Fill the feeding gap with creep feed

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Profit from creep timing and technique

Creep feeding calves is a well-established management tool that will both increase weaning weight and produce calf gain. By filling the nutritional gap created when milk and forage can no longer meet calf dietary needs, creep feed helps calves reach full genetic growth potential. As with any other management practice, creep feeding must be properly employed to succeed.

To creep or not to creep?
The decision to creep or not to creep depends on whether it increases profit, and the likelihood of profitable creep feeding is much greater in current markets than it was in the past. Creep feeding is more likely to be profitable because 1) it is easier these days to sell flesh on calves than it was 20 years ago; 2) the price slide is much narrower; 3) smaller calves are very efficient

Don’t get blinded by spring green

on .

Don’t quit feeding hay too soon in the spring. It will be tempting with dwindling hay supplies to skimp on the feeding program and hope that the cows can satisfy their nutritional needs from sprigs of grass. But don’t short your cows now. Research shows that cows that lost weight just prior to calving had weaker calves and lower conception rates later in the spring, especially those that lost weight before and after calving.

There are numerous studies that show thinner cows have lower pregnancy rates. It suffices to say that cows at BCS 4 or below need help; cows should be closer to BCS 6 for best results. If you start to graze animals too soon, they flash graze—just chasing around anything green rather than buckling down and gnawing on fescue stems.

Some producers will be prone to forget the herd’s mineral needs as pastures begin to open. But remember that cows undergoing the stress of a hard winter will utilize minerals faster than cows with little stress. To obtain optimum immune function and reproductive performance from your herds, make sure to provide sufficient levels of macro and trace minerals.
Speaking in defense of the pasture, in a spring following drought, grass roots are suffering from last growing season’s water shortage—this is the case in spite of the pastures starting to green up. To help pastures recover, grazing should be delayed by a couple weeks to let roots recover and the plant build up leaf area.

Drought weakens plant root systems, and heavy grazing on drought-stressed cool-season grasses (fescue, bromegrass, Orchardgrass) makes the situation worse. Cool-season grasses grazed heavily early in the year will lower the total forage yield, which translates directly to lower carrying capacity.
Usually the best time to begin grazing cool-season pastures is when the plants are 3 to 4 inches tall. If you start earlier than that, the subsequent yields will likely be lowered. Yet it’s a fine line: if the pastures are too wet, you might refrain from grazing until grass is 6 inches tall. But in most of Today’s Farmer country, if you wait longer than that, the pastures will rapidly “get away from you.”

Given that normal (I have the usual questions about what is “normal” weather) springs are wet, graze the best-drained areas first. Start grazing in a different pasture every year, to maintain stand persistence and control weeds.
Native warm-season pastures will be treated differently than cool-season pastures. If you have pastures of switchgrass or bluestem, the pastures should be grazed early to remove early season grasses and weeds. Getting rid of the weeds helps retain moisture and reduces competition for the warm-season species. Grazing early growth on native, warm-season pastures will not harm the warm-season grass as long as cattle finish grazing before new grass shoots get more than a couple inches tall. In northern Missouri this is the first week of May. The further south you go, the earlier this happens.

In my discussions with the MFA agronomists about when to start grazing, I jotted down the following points:
•    There is no right or wrong time. Much depends upon stand condition.
•    Many producers will be frost-seeding legumes into stressed pastures this winter. It is critically important that stressed pastures receive adequate fertility before grazing. Growers should apply their N, P and K late winter and let that take hold before aggressive grazing.
•    In areas where stands have become thin, grazing too early will stimulate weed problems. Some weeds graze well, others do not.
•    If the pasture is extremely stressed, it would be a good time to renovate. In this situation we recommend a kill-smother-kill program. No grazing should be done on those fields.
Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Feed laminitis-prone horses soaked hay

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Hay soaking is one defense against laminitis, but don’t forget supplement nutrition

Soaking hay for the delicately constituted horse works, but you need to understand the practice to get it right.
Most candidates are horses that are prone to laminitis. Onset symptoms often include overconsumption of water-soluble carbohydrates or fructans. Likewise, we have seen older, obese and sedentary horses that seem to be intolerant of water-soluble carbohydrates at greater than about 10 percent of their feed. Whichever the case, these problem horses require some kind of feed modification when it comes to hay.

Although it sounds confusingly technical, it’s worth understanding how laminitis works. In a horse’s gut, starch is rapidly broken down to glucose by amylase in the horse’s system, but fructans aren’t. Some fructans will escape the small intestine and it’s possible they will ferment in the large intestine. When that happens, the bacteria turns to lactic acid.
When large amounts of sugar, starch or fructans show up in the large intestine, fermentation is rapid. This extensive fermentation in the large intestine produces substantial lactic acid, which drops the pH. If the decline in pH is drastic enough, bacteria in the intestine will disintegrate, releasing toxins that are stored in the bacteria cell walls.

These toxins enter the bloodstream and are thought to be the principal cause of equine laminitis.
The idea behind soaking hay prior to feeding is knock out some of the water-soluble carbohydrates. Cool-season grasses such as fescue, bromegrass and timothy accumulate fructan as their growth-storage carbohydrate. Clovers and alfalfa accumulate starch rather than fructans. Warm season grasses such as crabgrass, switchgrass, and sudangrass do not accumulate fructans.
Feeding is an important factor in the onset of laminitis. Typically laminitis occurs during periods of increased or rapid intake of non-fiber carbohydrates. While we can reduce the amount of water-soluble carbohydrates by soaking hay in water prior to feeding it, some horses are much more tolerant of water-soluble carbs than others. In other words, there is substantial variation between horses and establishing minimum/maximum specs for water-soluble carbohydrates/fructans is tenuous at best.

So how effective is hay soaking, and if what works the best? Usually, removal is greater with warm water than cold. Chopped hays loses more water-soluble carbs than long-stem hay, and removal increases with length of soaking. In addition to fructans and water-soluble carbohydrates, soaking hay also reduces potassium and protein, especially during long soaks.

Research at the University of Minnesota compared soaking long-stem bud alfalfa, full flower alfalfa, mixed orchardgrass/alfalfa, vegetative orchardgrass and mature orchardgrass. Researchers there compared soaking in 70 degree water and 100 degrees at 15, 30 or 60 minutes. The hay flakes were put in mesh bags and crammed into a bucket with 6 to 7 gallons of water.

Results showed the following: Soaking reduced water-soluble, ethanol-soluble carbs and fructan content in all hays.
Generally, the 15-minute cold water soak resulted in the least reduction carbs and fructans, but it usually would cut the water soluble carbohydrates by a third or so. The 12-hour cool soak had the greatest reductions.
As expected, water temperate influenced carbohydrate removal, with warm water being more effective. But, the researchers did note a significant problem with the 12-hour soak—25 to 30 percent loss in dry matter.

Results from other researchers have also shown highly variable removal of water-soluble carbohydrates. Ryegrass probably has the highest levels of fructans for any grass, and very few ryegrass samples reached below 10 percent of water-soluble carbohydrates regardless of length of soaking.

While soaking hay certainly provides some improved safety, it is a practice that cannot be used with complete confidence.
In other words ,there is concern that soaking may not be sufficient to guarantee that hay is safe to feed to laminitis-prone equids. And soaking effects vary widely among hay types and soaking methods.
The conservative approach would be to have your hay tested for water-soluble carbs, and devise a feeding program based on the test levels of water-soluble carbs.

Complimentary MFA horse feed would be EasyKeeper Golden Years or Legends CarbControl.
As an expedient field practice, soak hay in warm water for 30 minutes, or in cold water for an hour. The Brits are over the moon about soaking hay and have a number of cute hay soakers and steamers, but they are expensive.

Check out to learn more. But if you’re pricing from that site, remember to convert from British pound to U.S. dollars.

Of course, you could hillbilly engineer one yourself for under $100 with a plastic truck box, a garment steamer, $5 of CPVC pipe and some window screen.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Lunchtable hay talk

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

The other day, I was having lunch with some buddies who happened to all have cow herds. We got to talking about feeding cows. I will refer to them as A, B, and C to protect the guilty and to allow me to steal their good ideas. There is no such thing as a free lunch, comrades.
Here is how I remember it.

Me: Say, when do you determine your winter feed and forage inventory supply compared to your cows’ winter feed needs?
A: Usually about when I start to feed hay.
B: I look at cow BCS at weaning, determine if the cows are thin or not, and count bales between football games on Thanksgiving day. It gets me out of the house, which is full of in-laws.
C: I am constantly monitoring both, I try to maintain cow BCS at a 5 to 6.

Me: So, when do you cull cows?
A: When they do not raise a calf.
B: If they are open, aged and unsound. Or, if they have a bad disposition—these get culled at weaning.
C: Cows are culled when they are found to be below average in production, or if they are unsound or wild. If they are candidates for feeding, they are fed high-energy diets for 90 days and sold as white-fat cows. I have wondered about if I should establish an “old-cow rest home” for older thin cows to go to, get fed hard and pushed toward white-fat cows. It doesn’t make any economic sense to sell a thin cow.

Me: I suppose that you do stockpile winter forages. So, briefly, how do you manage the stockpiled forage?
A: Let the cows run—they will eat the leaves and better forage and leave the stems.
B: They get a field at a time, depending on where the water is.
C: I strip graze the swards. Electric fence is a wonderful thing.

Me: When do you determine what you are going to feed and how much you are going to feed?
A: They eat all they want, or all they can. They’ll be alright; they are cows.
B: Around Thanksgiving I estimate about what they are going to need, then feed them to that level.
C: I compare all available forages and feeds. I am not going to feed them more than they need, but I am going to make certain that they get what they need. They will not get 5 pounds of Super Cubes a day if forage quality and availability is such that their requirements are met with feeding 2 pounds of Breeder cubes.

Me: How do you decide which hay to feed when?
A: They get the hay I can get to.
B: We feed the lowest quality to animals in mid-gestation and save the best material for feeding when they start to calve. There are discussions that we might be better served by feeding hay before grazing stockpiled fescue. The fescue holds its nutrient value fairly well, and as it ages the alkaloid level drops off. It is a hurdle for me to get over to decide to feed hay when there is adequate forage standing available.
C: We test all the lots and allocate according to the animal’s nutrient needs. If the hay is dairy quality, we will sell it or use it to pull up the energy and protein in growing rations.

Me: What are ways to limit waste of the hay that is fed?
A: Don’t feed more than they will eat in an hour, and unroll the round bales.
B: Use a bale feeder, especially one that reduces waste, such as an inverted cone.
C: The same thing our buddies mentioned, plus grind the hay and feed in bunks or as a TMR. It cuts waste percentages.

Me: How do you store your hay?
A: Out at the fencerow.
B: Net wrapped, in rows four feet apart; I try to tarp them when I can.
C: In a shed, and the base is rock, not dirt.

Me: Do you test your forages?
A: No, they are going to eat it anyway. I have yet to have a cow ask me “has this hay been tested?”
B: Sometimes I get a forage analysis, but certainly “yes” if my friendly nutritionist is going to pay for it.
C: Yes, my friendly nutritionist can make better recommendations with the feeds having been tested. I’m not real good at guessing, and if I thought the hay was 10 percent protein, but it was really 13 percent, the extra 3 percent is not free. I’d be wasting it by not adjusting for it.

Me: Do you separate your cows?
A: No.
B: I split the young cows from the older cows.
C: We separate them into groups based on age, stage of production and BCS.

It would have been bad table manners to inquire about profits and loss. But you can see which of my buddies spends the most time on his herd. And you can guess, I bet, the one who is best paid for his time and labor. That’s something to think about as the winter finishes out and you look at next year’s hay crop.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.

Profit loss from foot problems is so lame

Written by Dr. Jim White on .

Dairy herds can feed toward foot health

After mastitis, lameness is the most costly disorder of dairy cows. There are several factors that have an influence on hoof health, a few of which I'll explain below.

Producers tend to underestimate hoof health problems via lack of accurate records. Do you track loses on cows with hoof issues? Do your records show the extent of the problem? And, how you identify and define a lame cow? A too-strict definition won't make these losses go away. So for our purposes, is a 1-to-5 scale that comes in handy for finding where the herd stands.

For a score 1: The cow's top line remains flat or level while standing and walking; 3 out of 4 cows should be scored as 1.

A score 2: The cow's top line remains flat while standing and hunches up when walking. There should be less than one out of every six cows that are scored as 2. Score 2 cows will have slightly less dry matter intake than score one cows—say 99 percent as much as score 1

A score 3 cow has a hunched back when standing still and more pronounced hump when moving. A herd should have under 10 percent cows as score 3. Cows with a 3 score will have lower feed intake, and about 5 percent lower milk production than cows scoring as 1 or 2.

Cows that distinctly favor a foot are score 4, these cows will be 15 to 20 percent down on milk, and close to 10 percent down on feed

A score 5 cow is a severely limping cow, a cow that has limited interest in moving to the feed bunk or the parlor. These cows are often off a third of their milk, and 20 percent down on feed intake. Milk cows usually find a lameness score 5 to be lethal.

A leading cause of hoof problems is infectious agents or bacteria that can cause foot rot, hairy heel warts, etc.

Wisconsin researchers reported that 6 out of 10 cases of lameness were associated with infectious agents, 4 out of 10 cases are associated with laminitis—which is an inflammation of the foot. Laminitis changes blood flow to the hoof. One of the principal causes of laminitis is acidosis, where heavy grain feeding results in substantial production of lactic acid. This shifts rumen pH lower, which results in histamine increased after the death of gram-negative bacteria release endotoxin-causing blood pooling in the hoof claw.

Rumen protein degradation adds to the histamine load. Acidosis will result in breakdown in the bond between the epidermis of the hoof wall and soft tissue in the corium. It gives an increased incidence of sole ulcers and white line abscesses.

Of course, we can protect our herds from hoof problems through improving cow comfort, walking distances, walking surfaces, concrete exposure, heat stress, and exposure to frozen, slick surfaces, small rocks and yard wetness. And we can select genetics that boost sound foot and leg confirmation.
Feeding options to promote hoof health are as complicated as most "beneficial" rations.

Nutrients that seem to have little influence on hoof health are: salt, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, cobalt and magnesium. Rations do affect hoof health. Starch and sugar, the rapidly fermentable carbohydrates, are key factors leading to lower rumen pH and acidosis.

These carbohydrates can shift fermentation away from fiber digestion and increase levels of propionic and lactic acids. Finely ground, high-moisture grains or rapidly available sugars affect the rate of fermentation.

Sugars have the fastest rates of rumen fermentation. If you have a ration with a very fast fermentation rate of the fast-digesting feed, and a slow rate of the slow-digesting feed (which is common when we try to make up for low forage quality by bringing in a lot of grain), you're setting up the cows for acidosis. Expect Christmas presents from the hoof trimmer.

As a guideline, it is good to keep starch around 24 percent of the diet. Of course, it might move up or down from there by a couple of points. Sugar will usually be 2 to 4 percent of the diet DM.
Protein quality, protein solubility and protein degradability can influence lameness. As mentioned earlier, protein breakdown can lead to histamines.

Adequate effective fiber maintains a rumen forage mat, reduces the likelihood of laminitis, helps maintain butterfat percent and encourages cud chewing or rumination. There are a couple of general rules for effective fiber: maintain NDF and have at least 5 pounds a day of fiber over an inch of length. If butterfat is fine, the cows are getting bred and feet are good, effective fiber is adequate.

Fat does not ferment, it will not produce lactic acid. Overfeeding occurs sooner with oils than with animal fat, reducing fiber digestion. This reduction in fiber digestion tends to swing rumen pH lower. Not feeding more than a pound of additional fat is a good place to stop
with feeding fat.

Copper has some effect. We tend to get greedy on feeding copper, except to Jerseys, and especially when we are feeding fescue. Copper-short animals are more susceptible to heel cracks, foot rot and sole abscesses. Zinc, especially protected-chelated zinc, such as that used in MFA dairy feeds has been shown to improve hoof integrity, wound healing, epithelium maintenance and keratin synthesis.

Additionally it has been shown to be associated with lower somatic cell counts.

Classically it was argued that adult ruminants did not need, require, nor like water-soluble vitamins added to their feed. Research and field work has shown instances where ruminants have responded to niacin, biotin and B12. Biotin is requisite for keratin formation and claw horn development. University work on lame cows has reported that cows fed biotin will improve their lameness score by about one when fed 20 mg of biotin a day. The response to feeding biotin is not immediate, plan on doing it at least six weeks before seeing a response. Seeing a response in 6 months is more likely. Likewise, if you are feeding biotin, and pull it, the milk nor hoof health response is immediate.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated.


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