PowerCalf is a new way to manage your herd

Focused, full-herd management is the way forward

It should be obvious to everyone in the beef industry that things are changing. Drastically. The value of what we produce has risen significantly due to a much smaller cow herd and a strong global demand that has ignored rising consumer prices.

It’s uncharted ground, and we’ll need new approaches to supply a market driven by incentives different from just a few years ago.

The record-high values for every class of beef cattle (cows, replacement heifers and feeder cattle) mean we can achieve a significant financial return from focused management. In ways that didn’t show a return on investment in previous years, there is now benefit to be had for fine-tuning management throughout the production chain. To that end, MFA has created the PowerCalf program.

MFA PowerCalf is a program to provide our beef-producer customers with data-based intelligence that will help them realize the full value of their herd’s genetic potential. Power-Calf partners with our customers in a full-circle approach to provide detailed instructions and justifications for changes to management practices. The program collects and manages data in a standardized manner. It measures and benchmarks herd performance, and in turn, delivers this data to our customers in a manner they can use to improve their operations. The areas we are focusing on initially are production management, animal health and nutrition.

What kind of data can improve the bottom line? An example in a normal herd is conception and weaning. PowerCalf offers strategies to improve weaning and conception, collects the pertinent data and measures the results.

This approach applies to herd health decisions as well. Dr. Tony Martin, veterinarian and head of MFA’s Animal Health department said, “The basic health of a beef herd is driven by a strong genetic base that produces a good level of natural resistance to disease and productive resilience.” His philosophy is that a herd’s genetic base requires appropriate, complete nutritional support, management of environmental and production stressors, and use of appropriate animal health products to ward off disease-causing organisms.

In PowerCalf, the most basic animal health program for beef herds includes the use of appropriate vaccines, handled appropriately, given at the appropriate time, using the proper equipment and administration method. It calls for giving booster vaccinations as required. Fine-tuning herd management means there should be specific vaccination protocols for the breeding herd, the un-weaned calf crop, acquired stocker/feeder cattle, and any breeding herd replacement animals being developed.

These vaccines, used in healthy animals, generate immunity to help prevent both respiratory and reproductive diseases that adversely affect the growth and performance in all phases of beef production.

Product selection guidelines for these vaccination programs include using approved products from a well-respected manufacturing company (good research and technical service backing), selecting subcutaneous delivered products when possible (to fit BQA compliance), and using Modified Live Virus where appropriate (for strongest and longest protection against both respiratory and reproductive disease).

Martin also believes that in addition to treating infectious diseases, products that minimize the insult of both internal (worms, coccidian) and external (flies, ticks, lice) parasites make for a more efficient herd. Untreated, these parasites rob nutrients from affected animals and cause organ damage and immune challenges that can open the door for many of the diseases we vaccinate for.

MFA Director of Ruminant Nutrition Dr. Jim White counseled that good nutrition strategies pay off. “Appropriate feeding during gestation, or ‘fetal programming,’ influences the subsequent performance and carcass of the calf,” he said.

A calf’s fetal environment has a long-term effect on its post-birth health. Dr. White said that even before an animal is born, the fetal environment influences how that animal’s genes will be expressed. During gestation, uterine conditions influence which stem cells differentiate into muscle, fat or connective tissue cells. Lack of adequate nutrition during early pregnancy causes a fetus to develop more fat cells in depots outside of muscles. Cows that are underfed during mid- and late-gestation can have calves with fewer and larger muscle fibers, and more extensive development of connective tissue. University research shows that underfeeding cows can lead to increased dystocia and lower weights in their offspring. That makes for lighter weights—and all the way to slaughter. Such animals also have lighter carcass weights with lower quality grades. It goes farther. How pregnant cows are fed impacts the reproductive efficiency of their offspring, making gestational nutrition a serious and long-term factor for the herd.

White said to ensure good performance of cows and their calves, producers need to ensure cows are in adequate body condition—at least a score of 5 for mature cows and 5.5 for young cows. Pre-calving nutrition influences the re-breeding potential of a beef cow. Cows below a BCS of 5 are unlikely to be bred early in the breeding season and are less likely to get bred in general. However, even if a thin cow breeds, she is more likely to have a younger and lighter calf which is less valuable to the producer. Early postpartum wet cows that need to be re-bred should be in good flesh at calving.

PowerCalf will also include weaning, stocker and backgrounding recommendations along with the products and services necessary to take advantage of the program.

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