Less stress helps cattle weather winter

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Winter came early this year. We can expect the rest of this season to be cold; cold and wet; cold, wet and windy. While beef cattle can tolerate winter conditions pretty well, cold stress will negatively affect animal health, welfare, performance and production.

If cows are thinner than usual going into winter, they are more susceptible to cold stress. Consider sorting cows by body condition. Smaller cows, young cows and thin cows all benefit from a higher-den­sity ration, reduced competition and improved protection from the elements.

During cold conditions, cattle re­quire extra energy to regulate body temperature and maintain body condition. The colder the tempera­ture, the more nutrition the animals will need. The thermoneutral zone is the temperature range in which animals do not have to expend en­ergy to maintain body temperature.

The lower critical temperature (LCT) is the lower limit of the thermoneutral zone. Temperatures below the LCT require animals to use energy to produce heat for regu­lating body temperature. To survive, cattle must maintain basal metabol­ic function and core body tempera­ture. If necessary, they will burn stored energy reserves to meet these needs. Thus, to maintain body con­dition, cattle must receive enough daily energy to maintain body temperature in addition to the en­ergy required to meet maintenance requirements. For each degree of cold stress below the LCT, cattle require approximately 0.7 percent more energy just to maintain body condition. (I use 1 percent rather than 0.7 percent because it makes the math easier.)

The LCT is variable and depends on numerous factors such as hide thickness, coat thickness, wind speed, moisture, etc. The LCT for an animal in good body condition with a heavy, dry winter coat could be as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alternatively, if an animal is thin or the hair coat is thin, wet or mat­ted, the LCT could be as great as 50 to 60 degrees. When estimating cold stress, try to think in terms of effective temperature or wind chill. In other words, how cold does it feel? Wind exposure can have a dra­matic impact on effective tempera­ture and LCT.

Keep a particularly close eye on thin cows and lactating females. Thin cows lack the insulation of fat cover and could benefit greatly from windbreaks and protection from precipitation. They may also need greater energy supplementation as compared to cows in adequate body condition.

For each degree of cold stress below the LCT, thin cows may require as much as 1.5 to 2 per­cent more energy to maintain body condition. Even more than that will be necessary for them to gain body condition.

Fall-calving cows lactating through the winter may need extra supple­mentation as well. These mamas often lose some body condition as they support a calf through winter, but this effect can be more dramatic when weather conditions are severe.

Dry matter intake is usually great­er during cold stress. Keep in mind, however, that severe cold stress, es­pecially in combination with mud, ice, extreme wind, etc., may lead to lower dry matter intake.

Additionally, there is a relation­ship between water intake and dry matter intake. If water freezes or becomes inaccessible, cattle are not only at risk of dehydration, but lower water intake may cause a secondary decrease in dry matter intake. Cattle need adequate dry matter intake to help with regulat­ing body temperature and maintain­ing body condition.

Beyond feeding additional energy, it is important to think about cattle comfort. To mitigate cold stress and improve cattle comfort, consider providing windbreaks to reduce the wind chill effect. Bedding also pro­vides a layer of insulation between the cold ground and the animal’s body, similar to the sleeping pad issued to me when I was in the U.S. Army. It wasn’t a cushion but served as insulation, so the sleeping bag didn’t freeze to the ground.

Shelter can protect animals from precipitation, helping them to stay dry and improving the insu­lation properties of the hair coat. Pay attention to the footing for cattle. High-traffic, muddy areas that freeze create rough terrain to traverse. Mud, ice and deep snow are difficult to navigate, and cattle dislike slippery surfaces. Try to improve these surfaces.

Proper nutrition will go a long way toward mitigating the nega­tive effects of cold stress. Evaluate your winter feed supply in terms of quantity and quality. Test forages for nutrient content. The forage test results provide significant help in developing winter rations. Visit with your local MFA or AGChoice livestock specialists to ensure your herd has everything they need to weather the winter.

Star of the show

Written by Allison Jenkins on .

WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF MFA’s Ring Leader Show Feeds, livestock exhibitors will have new options in high-quality rations for their show animals.

Although MFA has offered show feeds for swine, cattle and goats in the past, the Ring Leader brand will be the company’s first complete line formulated specifically for show animal nutrition and performance, said Mike Spidle, MFA Incorporated strategic feed specialist.

“Show animals are different from production animals, and that’s why we have different feeds for them,” Spidle said. “We’re looking at what’s best for the animal, what will help them perform best in the ring and what will give them the best appearance—the whole nine yards. Ring Leader is all-encompassing nutrition.”

First to be launched in the Ring Leader line are swine feeds, which replace Ralco products that MFA previously carried. The two companies ended their business relationship in 2018, and Ralco feeds are no longer available through MFA Incorporated.

Instead, the MFA Ring Leader swine feed lineup will provide comparable products with superior formulations, Spidle said.

“We wanted to make sure that our producers are still able to get show feeds from MFA that will keep them competitive in the ring,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about going someplace else to get a different product. Ring Leader feeds will perform as well or better.”

Ring Leader swine feeds will be available in eight formulations for various stages of a show pig’s life, including starter feeds, grow-finish feeds and gestation-lactation feeds.

“We’ve made huge improvements in swine diets over the past few years,” said Tom Lattimore, MFA Incorporated senior swine specialist. “With our Evolution feeds, we’ve seen increased performance in average daily gain, number of pregnancies and overall health of the animals. Evolution is the foundation for Ring Leader feeds, but they’re the next step up specifically formulated for the show animal.”

MFA’s Ring Leader Show Calf and Superb Goat feeds will be available under the new brand in early 2019, Spidle said. The Feed Division also plans to add poultry, rabbit and sheep feeds under the Ring Leader umbrella.

All Ring Leader feeds will contain MFA’s proprietary Shield Technology, an all-natural blend of essential oils and additives to help prevent sickness, mitigate stress and promote performance in livestock.

“Shield is important for keeping animals healthy in the show circuit,” Spidle said. “By moving animals around, getting them out of their habitat and exposing them to other animals, there’s always a risk of them getting sick or going off feed. Having Shield Technology in these show diets will help minimize those problems.”

Like other MFA premium feeds, Ring Leader formulations will be “locked in” for quality and consistency, Spidle added.

“When you look at value-added products, you want performance,” he said. “These show diets are set up for performance and to enhance the genetic capability of those animals. The formulas will stay consistent, so that you’ll get the same thing from any MFA feed mill.”

Ultimately, the development of the Ring Leader brand of show feeds is an example of MFA’s commitment to building long-term relationships with its customers—in this case, young livestock exhibitors and their families, Spidle said.

“We have a whole group of young people out there showing, and we want to help them win,” he said. “More than that, we want to help them understand the concept of raising an animal, taking care of an animal and getting the most performance out that animal. Those skills will help them later on in life, especially if they go back into farming.”

Ring Leader show feeds are available at any MFA or AGChoice location. For more information, visit with your local feed specialist or online at

Ease the transition from farm to feedlot

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

When calves go from the farm to the feedlot, the transition can be quite stressful. Both weaning and shipping stress the animal, and then they are subjected to a new and different environment. Freshly weaned calves are more susceptible to respiratory disease and nutrition-related illness than preconditioned calves that have been given vaccinations, a nutritional background and time to adjust to weaning before being shipped to a new location. In fact, freshly weaned calves have double the treatment costs at the feedyard than preconditioned calves, which have lower rates of morbidity and mortality.

A preconditioning program starts before weaning. Many calves receive their first round of vaccinations at “branding,” around 60 to 100 days of age. The recommended vaccinations are outlined in the MFA Health Track program. These vaccinations should be repeated 14 to 21 days before weaning to provide higher antibody titers, a measure of the concentration of antibodies in the blood. These vaccinations help the immune system be ready to face diseases the calf is likely to encounter in the next phase of production.

Creep feeding is a tool that can be used prior to weaning. It helps ensure calves receive proper nutrition and eases the transition of calves from one feed source to the next. Creep feed during the last 45 days before weaning to prepare calves for post-weaning rations. Creep feed should contain about 14 percent crude protein and 70 to 75 percent total digestible nutrients. In MFA’s feed lineup, examples of appropriate creep feeds are Cattle Charge or Full Throttle.  

Calves should have unlimited access to forage at this time for proper rumen function. You can introduce calves to creep feed by giving a limited amount of the ration to their mothers first. Scatter some of the feed around the creeping area so mama cows will loiter. Plan on weaning and preconditioning approximately two months prior to shipping, typically 45 days. This reduces separation stress and provides time to monitor for illness.

Weaned calves walk fencelines, trying to escape to their mothers. Placing feed and water troughs perpendicular to fencelines will help maintain their intake and start bunk breaking. “Spilling” feed, such as hay, over the bunk edges will catch their attention, leading them into the bunk. Ensure proper bunk space, which is one to two feet per animal. This particularly helps timid calves.

Calves may struggle to find water in troughs, especially if they are accustomed to rivers or streams as a water source. If so, overflow your water troughs, flooding the area around the trough and encouraging the calf’s curiosity. Having fresh clean water for calves is important for rumen development.

In both pre-weaning and post-weaning phases, provide calves with a high-quality mineral supplement. Critical trace minerals are copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. They are important to proper immune function and vaccination response. Providing some minerals in chelated form can improve mineral status of calves during preconditioning. Vitamin A, D and E will need to be supplemented. The same is true for sodium and perhaps calcium, phosphorus or magnesium.

By being introduced to concentrated feeds and feed bunks, calves will experience less stress at the feedyard, and they can adapt quickly. Calves that come in prepared are more likely to perform better and have a carcass with a better quality grade. Make the transition process as easy as possible for the animal by using a preconditioning program that covers vaccinations, nutrition management and environment. Along with raising healthier and happier calves, they will also be more productive and profitable.

Intake matters when maximizing feed efficiency

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Knowing how much a cow eats each day is the single-most important element in formulating cattle diets, but consistently and accurately measuring dry matter intake is a challenge. When livestock producers are asked how much the cows are eating, a common answer is often “all they want.”

Many factors affect how much feed a cow eats. It could be management, such as crowding at the feedbunk, cow comfort, time cows spend standing, feed quality, abrupt diet changes or water availability. It might be the weather: rainfall, temperature changes, humidity, wind chill and mud. Production factors and activity level also affect the amount cows will eat.

To make calculations more challenging, dry matter intake is a continuous variable. Just when we have determined the DMI for a particular time, something changes—such as cow movement, breeding, heat stress or forage moisture content—and the DMI changes, too.

Maintaining and monitoring dry matter intake are critical because cows have nutrient requirements that need to be covered to support their milk production and metabolic functions. Plus, feed cost is a principal expense, so producers don’t want to under-feed or over-feed cows.

Inaccurate moisture determinations on high-moisture feeds can also be a challenge. If using wet byproducts, haylage and corn, it is not uncommon to have 90 to 100 pounds of as-fed wet feeds in the diet. Moisture determinations that are 2 to 3 points off represent a couple pounds of dry matter difference. This can be significant.

Suppose that the ration has 50 percent corn silage, as fed, and we think it is 62 percent moisture, but it is actually 65 percent moisture. This means the cows will be eating less corn silage dry matter and more dry matter from the other forage and concentrate. If we are 2 pounds short on the corn silage dry matter, those 2 pounds would support somewhere around 4 pounds of milk production. Protein should not be as big a problem, but if the corn silage needs to be an effective fiber source, and we are short on effective fiber, this also might be troublesome for the percentage of fat and rumen function.

The more feed a cow can consume, the more milk she can produce, and maximizing the nutrient density improves the herd feed efficiency. A common benchmark is to have the average milk-to-feed ratio above 1.5 to 1. Fresh cows should have efficiencies of 1.7. Ratios below 1.5 could mean that feed intake is limiting and that improvements are likely.

Scales on feeding equipment must be accurate and checked and/or calibrated on a timely basis. Weighbacks of feed refusals are also critical in assessing nutrient intakes. Cows eat fairly predictable amounts of feed depending on their size and stage of lactation.

Neutral detergent fiber level and digestibility (NDFd) will have a profound impact on total intakes. Changes in NDFd can impact how much forage a cow is able to consume and digest every day. There can be significant differences in NDFd from one forage to another even if neutral detergent fiber and protein levels test similarly.

While computer modeling is sophisticated enough today to deliver very accurate calculations in support of a given amount of milk production, the models don’t always agree on predicted dry matter intakes. Errors in predicted and actual intakes make quite a difference in ration costs. Accuracy of dry matter intakes can also be improved with multiple production groups. These groups have smaller variation of milk production, so there is less variation in feed intake.

Bottom line, it is imperative to watch feed intake and milk-to-feed efficiency. The best strategy is to find the point where both are maximized.

Feed to fuel your hunt

Written by Brandon White on .

Training, exercise and correct nutrition are essential to ensure your working dog’s optimal performance. Food is fuel, and working dogs will run far better and avoid fatigue on a premium, highly digestible diet designed to keep the muscles working and the blood flowing.

Working dog breeds are typically strong, agile and enduring. However, they may run greater risks of injury and stress. The correct nutrition ensures that the digestive system works as efficiently as possible, enabling the immune system to play its primary role in protecting the body, rather than dealing with food ingredients that hinder metabolism.

Promoting healthy growth through an appropriate diet from puppyhood allows adult working dogs to develop strong bones and joints and a well-muscled frame. Strong neck and shoulder muscles allow for a greater lung capacity, better endurance and necessary power for carrying out his duties or sporting activities. Sensible feeding may not prevent injury but may reduce incidences or alleviate symptoms. A strong, healthy body that is protected by an equally strong, healthy immune system has greater healing capacity, too.

For working dogs, the immune, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems are stressed during any period of prolonged physical exertion. Mental health, too, should not be overlooked, and the nervous system may also benefit from nutritional support to help to promote alertness and improve concentration levels.

Fitting feed

Timing and frequency of feeding is important to ensure that your dog has sufficient energy at times when he needs it. Avoid heavy meals immediately before and after exercise.

In the stomach, digestive enzymes start breaking down the food to enable nutrients to be absorbed later in the digestive sequence. As the food moves through the small intestine, proteins and fats will be absorbed. The large intestine further breaks down nutrients—in particular, dietary fibers and carbohydrates. Finally, water is removed in the colon and the last amounts of fat absorbed.

You will know if the diet is not suitable. For example, digestive odors and poor stool quality are early signs. Loose stools or diarrhea may suggest that the feed is causing digestive upset. Coat condition can suffer if the fat level and fatty acid balance are not suitable, and skin conditions and ear problems can indicate food allergies.

When moving to a new diet, it is important to switch slowly to be sure that changes are accepted well. Try the new diet for at least a month before making a final decision on how it is working. Some changes will take this long to appear in the coat and general condition.

Balancing act

All dogs require a balanced diet that provides sufficient energy for the work they are bred to do. Naturally, a working dog will require more calories than a family pet. For peak performance, the diet must not only provide the fuel for energy but also optimal levels of essential nutrients that the body requires to function efficiently.

The energy requirement of working dogs depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise as well as environmental conditions. Energy-dense foods allow increased nutritional demands to be met during the season without having to feed large volumes of food that take longer to digest and metabolize.

Fats contain approximately twice the energy of proteins and carbohydrates, and studies on canine athletes have shown that fats improve endurance. In dogs, 70-90 percent of the energy for sustained work comes from fat metabolism, and only a small amount from carbohydrates. This is why it is important to provide optimal levels of high-quality fat for fuel.

Protein is a crucial nutrient, and again must be highly digestible. Chicken has one of the highest biological values, meaning that it is easily broken down to support the body’s structural and functional demands.

Working dogs may also benefit from functional ingredients such as natural antioxidants. The adverse affects of stress on both human and canine health are often underrated. Working dogs are particularly subject to physical stress due to the demands of their sport. When the body is under stress, free radicals are released. Antioxidants work against these potentially harmful effects.

Moderate levels of carbohydrates are needed for working dogs to promote sustained energy. Human athletes often dramatically increase carbohydrate intake to improve the availability of glycogen for anaerobic energy metabolism in muscles.

Research in dogs is limited, but studies so far have concluded that such glycogen loading is ineffective in canines.

High-performance dogs require higher levels of vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin, due to increased demands from oxidative stress. Make sure your working dog’s diet includes an optimal level.

Commercial complete diets are the most popular for working dogs due to their convenience and economy. It is an absolute must, however, to ensure that only high-quality, highly digestible ingredients are incorporated into the working dog’s diet.

More information about choosing the right food for your working dog is online at Visit your local MFA or AGChoice retailer for a trusted selection of nutrition and pet health products such as the Victor Super Premium Pet Food line.


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