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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

First hollow stem in wheat triggers grazing decision

Feb 07, 2014

Written by James Rogers

If you use a dual-purpose wheat system of grazing and grain production, detection of the development of wheat’s first hollow stem is critical to gauge when to remove cattle from grazing. If you remove cattle too soon, prior to first hollow stem development, you will lose cattle gain. If you wait too long past first hollow stem, you will reduce grain yield potential.

Typically, first hollow stem will occur from February to early March. The timing of first hollow stem can vary as much as three weeks from year to year. This makes scouting fields for determination of first hollow stem important. Increasing day length and temperature are the big signals for wheat to switch from vegetative production to reproduction, but these are influenced by variety, planting date, soil fertility, soil moisture and grazing.

Wheat has reached first hollow stem when there is 5/8 inch or about the diameter of a dime of hollow stem below the developing wheat head (Figure 1). Detection of first hollow stem is easy, but it is important to look at wheat that has not been grazed to make the determination. Grazing delays first hollow stem occurrence, meaning that by the time you detect first hollow stem in grazed areas, you may be well past the time when cattle should have been pulled off.

Pull up several plants or select the largest tillers from several plants and cut them off slightly below the level of the soil at the very top of the roots. Collect the largest tillers, take a sharp knife or blade, and split the stem lengthwise a few inches up, starting at the base of the tiller. Look for the developing wheat head in the stem of the tiller. It is the somewhat bullet-shaped structure pushing up through the stem. The stem below the seed head will be hollow, which is then measured for length.

The effect of grazing past first hollow stem on grain yield will vary based on environmental conditions for recovery after grazing and the intensity of grazing. Data from Oklahoma State University (OSU), based on the combined results of two research studies, show that grazing five days past first hollow stem can reduce grain yield by 13 percent (OSU Fact Sheet AGEC-265).

For operations that have had the opportunity to produce both stocker gain and grazing, it has seldom paid to graze past first hollow stem, due to reduction in grain yield. In years when cattle prices are high and wheat prices low, additional returns can be made from cattle by continuing to graze past first hollow stem. For 2014, that decision may be tougher to make with both high grain prices and record-setting feeder cattle prices.

To help make the decision to either pull cattle off of wheat at first hollow stem or to graze past it for additional weight gain, OSU has developed a Grazeout Decision Maker program. This Excel spreadsheet can be downloaded at http://agecon.okstate.edu/faculty/publications/3443.xlsm. It consists of four parts: producer information, cattle information, wheat information and results. This spreadsheet is easy to use, customizable to your inputs and can generate financial results to help you make the decision of grazing termination or continuation. 


Expenses add up when raising replacement heifers

Oct 31, 2013

by Job Springer 

The Southern Great Plains has seen better forage growing conditions in 2013 than in many recent years. This has been, in part, due to less wind, cooler temperatures and more rainfall. Many ranchers are beginning to chomp at the bit to use these additional forages and are thus looking to rebuild their cow herds. For ranchers looking to rebuild their herds from within the ranch, the question arises as to how much it will cost to raise their own replacement heifers. While every ranch has its own set of unique resources, this article addresses the question of how much it will cost an average-sized ranch in the Southern Great Plains to raise replacement heifers in 2013 and 2014.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the average herd size in the Southern Great Plains is approximately 43 head. A rancher trying to expand his herd will need to exceed the typical attrition rate of 17% (seven head). In this example, 14 heifers will be used as the initial selection number of potential replacement females.

Replacement heifers need to be approximately 65 percent of their mature weight at the time of breeding. Therefore, a typical herd in the Southern Great Plains would see heifers being bred around 750 pounds. This is a pivotal point when the rancher can either sell a feeder heifer or decide to keep the heifer on the farm as a replacement A spring-calving cow herd will see many heifers being covered as early as March or April. According to the futures market, these 750-pound heifers would be worth $151 per hundredweight or $1,132.50 per head.

During the next nine months, several operating costs will be incurred by the ranch, including use of owned or leased forage at $162 per heifer; supplemental feed when standing forage is limited or requires supplementation at $79.20 per heifer; free-choice mineral at $39.15 per heifer; pre-breeding vaccinations, fly control and dewormer at $8 per heifer; a 1 percent death loss at $14.24 per heifer; sickness at $1.25 per heifer; a pregnancy test at $6 per heifer; labor at $207.92 per heifer; breeding bull’s annual depreciation at $36.79 per heifer; and the annual cash expenses associated with the bull at $42.86 per heifer. The accumulated expenses so far are $1,729.91 per heifer.

Other expenses are incurred to the ranch when replacement heifers are raised on the ranch. These expenses include a loss on replacement heifers that were not bred or abort at $48.34 per heifer; utilization of ranch resources during the year a replacement heifer is raised instead of running productive cows at $112.50 per heifer (raising replacement heifers, instead of purchasing, displaces productive cows or other livestock); and a forgone implant at weaning of heifer calves that would have added weight and value had the heifer been sold at $46.30 per heifer (replacement heifers should not be administered an implant).

When all expenses are considered, the average-sized ranch in the Southern Great Plains will have approximately $1,937 tied up in each productive replacement heifer produced on the ranch in the coming year. Many ranchers have experienced sticker shock when they have priced replacement heifers from other ranches. However, if a rancher is able to locate replacement heifers elsewhere at a lower price, it would be worth considering the outside purchase, depending on the goals of the operation.

A similar evaluation should be made on your respective operation to determine whether or not it makes economic sense to raise or purchase quality replacement heifers.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have at jdspringer@noble.org. ?



Does selecting related cattle increase calf uniformity?

Oct 31, 2013

by Bryan Nichols and Ryan Reuter

Excellent rainfall in most parts of southern Oklahoma and northern Texas during the 2013 growing season has prompted some producers to consider increasing their cow numbers. Selecting replacement females is no small decision. Their breed type, fertility, conformation, mature size, milking ability and color will all play a role in the future profitability of an operation.

One frequent topic in discussions of bull and female selection is choosing closely related animals, such as half-siblings, to increase uniformity of the offspring. Increasing uniformity of the calf crop is important to cow-calf producers because more uniform lots may receive higher sale prices at market. Lack of uniformity has also been cited as a primary quality concern for industry segments from packers to restaurateurs, according to the 2005 National Beef Quality Audit. It is logical that as offspring become more related, genetic variability decreases and, hence, the phenotypic variability of animals will decrease. However, it is very important to further explore the details in order to judge the magnitude of change that can be expected.

Since this is a quantitative genetics question, math can be used to estimate the phenotypic changes a producer could expect, given certain breeding situations. The two values that must be known to make these estimates are the coefficient of genetic relatedness (GR) and the heritability of a given trait. Genetic relatedness is the probability that two individuals share an allele due to recent common ancestry. As GR increases, the variation in a trait will decrease in proportion to the trait’s heritability. In this article, the decrease in variation will be expressed as a percentage relative to a group of unrelated animals, where the unrelated animals equal 100 percent. Therefore, as the percentage gets smaller, the variation of the trait decreases, i.e., the animals are more uniform. This percentage is calculated as:

Table 1 shows that an unrelated bull battery bred to an unrelated cow herd has a genetic relatedness of 0 percent; therefore, the calf crop expresses all of the expected variation. As the genetic relatedness of the calf crop increases, the expected phenotypic variation decreases. A fairly common practice used is that of selecting all half-sibling bulls. Table 1 shows that if breeding half-sibling bulls to unrelated cows and evaluating a trait with high heritability (40%), variation in the calf crop for that trait is only expected to decrease by 1.3% (100% - 98.7% = 1.3%).

This value is likely much less than what most people would expect it to be. If taken one step further by selecting half-sibling females and breeding them to half-sibling bulls, variation is still only expected to decrease by 2.5 percent. Interestingly, if one went as far as producing a calf crop that is all full siblings, variation would still only be reduced by 10.6 percent compared to an unrelated calf crop.

These numbers indicate that substantial advances in calf crop uniformity will likely not be attained very quickly by using closely related breeding stock. Cattle producers who wish to increase uniformity of the calf crop through genetic selection should likely focus on selecting animals with optimal values for desired traits (i.e., similar expected progeny differences) regardless of their genetic relationships. Producers are encouraged to select commercial females that are accompanied by little or no genetic information based on phenotypic traits (e.g., frame size, conformation, docility) that match their goals and production environment. ?


Planning for winter feeding gets complicated in 2013

Aug 07, 2013

—By Clay Wright / jcwright@noble.org

Typically, planning a winter feeding program has been fairly straightforward: estimate the number of cattle to be wintered, the amount of standing forage that will be available and how much hay is needed to get to spring grass. Then a least-cost supplement (if needed) to fill in nutritional gaps was easily identified. It’s still timely in August to start the planning process, but it may be a little more complicated in 2013 than usual.

Many producers haven’t restocked to pre-drought cow numbers, and the welcomed rains this spring and summer throughout most of the Southern Great Plains region have resulted in excess forage. When frost arrives this fall, there will be abundant standing forage in many areas, but the quality will be more extreme than we typically encounter. Several factors are involved.

To begin with, some pastures in Texas and Oklahoma were lightly grazed or completely deferred with large amounts of low-quality residue left from ryegrass and other cool-season annuals that proliferated into early summer. Some producers hayed the winter annuals to release the warm-season perennials underneath, and that hay quality usually ranges from poor to average. Due to reduced stocking rates and low grazing pressure this summer, many warm-season perennial pastures will go into the winter in a patch-grazed condition with variable qualities of standing forage within the same paddock. These conditions have been a challenge to grazing management this growing season. The results will also make it more difficult to figure out supplementation: when to begin, what kind and how much.

Historically, spring-calving cows are allowed to selectively graze standing forage after weaning and are able to meet their protein and energy requirements without any supplement. At some point, protein in the standing forage becomes limiting and we routinely supply a high-protein supplement that enables the cows to meet energy needs from the remaining excess forage before going to hay. Once hay feeding begins, any needed supplement is provided based on a nutritional analysis of the hay. Historically, when only protein is needed, supplements with the highest level of protein have usually been the most economical on a cost per pound of protein basis.

Here are a couple of differences I see between this fall and winter compared to the pre-drought years. First, as stated above, many producers will go into the fall and winter with more excess forage than ever before. With lower stocking rates, the cows could selectively graze a diet with adequate protein and energy to meet their needs longer into the winter. That’s a good thing, but there may still be abundant quantity available when the forage quality drops below adequate and supplementation is needed. To estimate when supplementation is needed, see Here’s A New Kind of ‘B.S.’ Degree.

Second, the cost per pound of protein in supplement choices may not favor the highest analysis this year.

Keep in mind that prices will change between now and fall – your prices may be different and no labor or storage factors were considered. In summary, now is the time to begin planning your winter feeding program, but historic assumptions may not apply in light of current conditions.


Wise management practices improve soil quality

Jul 09, 2013

by Jagadeesh Mosali 

Surface soil produces our food and is vital for life. This precious resource is often called "skin of the Earth" and, just like skin, it is important to protect and maintain its quality. Soil quality is the inherent capacity of a particular soil to support human health and habitation; maintain or enhance air and water quality; and, most importantly, sustain plant and animal productivity. From an agricultural standpoint, soil quality is vital for improving long-term agricultural productivity and maximizing profits through sustainable productivity.

It is important for soil to both function optimally for current needs and remain healthy for future use. Soil organic matter, tillage, soil compaction, soil structure, depth of soil, water-holding capacity, electrical conductivity, pH, ground cover, microbial biodiversity, carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N ratio) and nutrient management are some of the important parameters of soil quality.

Improving and maintaining soil organic matter content is the most important quality parameter. Increasing organic matter improves soil structure as well as water- and nutrient-holding capacity, supports soil microbes, and protects soil from erosion and compaction. Organic matter can be improved by using no-till or minimum till methods, growing cover crops, leaving crop residues, and using rotations with crops that balance optimal water and nutrient management practices.

Using reduced tillage practices will protect the soil surface, which decreases soil erosion and soil compaction, and decreases the loss of organic matter. Reduction in tillage also decreases the potential for destroying soil structure. Soil compaction can be caused by using heavy equipment on the surface when the soil is wet. Compaction will reduce the amount of air, water and pore space for growth of both soil microbes and plant roots. Soil compaction can be reduced by minimizing equipment use when the ground is wet and combining multiple farm tasks, such as applying both herbicides and fertilizer in one trip.

Growing cover crops and leaving residue from previous crops is the best way to reduce soil erosion by wind and water. Ground cover can be increased by growing perennial crops like grasses in a pasture situation. Ground cover will improve water availability, but care should be taken to manage it properly to prevent disease outbreak.

Soil quality also relies on microbial organisms. Diversity in soil microbes may be helpful in controlling pest populations, diseases and weeds. Biodiversity can be achieved by increasing long-term crop rotations, since each plant in rotation contributes to unique soil structure and plant residue.

Understanding how to improve soil quality is aided by knowledge of the carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio for managing cover crops and nutrient cycling. The C:N ratio is the amount of carbon to the amount of nitrogen in a residue or other organic material applied to soil. If material with a higher C:N ratio residue is applied, it takes longer to decompose and may immobilize inorganic fertilizers that are applied. This problem can be reduced by growing a low C:N ratio crop (e.g., vetch or other legumes) in rotation with a high C:N ratio crop (e.g., wheat straw).

Finally, efficient nutrient management is important in maintaining soil quality. Test your soils regularly and make sure that you store all your records. Examining records over time will tell whether the management practices that were followed increased or depleted soil nutrients. Too much fertilizer or manure may cause groundwater contamination or may run off and enter water bodies and degrade water quality. Application of nutrients based on a soil test will alleviate this problem.

What works on one farm may not work on another. Adjust your management plan by observing changes in soil quality on your farm. Wise management decisions will improve the overall quality of the soil. Being proactive, rather than reactive, will make you a better steward of this limited resource.

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