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RSS By: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, Beef Today

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is an independent, nonprofit institute headquartered in Ardmore, Okla. Founded in 1945, the Noble Foundation conducts direct operations, including assisting farmers and ranchers, and conducting plant science research and agricultural programs, to enhance agricultural productivity regionally, nationally and internationally. www.noble.org

Off-season bull management aids breeding success

Jun 16, 2014


Written by Robert Wells, rswells@noble.org


Most ranchers in the Southwest will have already turned their bulls out to the cow herd for the breeding season or will be preparing to do so. With this in mind, we should be looking ahead to managing the bulls once the breeding season is over.

It is not uncommon for a bull to lose one to one-and-a-half body condition points during a tightly controlled breeding season. As long as the mature bull goes into the season with adequate condition, he should easily recover with very little supplemental feed for next year. However, if this is a young bull’s first breeding season, he will most likely need additional supplemental feed to continue to grow and develop to his full genetic potential. These two situations can have opposing management scenarios since most people want to keep all bulls together after the breeding season. Mature bulls would be eating more than they need if they are fed to meet the needs of the younger bulls. In this situation, it is better to separate the younger and thinner bulls from the rest to most efficiently manage all the bulls. By doing so, the bulls that need more supplemental feed can receive what is necessary to continue their growth or regain condition.

A 2-year-old bull is still growing and developing into a mature animal; thus, he will need a higher plane of nutrition to meet his requirements. You should determine the total amount of weight that the bull needs to gain and how long you have before the first frost of the year. It is much easier to put weight on cattle in the growing season than it is during winter. In general, a bull that is on a quality pasture and high quality supplemental feed during the growing season should gain enough weight to stay on track for proper growth and development. Once frost occurs and colder weather sets in, intake will have to be increased accordingly. Remember that the goal is to have the bull in a body condition score of 6.5 at turn-out time in the spring. It is much easier and more efficient to get the bull to this condition while he is grazing on green forages and then to maintain that condition during the winter than it is to try to put on additional condition during the winter.

Don’t forget about an effective herd health program for your bulls. All bulls should receive viral respiratory complex vaccine booster (four- or five-way vaccination; IBR, BVDV, PI3, BRSV). Vaccination against the Leptospirosis and Vibriosis diseases is also recommended. Additionally, guarding against internal and external parasites will increase the health status of the bull. Use a quality anthelmentic to control internal parasites. Flies, ticks and lice can be easily controlled with a combination of ear tags, sprays and back rubs. Be sure to rotate classes of active ingredients which will reduce resistance issues.

Finally, as a part of your post-
season breeding management program, you should determine the number of bulls necessary for next season and identify a source for replacements. Quality bulls are typically sold in the fall before the breeding season to ranchers who are proactive. This leaves the rest of the bull selection for those who wait.

A successful bull program doesn’t happen by accident and requires planning all year long rather than only thinking about your bulls just before and during the breeding season. Remember, your bulls are the most important employees on the ranch. Make sure you pay attention to their needs year-round.


Monitoring pastures assists sustainable management

Jun 09, 2014

by Chad Ellis, crellis@noble.org

"It’s hard to know where you are going if you don’t know where you’ve been."
This old saying has many applications and is easily applied to pasture and range management. One area of management in which it can be applied is with prescribed grazing. To properly manage pastures, variables must be monitored and some measured. In this article, we will discuss what prescribed grazing is and identify the variables critical to managing pastures.

Prescribed grazing is a managed balance between animal numbers, nutrition, economics, wildlife, weather, forage supply and many other factors. Prescribed grazing can be applied to one or many pastures as well as to one or many herds. The key is planning for a desired outcome. Success is more than just providing forage with appropriate levels of nutrition to grazing animals. Success is recognizing and managing adjustments that accompany management changes. Good managers recognize these changes and then take action. This process begins with monitoring and keeping good records.

Monitoring improves the manager’s ability to make proper and timely decisions. Grazing lands are very complex. Any given pasture may be composed of several different soils, each with different potential plant communities. Each plant community supports its own mixture of grasses, forbs and woody species. The proportion and abundance of species change over time because of weather, seasons and how we manage these resources. The mix of species and their abundance within each plant community affect present and future production for livestock or wildlife, and the health of your ranch.

So what should you monitor and what records should you keep?

Rainfall data. 

Precipitation records should be collected year-round to determine if changes in landscape cover are caused by weather patterns rather than management (e.g., stocking rate). Also, knowing whether or not you are short of rainfall will aid in making decisions that will benefit the land, such as reducing or removing livestock during drought.

Grazing records. 

Keeping grazing records to make management and forage unit decisions can be very useful. Grazing records track grazing period and recovery days, grazing cycles, and seasons of use. Records, including pasture identification, grazeable acres in each pasture, number of days grazed during each grazing event, number of head or animal units grazing, average weight per head or animal unit, and recovery period, should be captured.

Grazing use

Record forage heights before and after a grazing event. More accurate estimates can be made by using caged grazing exclosures. This method excludes grazing animals from a small representative area so that vegetation changes outside the exclosure can be compared to changes inside the cage.

Photo point

A good way to capture vegetation shift and trends is with photographs. Take pictures at permanent key grazing sites for comparison over time to determine trends. The number of areas selected depends on the ranch size and number of unique sites. Photos should consist of close-ups of specific plots as well as a landscape photo that includes landmarks so the photo angle can be repeated. Photographs should be taken at least once a year at the same time of year; preferably in the fall. Shoot more often if you want to monitor changes more closely. Using the photos in combination with other monitoring methods can help the manager better understand landscape changes.

Managers must monitor and document changes to ensure that management is not causing damage to soil and plant communities, and to evaluate whether or not past actions are producing desired results. Land stewards who are dedicated to improving the quality of their pastures will ultimately see results in profitability, with economic and environmental changes that benefit the sustainability of their business. 

Hay analysis provides value

Jun 02, 2014

Writtenby Clay Wright, jcwright@noble.org

Over the years, there have been many articles in this publication regarding hay – its true cost of production, storage and feeding techniques, and stockpiling to reduce the need for hay, among other topics. Hay and the feed often required to supplement its quality make up a large percentage of annual cow costs. Until we can produce consistent grazeable forage year-round in the quantity and quality necessary to meet animals’ nutrition requirements, hay will remain a part of most livestock enterprises in the Southern Great Plains.

Producers in this area have begun to bale excess small grain and ryegrass pastures. Warm-season perennials and annuals will also be "rolled up" as the growing season progresses. As you are looking for next winter’s hay, you should take a sample of each lot before committing to purchase. There are many places to get samples analyzed with the cost being around $10 to $15 each. Is that cost justified? A hay analysis prior to purchase offers one of the greatest returns on investment in the ranching business.

To illustrate how important this is, assume you have the option of purchasing hay from three different lots. Without an analysis, you have no idea of their quality. So how do you know which is the better buy? You have to sample it for analysis. Once you know the nutritive value, there are several ways to determine hay value.

One is to calculate the amount of supplemental feed that will be needed, if any, to meet the nutritional needs of the class of animal to which you will be feeding the hay. Let’s say you will be feeding it to a 1,200-lb., spring-calving cow through a 135-day winter period. She will be non-lactating, and in her second trimester for 45 days and last trimester for 90 days. Table 1 shows three hays and their nutritional values for total digestible nutrients (TDN) and crude protein (CP).

Noble blog chart





For comparison, what would the total winter feed costs per cow be using 20% cubes costing $364 per ton to supplement each of the three hays?

The range in hay quality used in this simple example is fairly common and often even greater. Knowing quality before buying made an incremental difference in winter feed costs of roughly $20 per cow between each of these hays and over $40 from best to worst as illustrated in Table 2. The cost of an analysis for CP and TDN is trivial compared to the value of knowing what you are feeding. For details on taking hay samples, see Sampling Hay and Standing Forage by Hugh Aljoe. 


Coyote control strategy requires goal assessment

May 26, 2014

Written by Josh Gaskamp,  jagaskamp@noble.org

Coyotes (Canis latrans) have long been considered a nuisance for livestock producers and white-tailed deer managers in Texas and Oklahoma. Shooting, trapping, snaring, poisoning and everything in between have been used to reduce coyote populations to comfortable levels. What is a comfortable level? Are historical management practices dictating what level of predator control we conduct on our property?

Coyotes are extremely intelligent animals with keen senses of hearing, sight and smell. They weigh an average of 25 lb. to 40 lb., and their coat color can include greys, reds and browns. They are primarily nocturnal and very opportunistic, feeding on rabbits, rodents, ground-nesting birds and insects. Coyotes also eat carrion, lizards, snakes, fruits, white-tailed deer and feral hogs. Coyotes breed from January through March, with a gestation period of about 63 days and an average litter size of six pups. The coyote’s adaptability allows them to change diets throughout the year to match availability of different prey species as well as utilize a variety of different habitats.The coyote’s range is extensive across the U.S. They can be found throughout Oklahoma and Texas.

In the spring, coyotes can shift their diets to be more venison-heavy in response to fawning. Removing predators can reduce fawn mortality and should be done in areas of declining deer population. However, many deer managers implement control techniques to reduce coyote populations at this time without considering overall deer herd health. The knee-jerk reaction is to control predators when they are eating what you’re managing. However, other techniques can be used to cope with predators without undertaking an intensive predator removal campaign.

First, consider managing habitat. This is often the easiest and most effective practice to implement. Ensuring there is adequate fawning cover will protect many of the fawns. Fawning cover is typically moderate to tall grasses but can occasionally be low-growing brush. Good fawning cover reduces the impact predators can have on a fawn crop.
Second, consider the deer herd. Many deer hunters and managers across Texas and Oklahoma are applying for management permits through their state wildlife departments to harvest more deer. If we truly have an increasing number of deer, maybe we should allow the coyotes to help us manage the population.

If the deer herd has a balanced age structure and sex ratio, then predator swamping occurs. Predator swamping is when all of the fawns are born at the same time, providing only a short period of time for the predators to consume them. Coyotes can only consume so many fawns at once, allowing other deer to reach the age and strength that makes them more capable of escape.

Are coyotes friend or foe? I’d say that depends on your situation. Outline the goals for your property, and take steps to help you best reach them. You may find that coyotes can be an asset on your property.

Key steps facilitate formation of associations

May 19, 2014

Written by Russell Stevens, rlstevens@noble.org and Chad Ellis, crellis@noble.org

With the increased publicity regarding controlled burning and wildlife management associations, some people have expressed interest in forming an association but do not quite know where or how to begin. There are many ways to form an association, but there are some important steps to consider.

To be successful, an association should be a locally led, grassroots effort. Governmental and non-governmental agencies can assist by serving as advisors, providing technical assistance and removing bureaucratic roadblocks; but without local leaders and local involvement, an association will fail – period. Creating and maintaining a locally led association is absolutely the single most important aspect to consider.

There are two basic ways to organize an association and either will work. The first way is to organize loosely with or without officers, and the second is to formally elect officers and develop bylaws and other pertinent information. If the association wants to become a nonprofit corporation such as a 501(c)(3), formal organization or qualifying to become affiliated with an existing nonprofit with the same goals and objectives is required. A 501(c)(3) status makes an association eligible to apply for grants and receive tax-deductible charitable donations.

Many people are uncertain about how to begin, but there are many ways to start forming an association. The following actions may help:

  • Visit neighbors and/or other landowners in the local area to determine level of interest.
  • Contact people involved with similar associations.
  • Organize an informal meeting and meal to discuss interest and potential. Include key landowners or individuals in the community and people with experience in other associations.
  • Generate rough ideas for goals and objectives. Do not get hung up here. There are many possible goals and objectives. Seek everyone’s input, and realize goals and objectives can be adjusted or changed as the association matures.
  • Ask for commitment from key landowners or influential members of the community.
  • Organize a more formal meeting and meal to discuss geographical boundaries and preference of informal or formal structure. Note: a formal structure can be developed later, if needed.
  • Identify several key people to share responsibilities. Successful associations have several people involved with coordinating and scheduling.
  • Be sure to plan meetings and fun events at least once every year and consider incorporating education into these events. Resources such as university, governmental and private agencies are available to help with educational events. A critical role for local leaders is to be sure these events happen and that all members of the association are kept informed.

There are many benefits of forming an association. Major ones include sharing of equipment and labor, management of natural resources such as wildlife habitat and populations over a larger area, and accomplishing or influencing other activities as a result of a group of people working together. It is not easy and requires time, but these benefits are worth it. 

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