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When is the Best Time (Age) to Castrate Bull Calves? . . .

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You are, no doubt, aware of the tragic wildfires in western Oklahoma. These have been particularly devastating events and Oklahomans, especially the farming and ranching community, is always quick to step up to assist those affected. While I am sure that they have many needs, we are told that items of particular need are hay, feed, milk replacer, fencing materials, and cash.

Cash donations may be sent to the following relief funds:

• Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation – Make checks payable to Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation with “Fire Relief” in the memo line and mail to P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 or donate online at www.okcattlemen.org

• Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Foundation – Make checks payable to the Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Foundation with “Wildfire Relief” in the memo line and mail to 2501 N. Stiles, Oklahoma City, OK 73105 or donate online at www.okfarmingandranching.org

• Oklahoma Farmers Union Foundation – Make checks payable to Farmers Union Foundation, Inc., with “Wildfire Relief” in the memo line and mail to the attention of Wildfire Relief at P.O. Box 24000, Oklahoma City, OK 73124.

Cash donations may also be sent to volunteer fire departments, local churches, and voluntary organizations responding to the fires, including the American Red Cross and Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief.

The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service is organizing donations of fencing supplies, hay, supplemental livestock feed, and milk replacer for calves that lost their mothers. Anyone impacted by the fires and in need of these items may call Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension at (405) 590-0106, (405) 496-9329 or (405) 397-7912. Anyone who would like to donate the items listed above may also the numbers above to offer donations. They will match up people who have items or services to donate with producers needing help to rebuild fences, transport hay and similar farm and ranch activities.

Other donated items are not needed or requested at this time. Do not send unsolicited donations of used clothing, miscellaneous items or perishable foods, which must be sorted, warehoused, transported and distributed. This requires more efforts and staffing to manage those resources and takes away from recovery efforts.

Because Carter and Jefferson counties are within the Red Imported Fireant quarantine area, any and all hay must be inspected by me or an official with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (ODAFF). If you want to donate hay, please contact me via one of the Extension Office numbers; 223-6570 (Carter), 228-2332 (Jefferson) and we can make arrangements for me to inspect the hay. 

Below are some web links to other pertinent information:

http://www.dasnr.okstate.edu/…/fire-ant-quarantine-zone-add…

http://entoplp.okstate.edu/firean…/BaledHayIndustryAlert.pdf

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Find out what is happening in OSU Extension at https://calendar.okstate.edu/oces/

Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Higher Education Act), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran, in any of its policies, practices or procedures.  This provision includes, but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. The Director of Equal Opportunity, 408 Whitehurst, OSU, Stillwater, OK 74078-1035; Phone 405-744-5371; email: eeo@okstate.edu has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies.  Any person who believes that discriminatory practices have been engaged in based on gender may discuss his or her concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX with OSU’s Title IX Coordinator 405-744-9154.

When is the Best Time (Age) to Castrate Bull Calves? . . .

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Britt Hicks, OSU Extension Area Livestock Specialist, recently offered a good discussion of when to castrate bull calves and I wanted to share it.

Beef Quality Assurance Guidelines recommend that bull calves that are not herd sire prospects be castrated as early in life as possible (preferably, between birth and four months of age).  It has been speculated that delaying castration until weaning may improve performance since intact bull calves may grow more rapidly than steer calves.  However, several studies suggest that there is no lifetime performance advantage to waiting to castrate calves until weaning.  In fact, most research show that late castration (at weaning) decreases feedlot arrival gains and increases morbidity (sickness).

In 2011, University of Florida research investigated whether timing of castration in nursing calves affected calf performance and weaning weight.  In this study, 93 Angus and Brangus calves were either surgically castrated early (average age of 36 days) or late (average age of 131 days).  The age of the early castrated calves ranged from 3 to 73 days and the age of the late castrated calves ranged from 84 to 180 days.  At the time of castration, the average body weight of the late castrated calves was 356 lb.  Actual weaning weight (456 vs. 452 lb), adjusted 205-day weaning weight (512 vs. 504 lb), and average daily gain from birth to weaning (2.00 vs. 1.92 lb) were all similar between early and late castrate treatments, respectively.  These researchers concluded that this data indicates that producers have some degree of flexibility in determining when to implement castration.  The data showed that castration at or near birth did not have a detrimental effect on calf performance or weaning weight.  These authors also suggested that producers should realize that delaying castration until calves are approximately 131 days old will not bring added weight at weaning despite some producer philosophies and marketing claims that endorse such management practices.

In 2015, joint research between the University of Arkansas and West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) evaluated the effect of castration timing (near birth or at weaning) on lifetime growth performance and carcass quality of beef calves.  In this study, calves were surgically castrated near birth or at weaning.  All calves were weaned at day 214 of the study to undergo a 56-day weaning period.  For the first 28 days after weaning, the calves were fed hay ad libitum and a supplemental ration intended to achieve approximately 1.5 lb of gain per day.  After 28 days, the calves were moved to a mixed-grass pasture to be maintained for an additional 28-day period to complete the 56-day weaning phase of the study.  After this weaning phase, the calves were shipped 480 miles to the WTAMU Nance Ranch and grazed on native grass and sorghum-Sudan grass for a 111-day backgrounding period until entry into the adjacent WTAMU Research Feedlot.  The calves were fed a common feedlot ration throughout the finishing period (average length of 128 days) and harvested at a commercial processing plant.

These researchers reported that average daily gain from birth to weaning (214 days) was similar between treatments (1.81 vs. 1.85 lb/day for steers and bull calves, respectively).  Furthermore, there was no difference in weaning weight between the bulls left intact (483 lb) or the non-implanted steers castrated near birth (475 lb).  These authors suggest that this observation indicates that testosterone-enhanced growth in bulls vs. steer cohorts is not realized until bulls reach ages beyond the typical weaning age.  However, during the 56 day weaning period, calves castrated near birth gained faster than calves castrate at weaning (2.25 vs. 2.04 lb/day, P = 0.04).  Summer grazing and feedlot finishing performance and carcass measurements did not differ between treatments.  Theses researchers concluded that the results of this study indicate that castration procedures should be performed as early in life as possible to minimize performance loss.

Research from Nebraska (2005) has shown that as age of castration increases, weight loss resulting from the procedure increases (Figure 1).  In addition, reviews of marketing data show that bull calves marketed through conventional channels have historically suffered a price discount of ~5% compared to steer calves (~$5.00 to $7.00/cwt discounts) since surgical castration of calves after arrival at a feedlot decreases daily gains and increases morbidity.

Research conducted at the University of California, Davis (2017) assessed the effect of age on healing and pain sensitivity after surgical castration of beef calves.  In this study, beef calves were surgically castrated at 3 days of age (range of 0 to 8 days) or 73 days of age (range of 69 to 80 days).  The results of this study showed that calves castrated soon after birth experienced more tissue swelling and showed more signs of pain, but their incisions healed sooner (39 vs. 61 days) and their weight gain 77 days after castration was greater (1.54 vs. 0.66 lb/day), when compared to animals castrated around 73 days of age.

Collectively, these studies suggest that there is no lifetime performance advantage to waiting to castrate calves until weaning, but there is a high probability of receiving lower prices when marketing intact calves through conventional channels. When considering how age at castration affects animal welfare, the consensus is that the younger the calf is at time of castration, the less impact castration has on its welfare and performance.

Find out what’s happening on the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Calendar at https://calendar.okstate.edu/oces/#/?i=2

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Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Higher Education Act), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran, in any of its policies, practices or procedures. This provision includes, but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. The Director of Equal Opportunity, 408 Whitehurst, OSU, Stillwater, OK 74078-1035; Phone 405-744-5371; email: eeo@okstate.edu has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies.  Any person who believes that discriminatory practices have been engaged in based on gender may discuss his or her concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX with OSU’s Title IX Coordinator 405-744-9154.

Nutritional Challenges of Post-Partum Beef Cows . . .

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 Late winter and early spring is the most challenging time of the year for the nutrition of the spring-calving beef cows. Unless cool season grasses are available, this is a season where maintaining or gaining body condition on spring calving cows is really quite difficult. Warm season grasses have not yet begun to grow. Dormant grass (what little is left) is a low quality feed. Cows cannot, or will not, consume a large amount of standing dormant grass at this time year. If the only supplement being fed is a self-fed, self-limited protein source, the cows may become very deficient in energy. Remember, the instructions that accompany these self-fed supplements. They are to be fed along with free choice access to adequate quality forages. 

There is another factor that compounds the problem. A small amount of winter annual grasses may begin to grow in native pastures. These are the first tastes of green grass many cows have seen since last summer. The cows may try to forage these high moisture, low energy density grasses, in lieu of more energy dense hays or cubes. The sad result is the loss of body condition in early lactation beef cows just before the breeding season is about to begin. 

Body condition at the time of calving is the most important factor affecting rebreeding performance of normally managed beef cows. Nonetheless, condition changes after calving will have more subtle effects on rebreeding especially in cows that are in marginal body condition.  Body condition changes from the time the cow calves until she begins the breeding season can play a significant role in the rebreeding success story. This appears to be most important to those cows that calve in the marginal body condition score range of “4” or “5”. 

An Oklahoma trial (Wettemann, et al., 1987 Journal of Animal Sci., Suppl. 1:63). illustrates the vulnerability of cows that calve in the body condition score of 5. Two groups of cows began the winter feeding period in similar body condition and calved in very similar body condition (average body condition score = 5.3 to 5.4). However, after calving and before the breeding season began, one group was allowed to lose almost one full condition score. The other group of cows was fed adequately to maintain the body condition that they had prior to calving. The difference in rebreeding rate was dramatic (73% vs 94%). Again this illustrates that cows that calve in the body condition score of 5 are very vulnerable to weather and suckling intensity stresses and ranchers must use good nutritional strategies after calving to avoid disastrous rebreeding performance.

Cows should calve in moderate to good condition (scores of 5 or 6) to ensure good rebreeding efficiency. Ideally, cows should be maintaining condition during mid to late pregnancy and gaining during breeding. The goal of the management program should be to achieve these body conditions by making maximum use of the available forage resource. 

Continue feeding a source of energy, such as moderate to good quality grass hay free choice and/or high energy cubes until the warm season grasses grow enough to provide both the energy and protein that the lactating cows need. Yes, the feed is high-priced. But the cost of losing 21% of next year’s calf crop is even greater! Source:  Glen Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist; March 5 Cow/Calf Corner Newsletter.

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Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Higher Education Act), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran, in any of its policies, practices or procedures.  This provision includes, but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. The Director of Equal Opportunity, 408 Whitehurst, OSU, Stillwater, OK 74078-1035; Phone 405-744-5371; email: eeo@okstate.edu has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies.  Any person who believes that discriminatory practices have been engaged in based on gender may discuss his or her concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX with OSU’s Title IX Coordinator 405-744-9154.

Why is Body Condition Important in Cow/Calf Operations? . . .

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Well, this year’s calving season is already in the books. At the very least, we are too far along to make any considerable body condition changes in those females that are still to calve. However, it is not too late to begin planning for next year and now is a good time to evaluate the impact of body condition and rebreeding success in the coming weeks. Let’s set the stage for this discussion.

Reproductive efficiency is the single most significant economic metric of a cow/calf enterprise. In layman’s terms, a beef cow’s primary function is to produce a healthy calf, but an efficient beef cow’s primary function is to produce a healthy calf every 365 days. If they are not producing a calf within a 365-day interval, something is amiss and profits are declining. So, what does this have to do with body condition? Answer: everything.

Nature dictates that a cow’s primary job, and therefore her priority for nutrient intake and utilization, is to provide for her calf. If nutrition is limiting, she will undertake this primary task at the expense of her own flesh, pulling energy reserves from stored fat (external and intermuscular fat depositions) to provide milk for the nursing calf. Nature further dictates that if she cannot adequately care for the nursing calf AND maintain her own body condition, she will not be allowed to conceive another calf. Nature says we must take care of the living first, before we can conceive another generation. Mother Nature is a wise old Dame.

Insuring that cows have adequate stored energy reserves (body condition) is the only way that we can give that cow an opportunity to be “efficient”, or to calve every year within that 365-day interval. So, to assess body condition, we have assigned a numerical system (1-9) to differentiate between various degrees of stored fat reserves. Extensive research has proven that there is a strong correlation between these Body Condition Scores and a cow’s ability to return to estrous and conceive in a timely manner. Considering that the gestation period for cattle is 9 months, which means she needs to cycle and rebreed within 60-90 days after calving if she is going to meet the 365-day calving interval. The following graph is a summary of six herds in four states, showing the effect of body condition on rebreeding success.

You can readily see that cows in a body condition score of 6 or higher, immediately prior to calving, rebreed in a timely manner at a rate of 50% greater than those cows in a body condition score of 4 or less. What is the end result? Simply put, it means that, in a 100-cow herd, 50 more cows will calve again within the 365-day interval, and that means more pounds of weaned calf weight to market and older, more developed heifers to select replacements from. To give some visual perspective, below are a couple images representing those two groups of females.

Mature cows should calve in a Body Condition Score of 5 or 6 and, due to their higher nutrient demand, first-calf heifers should calve at a BCS 6. Logically then, evaluating Body Condition Scores, on the spring-calving cows, again this fall at weaning time will give you some time to plan your winter supplement program so as to add some body condition prior to the throes of winter and late-gestation, when it becomes very difficult and expensive to add weight and condition to cows.

Stay tuned next week and we will discuss how a cow’s Body Condition Score also affects the health of her calf.

Find out what’s happening on the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Calendar at https://calendar.okstate.edu/oces/#/?i=2

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Oklahoma State University, in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Higher Education Act), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, genetic information, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability, or status as a veteran, in any of its policies, practices or procedures.  This provision includes, but is not limited to admissions, employment, financial aid, and educational services. The Director of Equal Opportunity, 408 Whitehurst, OSU, Stillwater, OK 74078-1035; Phone 405-744-5371; email: eeo@okstate.edu has been designated to handle inquiries regarding non-discrimination policies: Any person (student, faculty, or staff) who believes that discriminatory practices have been engaged in based on gender may discuss his or her concerns and file informal or formal complaints of possible violations of Title IX with OSU’s Title IX Coordinator 405-744-9154

Bloat Management in Grazing Cattle . . .

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Recent rains and warming temperatures has spawned a flush of growth on dormant and drought-stressed wheat pasture. With the new lush growth and increased intake often comes an increased risk of bloat.

Ruminants are able to consume so many different types of ingredients because the rumen serves as a large fermentation vat that houses microbes that break down feeds into nutrients. This is a very effective way to convert grass and grain to milk or meat. This fermentation process produces large amounts of gas, which could cause a digestive problem known as ruminal tympany, aka “bloat”.

Normally the rumen gas is expelled by eructation (belching). Any condition that interferes with that release will cause an over-distension of the rumen and reticulum. This condition is most common in cattle, but can occur in sheep and goats as well.

There are two main types of bloat and each one is caused by a different mechanism. The primary tympany is also known as frothy bloat. This frothy bloat is when the small bubbles of fermented gas is trapped in a stable foam, which cannot be eructated. This type of bloat most commonly occurs in two situations; the first being animals on pastures, especially pastures containing legumes such as clover or alfalfa. Legumes are rapidly digested in the rumen and this results in a high concentration of fine particles that tend to trap gas bubbles, but it is not only animal’s digestive system that contributes to this problem, it is also the attributes of the plants containing soluble proteins that act as foaming agents. Animals being exposed to new lush forage growth, or animals that are moved in and out of the pasture are more prone to bloating on pasture. The second situation that frequently causes a frothy bloat is animals in feedlot environment, especially when animals are being fed high levels of finely ground grains. Digestion of the grain increases due to the grinding which also produces a multitude of fine particles that can trap gas bubbles. In addition, there are some microbes that can produce an insoluble slime that aides in producing a stable foam when fed a high concentrate diet.

The secondary tympany or free gas bloat is caused when an animal cannot eructate (belch) the free gas built up in the rumen. This is largely due to an obstruction in the esophagus such as foreign bodies, abscesses or tumors. Another possibility might be the animal’s posture. Too often we find animals laying with their backs downhill, and in this position the animal cannot physically eructate.

The clinical signs of bloat are easy to identify on an animal, as there will be large protrusion of the rumen showing prominently on the animal’s left side. The animal will show signs of anxiety and rapid breathing possibly with their neck extended with their tongue out. Once an animal exhibits staggering and lays down, death will occur rapidly. If an animal is bloated, it can be treated by inserting a trocar and cannula through the side of the animal into the rumen cavity. If the cannula is inserted and provides some relief, an antifoaming agent such as vegetable oils or mineral oils should be administered through the cannula into the rumen. Another option could be to pass a stomach tube with a large bore down the animal’s esophagus. This is another great opportunity to administer an antifoaming agent. In either case watch the animal closely for the next couple of hours. For a frothy bloat, switching the animal to a higher roughage diet will be advisement. Reducing the incidence of bloat can be accomplished with pasture and feed management and/or through the use of Poloxalene, which can be fed as a topdressing on feed, in a grain mixture, in liquid supplements, or in molasses blocks. Because poloxalene is relatively expensive, some producers reduce the dosage or eliminate its use after livestock have been grazing pasture for several weeks or the conditions that favor the incidence of bloat decline. Another common management practices is to provide supplements or molasses blocks containing a bloat-reducing ionophore (example: Rumensin®).

Some animals are just more prone to bloat than others and some are even considered chronic bloaters. Management and a producer’s best efforts will not show much improvement in a chronic animal’s condition.

Find out what’s happening on the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Calendar at https://calendar.okstate.edu/oces/#/?i=2

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Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, national origin, disability or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Lactating Cows Need More Protein and Energy . . .

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Lactating Cows Need More Protein and Energy . . .

Private Applicator licenses that farmers and ranchers use to purchase and apply pesticides are renewed on 5-year rotations, and this is the last year of the current rotation. So, what does that mean for you?

For those producers who are currently licensed Private Applicators, their license expires at the end of this year (12/31/2018). There will be new materials and a new test available sometime after July 1 that we should be able to get for Private Applicators in order to renew their license. If a person is currently a licensed Private Applicator, they must wait until after July 1, when the new test and study materials are available, to renew their Private Applicator license.

According to ODAFF, if a person is currently not a licensed Private Applicator, they can take the test in the Private Applicator packets that we currently have at the OSU Extension Office and, if they pass the test, they will receive a Private Applicator license that is valid from now until the end of 2023.

The Role of Copper in Beef Cattle Reproduction

According to Dr. Keith Bailey, the director of the Oklahoma Animal Disease and Diagnostic Laboratory (OADDL), copper (Cu) deficiency has been a common finding in late term cattle abortions and stillbirths over the past 2 years. In a liver sample study from aborted fetuses in western Canada, magnesium, copper, and vitamin E were frequently identified as deficient in aborted fetuses. In addition to reproductive inefficiencies, low copper levels are also associated with poor performance and poor immune response. Copper is involved in many body functions such as hemoglobin formation, bone cell function, pigment production, hair, hoof and horn function, and animal growth. Since a review of all the health problems associated with copper in beef cattle would be too long for this writing, a review of copper deficiency related to reproductive performance will be addressed in this article.

Copper deficiency can be a primary deficiency or a secondary deficiency. An example of primary deficiency is when forages are low in copper. In Oklahoma most legumes such as alfalfa and clovers have adequate amounts of copper. However, most grasses in Oklahoma are deficient in the mineral. Secondary copper deficiency is more common. This is the result of another mineral(s) interfering with the uptake of copper. The most common minerals involved in this are iron, sulphur, and molybdenum. These elements will bind with copper which makes it unavailable to the body. Secondary copper deficiency may occur even if the diet has adequate amounts of copper.

Reproductive problems associated with copper deficiency in cattle are reduced fertility. This may present in many ways. Cattle may fail to conceive on their first breeding. In embryo transfer, embryonic survival was found to be lower. In some studies, overall pregnancy rates were reduced. Another problem with a low copper level is an alteration in reproductive behavior. In this case cows may show normal estrus behavior but do not ovulate. Also, future estrus cycles may be reduced. The effects of low copper levels on reproduction in cows are not consistent. They may be small or substantial. In bulls, evidence suggest that copper deficiency may cause problems in semen quality and decreased libido.

According to Dr. Dave Lalman, Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Oklahoma State University, producers can evaluate a mineral deficiency problem by reviewing their records. If the producer’s records indicate good pregnancy rates, weaning weights, and no major health problems, then their mineral supplementation program is probably fine. Even if their performance records are good, they may want to follow up with a mineral balance review with the assistance of their nutritionist, veterinarian, or extension educator. The review will evaluate the animal’s requirements and the minerals supplied by the forage, feed, and mineral supplement. Any deficiency should be addressed.

If copper deficiency is suspected in cattle, a producer needs to evaluate the animal’s copper level. This can be accomplished by a blood test or a liver biopsy. Blood levels of copper become low only after using all the copper in the liver. For this reason, blood samples are only useful in diagnosing advanced cases. Since copper is stored in the liver, a liver biopsy will give the best indications of copper status of the herd. A liver biopsy may be obtained from a slaughter animal or a veterinarian may obtain a biopsy specimen from a live animal.

Producers may provide copper to their cattle by variety of methods. Copper may be added to the feed or supplied in a salt/mineral mix. An injectable product is also availa-ble. Recently, a sustained release bolus has been approve for mineral supplementation. Producers that also run sheep need to keep in mind that mineral mixes produced for cattle will be toxic to sheep. For any questions on what methods or products will be best for meeting the copper needs in cattle, producers should consult with their nutritionist, veterinarian, or local county extension educator.

In review, copper deficiency may be a problem in cattle herds grazing native and improved grasses in Oklahoma. Producers should review their cattle records for any indications of health or reproductive problems. Any problems may indicate a need to evaluate the copper status of their cattle. For any additional information about copper deficiency in cattle, producers should contact their nutritionist, veterinarian, or local county educator.

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Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, national origin, disability or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

Lactating Cows Need More Protein and Energy . . .

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As the spring calving season gets underway, we often feel a sense of relief when we get live calves on the ground and our attention then turns to the remaining cows that are yet to calve. However, we shouldn’t lose focus of the nursing cows and their increased dietary needs. Now, it requires protein and energy not only to maintain flesh and core body functions during inclement weather, but also to fuel milk production, and Mother Nature dictates that if a cow’s protein and energy requirements are not adequate to satisfy all these biological demands, she will sacrifice her body mass to provide for the newborn nursing calf. Dr. Glen Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist, offers a concise overview of the nursing cow’s increased protein and energy needs.

Beef cow owners have known for years that body condition at calving time is a critical determinant in the re-breeding performance of the cows during the next breeding season. Another key factor that impacts return to estrus cycles and re-breeding is the maintenance or loss of body condition after calving and before breeding. Cows losing body condition after calving and before the breeding season will be slower to return to heat cycles and rebreed at a lower rate. Therefore it is necessary that the cow manager understand the change in nutrient requirements of beef cows as they change from gestating cows to early lactation cows.

Using an example of a 1200 pound cow in late gestation, one can examine the nutrient increases as she delivers the calf and starts to lactate. Look in the Oklahoma State University Extension Circular E-974 Nutrient Requirements for Beef Cattle. A 1200 pound late gestation cow requires 1.9 pounds of crude protein daily and 12.9 pounds of Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN). She can consume voluntarily 24 pounds of dry matter feed/day. The same cow after calving will weigh at least 100 pounds less (birth weight of calf, placenta, and fluid loss). An 1100 pound cow in early lactation requires 2.9 pounds of protein each day. That is a 52% increase in protein needs. Her energy requirements go up substantially as well.  She needs 16.8 pounds of TDN each day (if she is an average milking beef cow). This represents a 30% increase in energy intake per day.  Her daily dry matter intake also increases from 24 to 29 pounds but this represents only a 20% increase. If the 30% crude protein supplement being consumed is increased by 3.3 pounds, the protein requirement is met and most of the additional energy needs are fulfilled. Her voluntary increase of 2 pounds of hay per day should make up the remaining gap.

As we examine this example it is very clear that the cow will voluntarily consume a small increase in dry matter, however her needs in protein and energy both increase in larger percentages. Therefore an increase in both diet quality and quantity is necessary after calving to insure that body condition is maintained into and through the breeding season.

As a follow-up to Dr. Selk’s comments, I would remind you that cows can suffer some dietary deficiencies and still provide for the calf, but it will be at the expense of her own body condition and, as Dr. Selk points out, that has repercussions for recycling and rebreeding. In other words, the current body condition on nursing cows will have an impact on next year’s calf crop, and remember that reproductive efficiency is the most significant economic measure of a cow/calf operation.

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Oklahoma State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local Governments Cooperating. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, national origin, disability or status as a veteran, and is an equal opportunity employer.

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