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BeefTalk: Herd Vaccination Protocols are Critical

Prepping calves for market next fall starts now with a herd vaccination program for cows, bulls and calves.

An annual operational goal should be 100 percent healthy cattle. As producers working with the living, we know, on occasion, that not all will make it to the day's end; however, we do the best we can.

Good managerial principles and use of the right tools to keep cattle healthy are critical. In that regard, no one would want to return to the days when the medicine chest was empty. Today's medicine chest has good options to help with herd health.

One of those options is a good herd vaccination program that enhances the preventive aspects of herd health in all cattle throughout the year. Yes, calves need vigor to withstand the stressors of weaning, but why not take advantage of good immunity while the calf is at home as well?

Finding a calf dead on pasture with no real reason is certainly a downer. Finding the second calf dead certainly would raise some questions. Granted, no program can assure the living tomorrow, but producers can decrease the potential risks and increase the odds of survival, given a pending arrival of a bad pathogen.

At the Dickinson Research Extension Center, cows, bulls and calves are maintained on an annual vaccination program recommended by the local veterinarian. All cattle producers should have a working, professional relationship established with a veterinarian as well.

Pre-calving, pre-breeding, post-calving, pre-weaning and weaning are all periods that should involve the implementation of a well-thought-out vaccination schedule. The herd health protocols, in conjunction with appropriate managerial practices that maximize herd vigor and health, are key. Facilities and labor are needed to work the cattle, but they come with the cattle business.

A herd vaccination program is proactive and implements vaccination products recommended by the local veterinarian to ward off known viral and bacterial issues in the area. This is not to be confused with treatment protocols that are implemented to treat disease once a disease is present in the herd.

As a beef producer, proactive is the camp in which one wants to be.

What does vaccination do? From the onset, the process is very complicated, and years of research have opened only small pieces to our understanding, but those small pieces are critical. In fact, they save many lives. The decision to include or not include vaccination protocols in the herd is a producer choice, but not vaccinating limits proactive disease prevention and overall herd health management.

I wish we had a simple explanation, perhaps a chart or a few words that would explain the immune response to a vaccination adequately. The real answer is embedded in many layers of living cellular mechanisms. And even though the majority of the herd will respond to a vaccine with a strong immune response, some will not.

I can remember those long hours of molecular biochemistry that impressed upon me that, "There really is an immune response!" Think about it: If an immune response did not occur, the world population of living species would be much smaller or nonexistent.

One particular point always remained with me, and I called it the "J." This was something simple I could take home but also something significant to our lives. The J adds diversity to how living organisms respond to the many pathogens that perpetually want to destroy us or, in this case, our cattle.

Several pathogenic classes of organisms – call them biological invaders – are simply not our cattle's friends. The J represented the ability of individuals to respond to a diverse number of invaders.

The textbook "Biochemistry," by Lubert Stryer, reveals several functional proteins called antibodies, more appropriately called immunoglobulins. Antibodies are not easy to visualize, but in very simplistic terms, they may look like the letter Y. The Y contains regions called the J genes that offer cattle and other living things the ability to develop a defensive position against disease.

But enough of that. Let's just say the complexity of the herd's response to a vaccine or exposure to a real pathogen is mind-bending. We just know that vaccination protocols work and save lives.

Sorry if this is confusing, but the bottom line is still true. Vaccinate your cattle so they can respond defensively to the handful of commonly known pathogenic invaders and then manage your calves such that they will prepare themselves to produce a good antibody response against all those known invaders, as well as those that are not named.

The world is not a simple place, but calves will survive, especially when all the right tools are in the toolbox and properly implemented. Ask your herd health professional for the right tools.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Time for a Managerial Report Card

Spring calving time is the most intense time in cattle operations.

It also is the time to "grade" the managerial success.

In school, we knew very well where we stood. If not, the pending parent-teacher conference refreshed one's memory. An "A" was good, a "B" was noticed and a "C" meant average. A "D" or an "F" had consequences.

So how is our agricultural management report card? This means some assignments and grades.

In the cattle world, calving time is an easy time to gauge if the year's management effort was successful. The test is fairly simple once the numbers are written down. These are not complicated numbers but some simple numbers.

Let's focus on the number of mature pregnant cows in the calving pen. I am going to assume open cows are not in the calving pen. First-calf heifers often are exposed to bulls early and generally are handled differently, so we will not count them, either.

First, let's set the grading curve. For our purpose today, I will utilize the 20-year average values for the traits of interest from data processed through CHAPS (Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software) through the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association in cooperation with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

The trait average will be a "C" grade. The "A" and "B" grades are arbitrary but attainable as one scrolls through herd records. Starting with the percentage of cows calving in the first 21 days of the calving season, the "C," or average grade, would be 57 percent. Or put another way, if 100 mature cows were in the pen, 57 would have calves at their side within three weeks of the start of calving.

The "B" grade would be awarded at 60 percent and the "A" grade at 63 percent. The option always exists to retake the test at a later date.

Next we can count the number of mature cows that calved within 42 days (six weeks) of the beginning of calving. In this case, a "C," or an average response, for the number of cows that calved within 42 days would be 86 percent. If 100 mature cows were in the calving pen, 86 of them should have calves at their side within six weeks. The "B" grade would be awarded at 90 percent and the "A" grade at 93 percent.

The number of cows that calved and have a live calf at their side is the next test. Again, focusing on mature pregnant cows, let's start with a "C," or an average response. Average would be 96 percent. Again, if 100 mature cows were in the calving pen, 96 of the cows should have live calves at their side at the conclusion of the calving season. The "B" grade would be awarded at 98 percent and the "A" grade at 99 percent. Just a side note: Cows without calves should be moved to the market pen.

Now, these three traits should be combined with last fall's evaluation of pregnancy percentage in the herd.

Again, let's focus on the herd pregnancy percentage of mature cows. Let's start with a "C," or an average response. Average would be 93 percent. In other words, if 100 mature cows were exposed to the bull, 93 cows will be in the calving pen.

The "B" grade would be awarded at 95 percent and the "A" grade at 97 percent. If the cows were not pregnancy checked in the fall, then the number of open cows should be counted in the spring after calving and backed out of the count of total cows calving.

In conclusion, the "C" grade is the actual 20-year average value for the four traits: percentage of mature cows calving within 21 days, the percentage of mature cows calving within 42 days, the percentage of cows with calves at their side at the conclusion of calving and the percentage of cows pregnant.

Do not be disappointed with a "C," but rather review managerial efforts that might move a herd into the "B" or "A" category. And if you are not on the grade rooster, you should undertake a serious review of the cattle operation.

The truth is, you can do what you want once out of school and free of the tutorial guidance. However, your efforts should meet your herd goals and rest somewhere within the normal operational principles for animal husbandry.

Keep in mind, the fundamental principle for the cattle herd is to contribute to the cost of family living above the cost of cow living. Input costs as they relate to output generally guide the commercial cattle operation.

For the average cattle producer still in business, the assumption is that the cost of family living was met. Searching for a new tweak or opportunity should be the core agenda, whenever management is up for review and, we hope, adding some extra money into the family living category.

The bottom line: These four basic traits are the foundation for discussions that review the management of the cow herd. Before calving memories are lost, take some time to have a cow producer conference. Invite some friends, review the records, get some input and make some positive changes for the family.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Why Push a Chain Up a Hill?

The recent January thaw has helped cows into their generally relaxed routine in which they're essentially finding shelter, eating, drinking and returning to shelter.

The slow days of late gestation are eminent. In another month, many cows will be calving. Producers have time now to look ahead.

In fact, the cow actually is looking ahead as well, trying to determine what the perfect spot will be to give birth to her new calf. If we are not careful, we miss some of those subtle herd discussions as we drive by.

That being said, I was driving by some pasture the other day and an eerie feeling came over me. The snow had thawed and what snow was left was blown aside, exposing the grassless soil surface among occasional nodes of grass. The sinking, scary feeling of drought returned.

Last summer took a serious toll, leaving even fewer options this spring if rain fails. But rather than focus on the negative, let's be positive and draw on what we know. Long-term, sustainable thinking means less inputs and more output.

Drought-driven, sustainable managerial changes force producers to limit feed intake during the months that feed is short, keeping a delicate balance between hungry and content. Feed waste is not an option. And producers have an innate desire for the time when what feed is going to grow actively grows.

In preparation for this winter, many producers decreased the body weight mass of the cow herd fed through the winter. Many times, that means keeping lighter, younger cows, as well those cows with a reduced body size, to decrease total feed needs and, at the same time, keeping open the opportunity to add more cows in the future if the seasons normalize.

In an effort to add more options, the Dickinson Research Extension Center has increased cropping systems' plant diversity by focusing on crops that will provide forage even if the plants do not reach a growth stage for grain production. Shifting acres to fall-seeded winter intercrop mixes allows the center to take advantage of available cool-season growth following the spring thaw.

These planting thoughts have increased beef average daily gain on annual crops successfully and provided profit opportunity with improved forage production per acre. Despite the need to reduce the overwinter mass of cattle, the center's yearling stocking rates have increased.

The other significant change at the center is avoiding feeding lactating cows in winter dry lots and moving cows to pasture prior to calving. The 1,400- to 1,500-pound cow needs just less than 30 pounds of dry matter before calving, more than 35 pounds of dry matter right after calving and just less than 40 pounds after calving if she milks well.

More hay is needed, more water is needed and more waste is generated. So the center has taken seriously the later spring calving as an opportunity for North Dakota beef producers.

Think about it: Producers depend on the annual plant cycle, a cycle one cannot change, to grow and produce beef. Plants have a growing season set by forces cattle producers do not control. When producers understand the development of a sustainable forage and plant world, they integrate beef production into that system.

Too often, and to the detriment of the beef production system, the beef cow plan is laid out first, leaving forage and plant production to a later discussion. The beef-first, plants-later philosophy increases demand for hay and other processed feed and increased equipment needs to haul in inputs and haul out waste.

This is a commodity-based system that may very well lack system sustainability in the long run. This approach leads to watching markets: Buy low, sell high. This is not criticism but reflective of the majority of the models beef producers utilize for beef production systems.

But is that the only model? No. Expandable and, we hope, more sustainable systems are available. Producers need to understand and take seriously the need for sustainable beef systems that integrate production strategies matching forage, plant and cattle conditions to the land.

Including forages into traditional cropping systems can provide the resources necessary to develop integrated production strategies that increase sustainability and profitability. Matching cattle inventory and calving date with appropriate forage-based systems is critical as producers seek later calving.

Turnout to cool-season grass is around May 1 in the northern Plains. Warm-season grasses are ready for grazing around June 1. Cows turned out to calve in May convert very admirably to grazing crop residue, standing corn and cover crops as the perennial grasses start to prepare for winter.

The system works. Realistically, change at one end of a chain affects other links, complicating the effects of change. But for those who have spent a lot of time pushing chains, why not grab the other end and pull? Change can happen. Life can be simpler.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Shop Around; Cattle Eat More Than Hay

Managing feed resources is the biggest challenge when winter weather changes daily, and so do cattle feed needs.

This year's challenge for the beef manager is finding the balance among winter demands, feed inventory and cattle inventory. Because of last summer's dry weather, hay is in short supply. The issue was alleviated somewhat by nice fall weather, which extended grazing opportunities on crop aftermath.

When winter officially arrived, the waves of cold were real. A short January thaw has been a reprieve, and before one knows, thoughts of spring will start to churn.

The challenge for beef producers is keeping enough cattle around to utilize next summer's grazing opportunities while not knowing if moisture is on the way. On the other hand, not selling enough cattle may bring a critical shortage of feed at a very critical time in the life of a cow, just prior to calving and early lactation. Now is the time to evaluate feed inventory and fine-tune the anticipated nutritional inputs, keeping in mind the potential for a change in winter weather.

Anticipated feed disappearance generally is calculated based on average weather, along with average intake, and each day closer to grass makes the producer more comfortable. Still, the question will remain: Does feed inventory match cattle inventory?

One answer is to seek advice about alternative feedstuffs to help offset forage needs until the operation reaches a May 1 grass turnout. As has been noted many times, the purchase of hay above operational historical levels should be a last resort when transportation costs are high. Now is the time to call a nutritionist to seek more feed options and do some homework.

The center consulted livestock nutritionist Karl Hoppe, an area livestock specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

He said, "When forage production is limited on the ranch, cattle will still need feed. While selling off part of the cow herd inventory is an option, most ranchers will opt to buy additional feed. Purchasing hay is certainly an option. However, the cost of freight, the time needed to haul and regionally high prices for hay lead to seeking more competitive feedstuffs."

I asked Hoppe what that meant.

"Many livestock producers are very fortunate, as areas that produce more crops have increased the number of grain-processing plants that produce coproduct feeds," he replied. "These feeds are usually higher in energy content than hay and contain a higher amount of protein. In general, coproducts also have a high concentration of phosphorous but a very low level of calcium. Rations should be balanced and calcium added if needed."

I noted the challenge is just like hay and transportation costs. However, the transportation cost per unit of nutrient should be less when purchasing a more energy-dense feed. At the Dickinson Research Extension Center this year, the cows may be cleaning up the hay reserves by mid-April, two weeks short of grass turnout.

I asked Hoppe whether coproducts would be priced right and have the needed nutrients to make up the difference in feed need if the center started substituting coproducts for hay as the winter moves on.

"Coproduct price usually follows the grain market price," Hoppe noted. "Distillers grain is usually traded at 100 to 120 percent of the value of corn per ton, is easier to haul, compared with hay, and generally is available at local ethanol plants.

"Distillers grains are 30 percent protein (dry-matter basis) and have an energy value similar or higher than corn grain," he explained. "Five to 6 pounds of dried distillers grains or 10 to 12 pounds of the modified distillers grains (modified distillers grains are 50 percent moisture) per head daily to a cow can make a big difference in cow performance when fed poor-quality hay or as a replacement for hay."

Hoppe also provided advice about another coproduct.

"Wheat midds are a 15 to 18 percent crude protein coproduct produced from wheat or durum mills," he said. "Midds can be pelleted or meal. Wheat midds are priced similarly to corn per ton, or at a 10 to 15 percent discount. Energy content is about 15 percent less than corn."

The list of coproducts does not stop there.

"There are many other coproducts available in areas that have significant crop production," Hoppe said. "These include barley malt sprouts, soybean hulls, corn gluten feed, beet pulp (dried and pelleted, pressed or wet), beet tailings and potato waste. Also produced by oilseed crushing plants in the upper Great Plains are high-protein feeds such as canola meal, sunflower meal, linseed meal and soybean meal."

Hoppe also noted: "Coproduct feeds are all unique and have individual differences that influence usability. High moisture limits how far it can be economically hauled, and prices go up when demand is increased. Ranchers are quick to realize that contracting now for later delivery might lead to a better price."

Cattle are ruminants and they can consume more than forage, so balance a ration, watch transportation costs and shop around.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Keeping More Heifers Turned Out Well

How do you cut cow numbers in half and maintain the same number of cows calving?

That seems like a strange question, but the question surfaced as the Dickinson Research Extension Center (DREC) prepped for the current drought on this year's feed supply. The answer is to develop all the heifers as future brood cows.

The answer may seem as strange as the question, but keep in mind one of the focuses of the center is to maintain calves longer in their life cycle, utilizing lower inputs and more forage. The bottom line: more pounds of beef.

The center summered 262 mixed-age cows in 2017. Because of the feed situation, the center cut the cow herd to 143 coming 3- and 4-year-old cows this past fall, plus 18 embryo-transfer cows that are treated as a separate herd.

As a background note, starting in 2014, the center began a study to evaluate frame score and longevity in cattle. The center kept all the heifers, bred them and placed them in the cow herd. The unexpected result allowed for a more rapid changeover in the cow herd as 117 older cows were sold to spare winter feed.

Fortunately, the center has 86 pregnant heifers from last year's calf crop, so the current bred female inventory is 229. This is not a traditional approach, but one factor stood out very clearly: The younger cows are lighter and require less feed, and bred heifers have more flexibility to seek outside locations to feed.

The bred heifers were transferred from the North Dakota State University Beef Cattle Research Complex in Fargo, where they were developed and bred, to the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center near Streeter for winter feeding. The DREC took advantage of the feed resources in eastern North Dakota and saved hay shipping costs.

Interestingly, cow numbers can vary tremendously within a given time period for a given cattle operation. And, depending on what the makeup of the inventory is, the reduction in cow numbers will have varying impacts on the cow age distribution.

One point that stood out in the center's favor was the large inventory of younger, lighter cows. That was a good thing this year. Heifer retention at the center means keeping all the heifers. The requirements: The heifer had to be alive with no obvious health issues, no heifers born twin to a bull (freemartins), no obvious structural issues and at least 500 pounds at a year of age. Heifers that met these requirements were retained for development.

Interestingly, during the past three years, following a low-input winter backgrounding period, no heifers had health, structural or weight issues, and only an occasional freemartin was put with the steer calves. So essentially, if a heifer was weaned, she was sent to the NDSU Heifer Development Center at NDSU in Fargo.

The DREC has sent 303 heifers to the NDSU Heifer Development Center in the past three years. Heifers not adjusting to a confined feeding system were sold as yearlings because the lack of adjustment capacity was assumed to be an indication of adaptation issues. The remaining heifers were developed and bred with the expectation they would return to the DREC.

To date, 229 developed females, or just less than 76 percent, are pregnant. Of the initial set of 100 heifers born in 2014, 77 coming 4-year-old cows, or 77 percent, remain. Of the second set of 93 heifers born in 2015, 66 coming 3-year-old cows, or 71 percent, remain. Of this year's 110 heifers born in 2016, 86 coming 2-year-old heifers, or 78 percent, remain.

The essence of the project is to follow the cows throughout their lifetime and evaluate the effect of frame size on the lifetime production of the cow and birth weight of her calf. That will be another story at a later date.

The point today is simple: If a producer keeps all the heifers and exposes them to the bull, approximately 20 percent, or one heifer out of five, may not become established as a mature cow in the breeding herd. In this particular study, a cow needs to be open two consecutive years to be culled.

Time will tell. Producers may have a hidden opportunity to consider keeping more heifers and exposing them to the bull. During droughts, preserving a herd's genetics can be accomplished by keeping more heifers, which also increases flexibility within managerial options.

Essentially, finding a location to park bred heifers for the winter months is easier than trying to purchase and transport hay. Like most, we learn as we go, and in preparation for future droughts, producers should start thinking of how to aggressively maintain more heifers and let Mother Nature select out the less adapted heifers.

The bottom line, as stated earlier, is to explore more options on keeping a higher percentage of the annual calf crop as yearlings and taking advantage of the yearlings' ability to grow. Heifers may be a good option, and keeping a younger cow herd allows a producer to manage the mature weight of the cow herd.

May you find all your ear tags.

For more information, contact your local NDSU Extension Service agent (https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension/directory) or Ringwall at the Dickinson Research Extension Center, 1041 State Ave., Dickinson, ND 58601; 701-456-1103; or kris.ringwall@ndsu.edu.

BeefTalk: Rolling Out Hay is Rolling Out Dollars

As the year ends, reflecting on the past year is good.

The obvious point this year is the lack of forage and how, as producers, one responded to the challenge.

The Dickinson Research Extension Center needs more than 1,000 1,300-pound bales to make the stretch to spring grass. That number is buffered a bit because the calves are receiving 3 pounds of commercial supplement daily and the cows 4 pounds of commercial supplement every other day. But forage is the essence of a cattle operation, and keeping costs low is critical.

Fortunately, the center forage feed needs have been helped by the more recent good weather. In other words, we've had a moister fall, followed by an obviously kinder start to winter. Cows have done well on crop aftermath, cover crops and standing corn. Still, many producers are short of forage and have had to purchase hay.

Unfortunately, purchasing hay generally drives costs up, and producers view the purchase of hay above operational historical levels as a last resort because of transportation costs. Karl Hoppe, an area livestock specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, noted the impact of hay prices and asked, "Assuming we have limited hay, should I use that hay for wintering the cows and sell calves or buy hay and feed calves?"

That's not a simple question because markets shift, and selling calves in a downward-trending market versus feeding them with the anticipation of a stronger market takes some figuring. If the cost of gain is low enough, the efficiency would say to capture it and feed cattle to harvest.

Anyway, welcome to this year's cattle business. Whether cows or calves, feeding hay at $60, $120 or $180 per ton delivered has astonishing outcomes. The range in the quality of hay also has been astonishing. The best advice is "buyer beware." Never buy hay without a feed analysis and always price hay based on that analysis.

For simplicity today, the following example only assumes a look at total pounds of forage, keeping in mind the actual outcome needs to account for the quality of the available feed. The center's need for 1,000 large round bales is an estimate of feed the center's 229 calves need (378 tons) and the center's 145 cows need (278 tons).

Assuming center calves gain 1.5 pounds per day with some supplement, the 378 tons of hay for 180 days is 2.1 tons (4,200 pounds) of forage per day. If the 229 calves gain 1.5 pounds per day for 180 days and the hay costs $60 per ton delivered, then the forage cost for that pound of gain is estimated at 37 cents per pound. At $120 per ton delivered, the forage cost per pound of gain doubles to 74 cents per pound. At $180 hay per ton delivered, the forage cost per pound of gain triples to $1.11.

Remember, this is just the estimated cost of forage plus transportation. The 2016 backgrounding costs from the North Dakota Farm and Ranch Business Management Education Program (http://www.ndfarmmanagement.com), along with FINBIN (http://www.finbin.umn.edu/) from the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota, were 40 cents for calves gaining 1.7 pounds per day with an approximately 70 percent forage base.

The bottom line: Feeding calves high-priced hay needs to be a bridge from one low-cost production scenario to the next, but not a long bridge.

The same would be true for the cows. The 145 center cows need 278 tons for 120 days, or 2.3 tons (4,633 pounds) of forage per day. Each cow would have approximately 32 pounds of forage daily. At $60 per ton delivered, cow forage cost is 96 cents, or just under $1 per day. At $120 per ton delivered, the forage cost would be $2 per day, and at $180 per ton delivered, the forage cost would be $3 per day.

In 2016, the FINBIN data showed total feed cost per cow under more normal conditions was $349. Again, that is the total feed cost, and $60-per-ton hay is within reason. But this year, the increase in hay costs alone could force the total feed cost per cow much higher.

For pondering purposes, if the center would have had to start feeding $120-per-ton hay in November and continue through April, the forage bill alone would have been $360 per cow. Fortunately, winter has held off and weather is milder, so a shorter feeding period is welcome relief.

But even feeding expensive hay starting in January drives up the day cost of a cow. Again, high-priced hay needs to be a bridge from one low-cost production scenario to the next. Unfortunately, once spent, the money must be transferred, and generally, the ability to lower upcoming production costs is limited.

Seeking alternative feed resources and substituting a less costly, more energy-dense feed source as a percentage of the daily ration should be explored. High-cost hay means refining management, penciling out costs per pound of nutrient delivered and consulting a nutritionist for a total ration. Rolling out hay is rolling out dollars.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Will the Hay Inventory Feed the Cows?

Cow herd inventory is the working asset for beef producers, and maintaining that inventory is an important component of a successful beef operation.

A walk through the Dickinson Research Extension Center calf pens checks the health and vigor of the calves. The challenge is keeping feed resources current to provide the daily feed needs for the center.

At the center, 229 calves are anticipated to consume 378 tons of forage before spring grass. At 1,300 pounds per bale, 582 bales of forage will be fed before turnout May 1. So I pondered: How much hay should the calves get before the call is made to sell some calves to spare forage for the cow herd?

The calves also receive 4 pounds daily of a commercial supplement to balance the forage-based ration and make for better utilization of the forage. And that saves 82 tons of hay (or 126 bales) for the cow herd.

What about the cows? The center summered 262 cows with an average fall weight of 1,369 pounds, or a total cow weight of 358,746 pounds. The average condition score was 6.3.

The drought cut into feed supplies, so the center sold 117 older cows totaling 173,430 pounds of beef, at an average weight of 1,482 pounds. That meant 145 younger cows were kept that averaged 1,278 pounds, or a total weight of 185,316 pounds.

Just for curiosity, the 3-year-old cows averaged 1,341 pounds, while the 2-year-old cows average 1,202 pounds. That extra year of life for the 3-year-old cow added 139 pounds to her body weight, or in terms of feed, almost half of a big round hay bale per cow for a typical winter.

I never have looked at drought reductions that way, but obviously, selling older cows removes more weight than selling the younger cows. So looking at the older cows the center did sell, the 117 older cows totaled 173,430 pounds of beef. The average weight for the older cows was more, thus selling older cows removed more total weight, which translates into feed savings.

Of the 117 cows sold, 75 were traditional-bred (standard size) cows that averaged 1,580 pounds, while the 42 Aberdeen-influenced cows (bred for reduced mature size) averaged 1,308 pounds. Another curiosity point: I found the 272-pound body weight difference interesting because the difference between the standard size and Aberdeen-influenced cows is almost an additional large round bale per cow for a typical winter.

Anyway, those cows are sold and off the inventory. A side note: The standard cow herd weaned an average of 470 pounds of May/June-born calves; the Aberdeen-influenced cow herd weaned an average of 432 pounds of May/June calves. I scratch my head as producers will ponder the size of their cows and come up with a number. Another side note: Producers need to keep cow size within the goals of the operation and actually weigh cows to aid in management decisions.

Back to the cows. The current center cow inventory is 83 standard beef cows (average weight 1,344 pounds) and 62 Aberdeen-influenced cows (average weight 1,190 pounds). The anticipated forage need is 2 to 2.5 percent of 185,316 pounds of body weight per day, or about 4,633 pounds of forage daily.

With the nice weather the area has received, the cows are grazing crop aftermath, with 4 pounds of 22 percent protein supplement cake fed every other day. If we start feeding after the first of the year for 120 days, the center needs 555,948 pounds of forage, or 278 tons; that's 428 of the 1,300-pound round bales. The center needs 1,010 bales to overwinter the cows and calves: 428 for the cows and 582 for the calves.

Yes, some give and take has been built into the percent of body weight consumed, as I figured high, but hay waste also occurs, and one does not want to come up short prior to calving.

The calf bale consumption is offset by 126 bales based on their daily supplement. The cows' bale consumption is offset by the cake supplement by 27 bales. Either way, no carryover of hay will happen. More than likely, some hay will need to be purchased.

Every day the cows stay on crop aftermath, the center benefits. Keep in mind, nice weather always is appreciated but can create illusions that things are fine.

Using crop aftermath and late-season dry forage can cut production costs; however, that can have consequences. Cows need to receive a balanced ration to halt poor performance or even the loss of condition.

A final reminder: The cows will enjoy the nice winter grazing; however, if the many extenuating circumstances affecting the cows' nutrition are not accounted for, the cows will not enjoy calving. Cows must maintain condition prior to calving, and those that lack condition need to add it and grow the developing calf.

So do not skimp, skimp and skimp in hopes of saving a few dollars. Rather, provide the proper supplementation to meet the current needs of the cow herd or reduce inventory.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Just When Does One Let the Calves Go?

Hay is the staple for cow-calf producers.

How much hay an operation needs to feed versus how much hay an operation feeds are two different numbers. So assuming cattle consume most of their feed needs from forage, let's figure. A pencil, pad of paper and some notes go a long way in trying to get the answers one needs.

This is not a ration-balancing process, but a rough estimate of forage needs. While grain and other feedstuffs can be fed as a replacement for hay, the question today is to ponder forage needs. Begin by knowing the pounds of cattle to be fed.

In the first couple of weeks of November, the Dickinson Research Extension Center weaned 110 heifer calves at an average weight of 451 pounds for a total weight of 49,636 pounds, and 119 steer calves at an average weight of 487 pounds for a total of 57,919 pounds, or a total of 107,555 pounds. The cows were left to graze crop aftermath, winter grass and standing corn, and, I might add, considerable standing forage despite the dry year.

The center goal is to develop these May/June-born calves as grass calves for turnout in May 2018 to cool-season forage. A gain per day of 1.5 pounds is adequate. Past years' gains have been closer to 1.3 pounds, but the calves are growing.

The underlying thought is that the calves will compensate for the lower winter gains when turned out to spring grass, gaining 2-plus pounds per day on spring and summer forage. The yearlings would be sold at 1,150 pounds or better, depending on summer forage quality and availability.

A lot goes into when to calve and when to wean. The center tries to keep the calves on the cows as long as possible, which is easier said than done. The weaning window means work and is a balancing act among weather, labor and lining up resources to meet the expectations of the cattle operation.

Calves can be kept on the cows, but a switch in weather can change positives to negatives rather quickly. The help likes to work in good weather. Frost-free water and adequate waterlines are taken for granted until the temperatures dip and some unexpected problem occurs.

Equipment and cattle close to home are good. Traveling miles to keep on top of cow-calf pairs in marginal weather is not so good. Producers need to wean when the unit can handle the calves and not push too hard to minimize inputs when cows and calves still are running together. The perfect answer always seems to come up short when the perfect storm arrives.

Let's round the total calf weight to 110,000 pounds, or 55 tons. I like easy numbers. Desired daily gain on the calves is about 1.5 pounds, so every month, the calves' gain should be around 10,000 pounds, or 5 tons.

Green grass will be here in May, so about six months of growth should add a total of 30 tons-plus of beef. So December should start at 60 tons, January at 65 tons, February at 70 tons, March at 75 tons and April at 80 tons, with 85 tons of beef ready for grass in May. The average total winter weight of the calves would be 140,000 pounds, or 70 tons.

As we figure, we need to use the average to calculate total feed needs. How much hay is needed? First off, we need to settle on an estimated daily feed intake. I would anticipate feed intake to run from 2.5 to 3 percent of body weight. To be on the safe side in regard to total feed available, an estimated daily feed intake at 3 percent of body weight would be 4,200 pounds.

In 180 days, the calves should require about 756,000 pounds of feed, or 378 tons. At 1,300 pounds per bale, the center would estimate 582 bales to carry the calves to grass. So that was the number I was searching for: how much hay was needed. The center can find the 582 bales, keeping in mind the cows need to be fed as well.

Next is a visit with the local nutritionist to balance the ration. An anticipated 1.5 pounds of gain will require some supplementation in addition to the forage. For the center, we feed a commercial supplement for 21 days: 3 pounds in the morning and 3 pounds at night to control coccidiosis. After the initial 21 days, the calves receive 4 pounds daily of a commercial supplement. Your local nutritionist will help match your supplementation needs to your forage.

And even before that, the question of when to sell the calves quickly becomes the pressing question. Currently, the center's primary source of income is grazing the cattle the second summer as yearlings. Selling the calves early leaves options of grazing forage on the table.

The calves could be marketed now at 550-plus pounds, as yearlings at 750 pounds at the end of April or as long yearlings at 1,150 pounds in the fall, or be moved to the feedlot in November and finished at 1,500 pounds in early winter. All the options are on the table, and the market projections would be more figuring for the night. The bottom line: Match individual managerial skills with the operation and market accordingly.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Use the Numbers When Bull Buying

The future is now: the bull-buying season.

The future is in the numbers. The future requires knowledge, so study hard.

For me, bull-buying season means bull-buying workshops where I can meet with small groups of producers to look at numbers, the expected progeny differences (EPDs). EPDs have been around a long time, but the utilization of EPDs is still an ongoing process as more producers annually incorporate EPDs into bull selection.

Interestingly, the extent to which EPDs are utilized on individual operations varies widely. However, no better selection tool is available that will help a beef operation meet future goals.

Just as with buying equipment, the spec sheet informs potential buyers what is underneath the exterior metal, and EPDs inform potential buyers what is under the hide. The tires need to be checked and the feet and legs need to be checked so you purchase the desired specs.

Bulls are the tools of the trade, enabling the cow-calf producer to modify the industry. EPDs can guide the process, yet EPDs are complex, so don't be afraid to seek a better understanding of the numbers.

Bulls and next year's crop seed have a lot in common as well. Bulls are to beef production what seed is to crop production. Crop producers engage seedstock growers regarding information on new varieties, which come with an extensive amount of data. When is the last time a crop producer went out and took a picture of a field of grain and decided that would be the variety to grow?

OK, sorry, that was not called for, but some truth is in the statement. Selecting bulls only by visual appearance, just like selecting crop varieties by visual appearance, means bypassing the data (information) that provide the knowledge (power) to effect change within a beef operation. Just like crops, bulls carry individual genes that are sought after and actually determine the value of the bull. The numbers tell the story, not the view.

All the bull workshops start out with a question: Do you like what you see? If you stand by the fence and look at your calves, do you like what you see? Is the view good? The real question is how to maintain or tweak what is good.

Interestingly, data from the Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS), through the North Dakota State University Extension Service and North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association (NDBCIA), suggest that with most performance traits, threshold values seem to exist that commercial beef producers can attain for relative performance within the herd, including growth, reproduction and livability. Assuming CHAPS producers are similar to other beef producers, they simply need to better understand the numbers to adequately maintain or tweak their current cow-calf enterprise.

Enter the bull. The bulls impact production and are the tools of the trade to meet the specifications of a demanding consumer and help the cow-calf producer sustain the cow-calf herd through the selection of replacements. The message for today's cattle producer: Understanding value and balance is more important than the perceived, ever-desired increase in cattle performance. It's what's inside beef that counts.

Historically, we run races, and we believed that biggest is best. What happens when all of the cattle are big? As the beef cattle industry continues to mature, bull selection shifts from a simpler straight race to a more complex maze. As the race ends, we enter the maze, a maze that will drive bull selection.

The hard work starts now. Future success will be a balancing act now, weighing inputs and costs against potential additional improvement. Thus the need for EPDs and bull selection. If puzzled, seek some advice, attend some workshops and ask for help for the questions that do not seem to have answers.

The goal in the bull workshops is connectivity, connecting what one sees to the previously purchased bulls. The bulls carry the genes, which make up 50 percent of a calf. The sire of the cow makes up 25 percent of the calf and the sire of the mother of the cow makes up 12.5 percent of the calf. In simple terms, the last three bulls have furnished 87.5 percent of the genes in the most recent calf crop.

The same could be said of the cow side of the pedigree; however, the cow does not have the opportunity to produce copious numbers of calves, so data is more limited. And data – that is, the numbers – are the point of this discussion.

So begin by finding registration numbers of recently purchased bulls, look up their current EPD values for the traits of interest and write them down. Once the numbers are written, data are emerging.

An average EPD calculation for the traits of interest will develop a benchmark. The benchmark relates to the calves in the pen. Modification of the benchmark is sire selection.

May you find all your ear tags.

BeefTalk: Reproductive Performance in Commercial Beef Herds is Remarkable

Data from the Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS), through the North Dakota State University Extension Service and North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association (NDBCIA), illustrate that beef cattle reproduction is quite successful.

Producers may experience occasional issues, but as a whole, today's cattle reproduce very well, which is indicated by the CHAPS data collection and analysis. Reproduction is measured by looking at the absolute values of a cow attaining a successful pregnancy and subsequent outcome, as well as the distribution of when a cow calves.

Current reproductive benchmarks are 93.8 for pregnancy percentage, 93.3 for calving percentage and 91 for weaning percentage. The calving distribution benchmark for cows and heifers shows 63 percent calved within the first 21 days, 87 percent calved within 42 days and 96 percent calved by 63 days.

Cattle producers, as a whole, should be pleased with their reproductive rates. In fact, given the nature of reproduction, opportunities to improve for many producers are limited. That being said, the very purpose of benchmarking is to allow individual producers to assess their own operation and judge for themselves as to their success. If the operation is below the benchmark, then the opportunity for more input is there.

The NDBCIA uses the CHAPS program to calculate five-year rolling benchmark values for average herd reproductive performance. A closer look at the average actual pregnancy percentage benchmark shows not much has changed. Historically (10-plus years ago), the benchmark percentage was 93.4 for 2003, 93.5 for 2004, 93.4 for 2005, 93.4 for 2006 and 93.7 for 2007.

In 2008, the benchmark percentage was 93.5, and it was 93.7 in 2009, 93.8 in 2010, 93.7 in 2011 and 93.5 in 2012. More recently, the benchmark percentage was 93.6 in 2013, 93.5 in 2014, 93.5 in 2015 and 93.7 in 2016. The 2017 benchmark for pregnancy percentage is 93.8.

The calving percentage benchmark was 92.8 for 2003, 2004 and 2005, 92.7 for 2006 and 93 for 2007. In 2008, the benchmark percentage was 92.8, and it was 93.1 in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and 92.8 in 2012. More recently, the benchmark percentage was 93 in 2013, and 92.9 in 2014 and 2015, with 93 in 2016. The 2017 benchmark for calving percentage is 93.3.

A successful reproductive year is completed by weaning a calf. The benchmark for weaning percentage was 90.3 for 2003, 90.2 for 2004, and 90.3 for 2005 and 2006, with 90.9 for 2007. In 2008, the benchmark percentage was 90.8, and it was 91.1 in 2009 and 2010, 90.9 in 2011 and 90.5 in 2012. More recently, the benchmark percentage was 90.7 in 2013, and 90.4 in 2014 and 2015, with 90.5 in 2016. The 2017 weaning percentage benchmark is 91.

As noted, the ability for an individual cow to maintain excellent reproductive performance and raise a calf has been constant.

Another way to evaluate herd reproductive performance is to review the calving distribution within the herd. The annual distribution of calving dates within a calving season is equally impressive during the past year for those herds involved with CHAPS.

In a historical view (10-plus years ago), the benchmark calving distribution for the percentage of cows calving within 21 days and 42 days was 60 and 85 for 2003, 61 and 86 for 2004, 62 and 86 for 2005, and 64 and 88 for 2006 and 2007.

In 2008, the calving distribution benchmark percentage was 64 and 89, followed by 64 and 88 in 2009 and 2010, with 63 and 88 in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. More recently, the benchmark was 62 and 87 in 2015 and 63 and 87 in 2016. The 2017 benchmark is 63 percent calving in the first 21 days and 87 percent calving within the first 42 days. Wow!

Despite good years and not-so-good years, the cow herd continues to reproduce. What does one say? Variables will change the reproductive rate in the small sense, but cows appear to have a very strong urge to reproduce.

The management practices will vary, as will the needed nutritional and health inputs among herds, but the bottom line is cattle reproduction is stable. The tools that modern-day cattle producers have available to them are extensive, and the implementation of herd-appropriate management, along with input from health, nutrition, reproduction and genetic professionals, has allowed for the evolution of a very efficient beef cow-calf industry.

The offspring of these herds are sold annually and drive the cattle industry. But, as with any business, astute producers always are aware that driving the ship means a watchful eye.

Change will happen, whether desired or not, but the cow herd seems to weather those impacts well. The challenge for producers is to keep up with the herd records and be informed, with less worry and less stress.

May you find all your ear tags.