 

  • Substantial evidence suggests radical changes in diet and activity around the time of AI can reduce conception rates. In general, a consistent, slightly positive plane of nutrition combined with minimal change in activity during the AI and post-AI period facilitates AI success. 

  • Similarly, it is advisable to adapt breeding bulls to pasture conditions prior to turnout with cows. Don’t forget to schedule breeding soundness exams (sometimes referred to as a BSE) with your veterinarian. 


Fall-calving herds 

  • Take the time to individually weigh and record hip height and body condition score (BCS) on your cows, and send that data to the American Angus Association. This can be accomplished within 45 days of weaning if it isn’t convenient on weaning day. Some sires have the capability of producing progeny that excel at postweaning performance and carcass quality, as well as daughters with moderate mature size. You can advance our ability to find these sires by submitting your cow weights and scores.   

  • Determine your preferred timing for weaning, and inventory veterinary and feed/supplement supplies for the weaning program. 

  • A coccidiostat is an important consideration in situations where calves will be concentrated in small pasures or drylots during the weaning period, especially on properties that have a history of coccidiosis.

  • General recommendations 

  • Lush spring forage is generally concentrated in nutrients, including minerals, vitamins and vitamin precursors. Even so, spring grasses in the southern Great Plains are deficient in sodium. This leads to a healthy appetite for sources of salt during the spring and early-summer months. Salt and mineral intake usually declines substantially by midsummer, so be sure to keep out your salt/mineral supplement this spring so they have adequate tissue stores by the time their intake declines.  

  • Along with sodium, forage phosphorus, copper and zinc are frequently marginal or deficient in the southern Great Plains region. This shortfall intensifies as the grazing season progresses. 

  • Obviously, forage mineral concentration can vary widely from pasture to pasture and ranch to ranch. Just recognize it isn’t difficult or expensive to conduct a forage mineral survey on one or more of your pastures. Quite a few commercial vendors, veterinarians and extension specialists are capable and willing to assist you with this effort. From there you can develop a logical and cost-effective mineral supplementation program for your operation. 


 

Western Region

by Zach McFarlane

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo 


Focusing on the details

As I continue to write this column for the Western region, my focus has been on interviewing ranchers to showcase lessons learned and the diversity of management styles and decisions in this area of the country. 


Kellie Palmer grew up on the ranch and in the sale barn, Toppenish Livestock Commission, in South Central Washington under the tutelage of her father, Jeff Wiersma. 


Kellie watched her father scale up his herd from just a handful of sale barn cows with mixed genetics to one of the largest Angus-cross, cow-calf operations in the Pacific Northwest. When most people think of Washington, they think of Seattle and the extreme precipitation levels; however, this ranching family operates in arid sagebrush country and must contend with several environmental factors that drive their management decisions. 


Kellie and her husband, Bryce, started their own operation in 2015 when the cow market was sky high. Unfortunately, the market volatility in spring 2016 had a major influence on their profitability, and Kellie sold the herd for half of the original purchase price. Since then, the Palmers have rebuilt the herd for years by picking around the small sales in the area and using any and every lease available. Kellie even discussed grazing her herd on cornstalks in the winter until finally landing at the Campbell Ranch in Warden, Wash., in 2019. 


With the market volatility Kellie experienced when getting into the beef business on her own, she has continued to focus on the details to help navigate management decisions. While building the herd, the Palmers have focused their recent attention on genetics and replacing their remaining cows from the sale barn with younger, Angus-based females. With leases so difficult to come by, especially with the current unprecedented cattle market, Kellie has focused on capitalizing on details that can make her operation more profitable. Early weaning has been a strategy the Palmers employ to allow cows to recover and rebreed while also promoting more marketing flexibility for their calves before the market becomes saturated. 


As spring works are on her mind, Kellie is fully focused on the upcoming breeding season. She makes sure to provide her cows access to a high-magnesium mineral supplement to avoid grass tetany. Her advice is to “not force cows to chase feed during critical times of the year when they need the energy and nutrients the most.” She will also be providing access to minerals to her bulls to help them maintain their body condition as much as possible during the breeding season. 


They cull heavily on structural soundness and they semen test all bulls to ensure the success of the breeding season. Bulls are culled primarily on age with nothing remaining on the ranch after five years to focus on bringing in new genetic diversity to the herd. Recently, the Palmers have been purchasing Angus bulls from Coleman Angus, Kessler Angus and Sunny Okanogan Ranch. Once Kellie pulls the bulls after the breeding season, they are kept on a strict mineral program and fed alfalfa hay to increase their body condition after the rigors of the breeding season. 


Kellie’s attention to detail does not stop at her nutritional management decisions. She also has learned many lessons the hard way and focuses on details that have helped her build relationships in the industry. 


“It is very important to keep the dust down during processing. Not only for short-term, but long-term health for the buyers once calves go to the feedlot,” she explains. “As much as you try to control the selling/marketing of your calves, it’s still a roll of the dice year to year. Do your market research, develop relationships with various buyers, and work hard to develop calves with a good reputation.” 


Kellie Palmer’s focus on relationship building and attention to detail will help her succeed long-term. Every rancher can learn something from another and focus on lifelong learning.  

As always, be well and God bless the American rancher. 


 

Southern Region

by Jason Duggin

University of Georgia


The most important thing

What is the most important thing on your operation? Whether you operate a cow-calf herd, run stockers, manage a sale barn, run a packing plant or are in ag education, the “most important thing” is the people. 


Because of that, safety should be the most important topic on our operations. Numerous people will encounter injuries on cattle operations. While most are minor, some are tragic. Let’s take the necessary steps toward prevention. 


On small family farms, safety is often only considered after something bad has happened. Have you heard statements like this before? “I’ve been meaning to fix that gate,” or “wish I would have replaced that chute last spring.” Unfortunately, both minor and major injuries can happen when working with cattle. 


There are some injuries we can avoid, however. When people are not properly trained; facilities are not maintained; or aggressive animals are not taken seriously, the most important part of our operation is at risk. Most of the time “the people” include our family and friends, but that may also include the breadwinner of the home who cannot afford downtime or disablement. 


A 1997 study conducted by the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering Department at Oklahoma State University described conditions associated with 150 cattle-handling injury cases on 100 Oklahoma cow-calf operations. The study showed that more than 50% of injuries in these situations were due to human error, while equipment and facilities accounted for about 25% of the perceived causes. In most cases, a better understanding of how an animal may respond to human interaction and to its immediate surroundings will help keep the worker from becoming an injury victim. 


Here is a quick list of common types of injuries on beef cattle operations: 

  1. Improper handling of gates: Use both hands with firm grip when closing crowding gates and sweep tubs. Ensure latches and chains are properly working. 

  2. Downer cows: Be cautious of head movement; they may still be able to kick. 

  3. Cows with newborn calves: A common cause of severe injury or death. 

  4. Trailers: Loading and unloading brings operators into proximity with cattle. Check trailers for good swinging or sliding doors, both interior and exterior. 

  5. Chutes and alleyways: Everyone on the team should be aware of pinch points and moving parts. 


Beef Quality Assurance tips on reducing cattle-handling injuries

  1. Ensure workers have gone through a basic animal-handling course and understand natural instincts of cattle.

  2. Prepare for treatment or processing of cattle. Identify roles and responsibility for each employee; ensure facilities/equipment are working properly; ensure proper needle handling; ensure proper personal protective equipment for employees; identify post-emergency contact information.         

  3. After finishing processing cattle, ensure proper storage/disposal of used medical equipment, and wash hands upon completion.


 

Midwest Region

by Eric Bailey

University of Missouri


Profitable heifer development systems

Let’s discuss a strategy to rebuilding the cow herd I believe will improve cow herd performance and put cash flow into your ranch.  


Most ranches replace 15% of their cow herd per year. Many 100-cow ranches keep replacement heifers, might select 20 of the biggest and prettiest heifers at weaning, invest hundreds of dollars of feed per heifer and hope to get 15 bred. 


This strategy increases cow depreciation, in my opinion. The herd above made a financial investment (feed and breeding) in unproven females, and likely did not consider the cost nor the value per pound of weight gained. Here is a spring-born heifer example. 


In the Oct. 9, 2023, Missouri Department of Agriculture Weekly Market Summary, a 519-pound (lb.) heifer was worth $1,298.84 and an 810-lb. heifer was worth $1,870.53. The feeder market was willing to pay $571.68 for 291 lb. of live weight, or $1.96 per lb. Current background cost-of-gain pricing in Missouri is between $1.00 and $1.20 per lb. of weight gained. What if you could make $0.76 per every lb. a heifer gains in your heifer development system?  


In my opinion, we should keep as many females as possible for two reasons: 1) we can put weight on them cheaper than what the market will pay, and 2) the environment and the bull will do a better job of selecting females than we can. 


In the beef industry, it is a common refrain to say the hardest calf to get out of a cow is the second one. Most ranches that keep records will show conception rates from second-calf cows (3-year-olds) are often 10-15 percentage units less than mature cows. 


Why? Because we pamper replacement heifers to maximize the probability of them getting pregnant, and the second the first calf is on the ground, these heifers enter your true production system. Stop subsidizing a cow replacement operation, and instead select for heifers that will achieve pregnancy despite your management — not because of your subsidies.


Now that we have decided to keep 40 replacement heifer prospects from 100 cows rather than 20, what do you do? I am a fan of a forage-based development program with as little supplement as possible. Keep them gaining weight, but they do not need to gain 3 lb. per day to achieve puberty. Use a prebreeding soundness exam to weed out unsuitable heifers, and subject all that pass to a single round of timed AI. It is reasonable to expect 50-60% of the 40 replacement prospects will achieve pregnancy, leaving you with 20-24 heifers bred by AI. The heifer calving season is shortened to three or four weeks. 


Data from the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Nebraska shows heifers born in the first three weeks of calving are 50% more likely to be in the herd during their fifth calving season than heifers born after the first three weeks of the calving season. I chose to highlight the fifth calving season because it is a common refrain that it takes five to six calves for a cow to pay for herself. This system has the potential to improve stayability in the cow herd.   


Females can be a profit center in the coming years due to cow herd expansion. Participate in this profitably by developing a greater proportion of heifers with cost of gain in mind, and use technologies like AI to tighten up heifer calving season.  


 

Eastern Region

by Scott Greiner

Virginia Tech


Collaborations for success on your operation 

Success with the beef enterprise is enhanced through working hand in hand with key collaborators. A few of these collaborators include your veterinarian, your neighbors and fellow producers, marketing partners, and your seedstock supplier.


As spring calving winds down in the region, it is a reminder that breeding season is right around the corner. Reproductive efficiency is key to profitability of the cow-calf enterprise. A close working relationship with your veterinarian is an important component of reproductive success. 


Consult with your veterinarian concerning the prebreeding vaccination schedule for the cow herd, yearling heifers and bulls. Plan early to allow at least a 30-day vaccination window prior to breeding season. Finalize plans and protocols for breeding season. 


Establish calendar to map timing of the synchronization program to be used during breeding season, and have supplies and semen on hand. Schedule and conduct BSEs on natural-service sires, leaving ample time to source and secure replacement bulls should the need arise. Past performance is a poor predictor of future performance when it comes to bull fertility. Semen and/or physical problems can both be sources for reduced conception rates in a herd. 


The current market value of calves only heightens the economic incentive of insuring the bull’s fertility through a BSE. In an effort to make breeding soundness exams more economical, neighbors can facilitate bringing bulls to a central location for evaluation. 


In fall-calving herds, schedule and conduct pregnancy diagnosis with your veterinarian 45-60 days following breeding season. Consult with your veterinarian on a weaning and vaccination protocol for the fall calf crop. Design your vaccination and weaning program around marketing goals and objectives. 

Work hand in hand with those who can assist in favorable marketing opportunities for the calf crop. 


Given the relatively small herd sizes of cow-calf operations in the region, much success has been realized from cooperation among local producers, cattlemen’s and breed associations, departments of agriculture, and livestock markets to establish weaning and vaccination verification programs, and pooling cattle into load lots. These programs require advance planning and much collaboration, and have resulted in significant premiums for participating producers across the region. 


Even during this time of strong calf prices, adding value through weaning and a prescribed health plan pays dividends. In fall herds, plan a marketing strategy for open cows. Cull-cow prices typically peak mid-spring through mid-summer, and prices are generally stronger for cows in good body condition vs. thin cows. 

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