Skip to main content

Researching varieties pays dividends

While it may still be winter, the time to start thinking about spring planting is now. A part of that thinking and planning process is choosing adapted and high-performance forage varieties.

In The Ohio State University (OSU) Ohio Beef Cattle Letter, OSU Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator Christine Gelley discusses what to keep in mind when selecting future forage genetics for your farm or ranch.

Know the difference

Let’s begin with a quick review about the differences between species, varieties, and cultivars.

In plant terms, a species is a plant that is distinctly different from other plants in features and characteristics, meaning that other plants of the same species will share similar characteristics. For example, think red clover versus ladino clover; both are clovers, but two distinctly different species.

A variety is a variation of a plant characteristic that still falls within the range of characteristics of a species. “Think of varieties as species variations that occur in nature without human interaction,” Gelley explains.

While varieties are naturally occurring, humans select for cultivars. These cultivars often bear a trade name that is marketed by the seed company. In spite of the difference between a variety and a cultivar, it remains a common practice for a cultivar to be referred to as a variety.

“By the time you are ready to shop for seed, have your species selected and a few potential cultivars on your list of acceptable choices,” Gelley advises.

Regional requirements

To narrow down your choices even further, look at results of regionally conducted forage variety tests. “If you are farming in Ohio and shopping based on variety performance trials conducted in Tennessee, you may end up unsatisfied with your results,” Gelley explains.

Pay attention to variables in the trial, including total rainfall, soil and air temperatures, soil type, fertilizer and pesticide applications, and the number of years evaluated. Trials that were conducted over the span of several years are typically more trustworthy.

Also consider who is conducting the trials. Many land-grant universities conduct forage trials and are unbiased. Performance trials by seed companies can be reliable, but keep in mind that they are trying to get you to buy their product instead of a competitor’s.

Know the supplier

Once you have a short list of varieties that will fit your farm and needs, shop with a reputable supplier. They should have clean facilities, knowledgeable staff, and good customer service.

“Contact the seed dealer with your cultivar list and have a conversation about what you are looking for and what they can offer,” Gelley recommends. She also advises looking at the seed tags and comparing production dates, germination rates, and the percentage of pure live seed.

“For your best chance at success, do your research before you shop, rather than settling for whatever is in stock at the local co-op,” Gelley says.

Keep records

After selecting, purchasing, and planting your cultivar, keep note of observations you make throughout the year. This includes seeding date, planting rate and depth, weather conditions, germination success or failure, weed pressure, and animal preference.

Perform your own experiment

“If you can’t decide between one cultivar and another, get more than one and start your own on-farm research project,” Gelley suggests.

Plant the cultivars in the same location under similar conditions. As you go through their production cycle, apply the same inputs and harvest the same way all while taking notes and making observations. The results may surprise you.


British Cows Get Own Tinder-Style App for Breeding

Farmers swipe right on Tudder mobile app to find matches for cows. ( Tudder )

Cows and bulls searching for “moo love” now have a mobile app to help their breeders.

A U.K. farming startup introduced a Tinder-style app, called Tudder, that lets farmers find breeding matches by viewing pictures of cattle with details of their age, location and owner. Users hear a mooing sound as they swipe — right to show they’re interested or left to reject possible matches.

Hectare, which designed the app, says it “seeks to unite sheepish farm animals with their soulmates.” Selling animals using social media can speed up a process that often involves transporting animals long distances for breeding.

“Tudder is a new swipe-led matchmaking app, helping farm animals across the U.K. find breeding partners in the quest for moo love,” according to the Apple app store description.

Farmers that swipe right on an image of a particular cow — or group of cows — are directed to Hectare’s livestock-buying website, with a chance to contact the owner or make an offer. The listing website includes information on the animal’s character and any health issues.

Working Bull

Profile descriptions range from “nice big strong sorts make nice suckler cows” to “quiet well grown young bull ready to work,” and farmers can also restrict their online search by whether the animal is organic, pedigree or on a farm where tuberculosis has been detected.

Marcus Lampard, a farmer in Carmarthenshire in southwest Wales, has one pedigree beef shorthorn breeding bull listed on the app and says it’s a lot easier to sell livestock online.

“Going to market is a nuisance,” he said by telephone. “If I go to an open market with a bull, and then maybe bring it back, it shuts everything down on the farm for at least two weeks.’’

Lampard, 76, said his daughter lists the cows online for him. “At my age we think we’re quite techy, but our grandchildren think we’re hopeless,” he said.

Hectare raised over 3 million pounds ($3.9 million) from investors including government programs, author Richard Koch and tennis player Andy Murray, according to its website.

About a third of U.K. farms use Hectare’s platforms to trade livestock and cereals, Chief Executive Officer Doug Bairner said by email, after the app was described in the Sunday Times.

“Matching breeding livestock online should be even easier than matching people,” Bairner said. “Sheep breeding is similarly data driven so maybe ‘ewe-Harmony’ should be next.”

Quick Test for TMR Dry Matter

Dan Severson

University of Delaware Extension

 

A total mixed ration (TMR) is defined as a method of feeding cows that combines feeds formulated to a specific nutrient content into a single feed mix which contains forages, grains, protein sources, minerals vitamins and feed additives. This method of feeding has been highly adopted since the 1950’s because it allows cows to consume a nutritionally balanced meal with every bite. Feeding a TMR has both advantages and disadvantages.

 

The main advantage of feeding a TMR is improved feed efficiency. Each mouthful contains a balanced ration that leads to higher milk production and less metabolic upsets. In addition, the ability to use a variety of products to meet the nutritional demands of the cow allows flexibility in food sources, allowing for savings in ration building. The purchase of commodities in bulk is also often less expensive, adding further savings. Furthermore, the use of less favorable feeds can be masked by mixing all the ingredients with no reduction in feed consumption. TMR also lends itself well to mechanization.

 

However, the cost of equipment to implement a TMR can be a major disadvantage. Also, all cows in the group get the same ration. Individual feeding is not possible, so cows in a group should be of similar milk production, stage of lactation and body condition. Moreover, a TMR may not be economical for all herds by reason of facility design or use of pasture.

 

Dairy rations are formulated on a dry matter (DM) basis and the amount of each feed fed is on an as is or as fed (AF) basis. Feeding feed ingredients according to weight is only accurate if the moisture content of the feed is accounted for. Small changes in DM will change the nutrient profile of the ration. For example, a ration that is formulated to provide 25 pounds of DM per cow with corn silage at 35 percent DM. However, the actual corn silage content is 32 percent DM. This would leave the cow short on feed, resulting in a reduction in milk production and potential health problems.

 

As luck would have it, the DM content of feeds can be measured on the farm. The most commonly used methods of measuring DM are the Koster moisture tester or a microwave oven. However, a new quick test using a kitchen air fryer was recently demonstrated at the 2018 World Dairy Expo. This is a preferred alternative as it does not have to be watched because there is no way to accidentally start a fire. This new method also traps the fines inside the fryer enabling a more accurate DM analysis. The specifics for determining the DM of your TMR are as follows:

 

  • Weigh 100 grams of representative sample
  • Place the sample in the Air Fryer
  • Set the fryer to 250⁰F
  • Set a timer for 30 minutes
  • Record the weight of the dry sample
  • Calculate the DM content

 

To find the DM you will need to do some math – don’t worry, it is simple math. To figure out the DM content you will use the following equation:

 

Final Dry Weight (grams) / Initial Wet Weight (grams) X 100 = %DM

 

Here are the steps in determining DM of a TMR sample:

 

Set up your scale – set it to grams and tare to zero. Then weigh out 100 grams.

 

             

 

 

Place the sample in the air fryer basket.  Turn on your air fryer: set the temperature to 250⁰F and the timer to 30 minutes.

 

                     

 

Record your final weight.  For this example, it was 45 grams. Now do the math to figure out the DM content.

 

 

 

Do you remember the equation?

 

Final Dry Weight (grams) / Initial Wet Weight (grams) X100 = %DM

 

The final dry weight for this sample is 45 grams.  Divide the 45 grams by the initial weight of 100 grams and multiply by 100 and you get 45% DM.

 

It is important to measure the DM content to maintain a more consistent diet and meet the needs of the animals.  The determination of DM should be used to adjust rations on a routine basis. The air fryer method is an easy way to perform DM analysis on the farm. The air fryer that was used for the DM testing was bought for less than $100 at a local box store. If your scale does not have grams, you can use ounces. There are roughly 28.35 grams in an ounce – 3.5 ounces equals 100 grams. The math equation will still be the same just change the grams to ounces. We currently have an air fryer located in the New Castle County Extension office, if you would like to try this method or you can use the Koster moisture tester located in Kent County Extension office. Feel free to contact me if interested or with any questions.

 

References available upon request.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease Found on South Korean Dairy Forces Quarantine

A health officer checks a cattle in a farm in Gimje as a preventive measure against foot-and-mouth disease after South Korea on Monday confirmed a case of food-and-mouth at a dairy farm elsewhere in the country, South Korea, February 6, 2017.

Areas of South Korea are on quarantine after a dairy farm was found to have foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in its cow herd.

The outbreak was identified on a 120 cow dairy near the city of Anseong, which is 67.6 km (42 miles) from the capitol city of Seoul. According to a statement from the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs released on Jan. 28, this is first FMD outbreak identified in the country since March of last year.

Cows from the farm are being culled and to help decrease the likelihood of the disease spreading movement of livestock, including cattle and pigs, is prohibited in certain areas of the country. These regions include Gyeonggi, Chungnam, Chungbuk, Daejeon and Sejong. The halt on movement of livestock will be conducted for at least a 24 hour period ending on Jan. 29 at 8:30 pm in South Korea.

The prohibition also limits movement for livestock-related workers and vehicles. Workers and vehicles are to remain at the farm or facility.

Access and movement from the following livestock-related workplaces is limited during that time, according to the Ministry:

  • Slaughterhouses
  • Feed mills
  • Collecting yards
  • Feed dumps
  • Feed dealers
  • Manure disposal yards
  • Communal composting yards
  • Livestock manure public treatment facilities
  • Joint recycling facilities
  • Livestock transportation companies
  • Livestock related service companies
  • Livestock consulting companies
  • Compost manufacturers
  • Veterinary drugs and livestock equipment suppliers

If livestock, workers vehicles or goods are moving during the time of the announcement they are to be moved to a safe place approved by the Director of the Livestock and Livestock Bureau of the city or province.

Violations are subject to a fine of 10 million won ($8,937 USD) or less, or could result in a punishment of one year in prison.

Other Recent Outbreaks and U.S. Status

South Korea has had other outbreaks in the past few years, including a FMD outbreak on a hog farm in March of 2018. A similar case on two dairies in 2017 resulted in South Korea vaccinating all cattle in the country for FMD.

FMD is classified as a “severe, highly contagious viral disease” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The disease causes fever and blisters on the tongue and lips, in and around the mouth, on the mammary glands, and around the hooves. FMD is seen as being a major economic hindrance to livestock production because of its ability to spread quickly. The disease was eradicated from the U.S. in 1929.

In the U.S., programs have been put in place to help secure various segments of the livestock industry. The Secure Milk Supply Plan (SMS) for Continuity of Business has been implemented by some dairy farmers to bio-secure their farms.

Also, the 2018 Farm Bill contained funding for the National Animal Disease Preparedness Program and National Animal Vaccine Bank. The bill funds $300 million for programs like a FMD vaccine bank.

Be a Good Hay Shopper

When shopping for a new truck, you don’t buy just because the salesman says it’s a good deal. Most shoppers do their research, looking at body style, fuel mileage, towing capabilities, included options and a vehicle history. Shopping for hay should also be carefully researched because making the correct purchase can drastically affect your bottom line. Have you ever met a person that can tell you the value of a truck just by looking at the exterior? Or someone that can tell the quality of hay based on a physical evaluation alone? While a physical evaluation can help us determine several characteristics about the hay, it cannot tell us nutrient content or other potential problems, like nitrates. The only way to know the quality of the hay is by having a forage test done. Knowing the nutritional value of the hay not only helps determine if supplementation is needed, but also will save you money and hopefully avoid any headaches.

Nutrient/Energy Requirement

Knowing what quality of hay you need to purchase all begins with understanding the nutrient requirements for your livestock. Nutrient requirement is the amount of nutrient an animal needs to perform a specific task, or their energy requirement. This is determined by weight, sex, age, growth rate and stage of production. From this we can break down that animal into four nutrient priorities:

  1. Maintenance
  2. Growth
  3. Lactation
  4. Reproduction

The largest shift in nutritional requirement is the transition from pregnant to lactation. Animals fed differently from their nutritional requirements will either lose or gain excess weight. Something else to remember is that the energy requirement for livestock increases during the winter, 1% for every degree under 32°F. Your county extension agent can help you determine your livestock’s nutrient needs.

Forage Testing

A forage analysis is the only way to assess the quality of the hay. The quality of the forage is focused on the value of each pound versus the total of pounds consumed. There is a physical limit to how much livestock can consume. Digestibility is the ability of the livestock to extract the nutrients from the hay. The primary nutrient found in hay are protein, carbs, sugars, pectins and fiber. When purchasing hay, ask for the forage test results. If a forage test has not been performed on the hay, it something you can do yourself through your extension office. For more details on how to take a good hay sample refer to Ray Hicks’s article in this edition of the newsletter.

Reading the Results

After you receive your forage report, there are some numbers that you want to focus on. Always look at the dry matter levels, not as sampled. The dry matter level is best for comparing forages, ration balance and economic value. Most producers go straight for the protein content, but this is Crude Protein and based on nitrogen levels in the sample. So a sample that is high in nitrates can have a high Crude Protein. Protein is important, but many times is overemphasized. The Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) is a measurement of digestible energy. This allows you to compare
forages of the same species and compare them to the needs of the livestock. The Relative Forage Quality (RFQ) predicts the energy base based on fiber quality and intake. RFQ allows for comparisons across forage species. We have also been able to link ranges of RFQ to meet the energy requirements for livestock at different stages. This does not mean that a RFQ at that range will automatically provide all the nutrients needed, but provides us with an approximation if the forage will provide a cost-efficient base.

Nitrates are also important to look at. Nitrates over 4,500 ppm need to be fed at restricted rates. As the nitrate levels increase, so does the restrictions on feed until 18,000 ppm when it is considered lethal.

Storage

Another factor that effects forage quality is storage. Hay bales should be stored to protect from rainfall and weathering. Loss from storage can range from 20%-45%. Before hay is stored it should be properly cured. Round bales should be allowed to dry to 15% moisture and square to 18%. Improper curing of hay can result in fires. The best way for hay to be stored is in a hay shed, but if bales have to be stored outside its best they are orientated north/south, the bales are dense and they are elevated. Net wrapping also distributes moisture better than bales wrapped in twine.

Buy by Weight

Finally yet importantly, consider the weight of a hay bale. Whether you are buying square bales or round, consider buying by weight instead of by bale. Humans are not good at estimating the weight of a bale and usually overestimate the weight. So if you can put some bales on a scale and get a good estimate of the lot weight, see if the producer will sale by weight. It will save you some money in the long run.

Summary

  1. Consider your livestock nutrient requirements
  2. Forage Test
  3. Read and understand results
  4. Compare your forage options
  5. How was the hay stored
  6. Buy by weight (if possible)

Prevent and Prepare For Barn Fires

Although you cannot completely eliminate the risk that there could be a fire in your barn, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk and be more prepared. ( PORK )

Have you ever considered what you would do if you had a barn fire? How would you protect your animals and all the other assets you have in your barn? What could you have done to prevent it? The thought of a fire is very scary. Although you cannot completely eliminate the risk that there could be a fire in your barn, there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk and be more prepared.

Tips for reducing the risk of a barn fire

Contact your local fire department to have them do a “checkup” of your barn and offer more recommendations for your individual situation. The University of Kentucky’s “Preventing Barn Fire: Tips for Horse Owners” recommends the following steps in reducing your chances of having a barn fire.

  • No smoking! Bedding and hay can easily be ignited by a person smoking in or around the barn. Enforce a strict no smoking policy in your barn. Post signs inside and outside your barn.
  • Place a fire extinguisher next to each exit, utility box and at roughly 30-40-foot intervals in your barn. Inspect and recharge each extinguisher every year, and use a ABC (general purpose) extinguisher.
  • Clean off cobwebs and pick up loose bailer twine. By making sure your barn is clutter-free, you are helping eliminate ways for fire to spread.
  • Electrical devices need to be professionally installed and encased in conduit. Pay attention during winter months to water tank heaters and heated buckets—they continue to generate heat even if there is no water present, which can cause the plastic to melt and a fire to ignite bedding and hay. If you are using electrical cords, make sure that they are professional grade, inspected often and are not overloaded. Keep lights caged and only use lights that are designed for barn use.
  • If possible, keep hay and bedding stored away from a barn housing animals. If you only have one barn, like many of us, make sure hay has properly cured before storing it in the barn. Check the internal temperature of curing hay by poking a thermometer into the middle of the bale. If the temperature reaches 150 degrees, the hay should be monitored. If it reaches 175 degrees, contact the fire department.
  • Keep tractors, fuel, other petroleum products and machinery away from the barn. Clear any grass, hay, leaves or other combustible materials from equipment before storage.

Tips for being prepared in case there is a barn fire

Mentally prepare yourself so that you can act calmly and safely in the case of a fire. Remember that human safety is the top priority—ensure your own safety and the safety of others before taking care of animals. The University of Kentucky’s “Preventing Barn Fire: Tips for Horse Owners” recommends the following steps for preparing yourself and being ready if a fire does occur in your barn.

  • Identify and designate a safe place for your animals to go if you can get them out of the barn safely. This location should be away from the fire and allows fire crews enough room to do their jobs.
  • Handling equipment such as halters, leads, etc. should be quickly accessible. Consider the materials these items are made of. Remember that plastic and nylon will melt in heat.
  • Talk about the plan with members of your family and any employees you might have so they can also be prepared in an emergency.
  • Mark gates, pens or stalls with reflective tape or glow-in-the dark paint. This will make it easier to see where you are going in the dark.
  • If you are removing animals, start closest to the exit first and handle animals one at a time or by groups if they are herd animals. Always maintain control of the animals to help reduce their stress, which can prevent other injury risks.

If there is a fire, call 911 and get people out of the barn. Only get animals out if you can do so without risking human safety. Follow the directions from the fire department or 911 dispatcher.

No one ever wants to think about the risk of a fire, but it is best to be fully prepared so that you can react fast and appropriately.

Tips to Keeping Livestock Healthy During Winter Months

Most animals need some shelter during the winter months, however their natural winter coats allow them to endure cold temperatures. ( Drovers )

Winter has arrived in full force in Michigan. Cold temperatures can cause some challenges in our barns, but utilizing some easy techniques on your farm will help you manage your herd successfully during the winter months.

Water

Ensuring your herd has access to fresh, clean water is essential to their health. In the winter, battling frozen water buckets and tanks can be a challenge. By utilizing tank heaters, heated buckets or automatic waterers, water is kept ice-free and at a temperature the animal is comfortable drinking.

Products that utilize electricity, such as tank heaters and heated buckets, should be checked with a voltmeter to ensure there is no current running through the water. Any electrical current will deter animals from drinking from the water tank or bucket. By inserting one end of the voltmeter in the water tank and the other into the ground, you will get a reading that will indicate if there is a problem. Make sure to check this often.

The University of Wisconsin Extension has published a water consumption chart that outlines the amounts of water certain species will consume per day. Ensuring that your animal is consuming enough water each day is critical to their overall health and well-being.

Amount of water livestock will consumer per day
Species Water needs, gallons per day
Cattle 7-12
Goats 1-4
Hogs 6-8
Horses 8-12
Llamas 2-5
Poultry Up to 1
Rabbits Up to 1
Sheep 1-4

Housing

Most animals need some shelter during the winter months, however their natural winter coats allow them to endure cold temperatures. Providing shelter or wind breaks that can be easily accessed by animals is key. Humans oftentimes are prone to making the winter environment for their animals too warm, which is unhealthy for animals.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following factors to consider when evaluating the housing of your animals:

  • Air quality. Is there adequate ventilation to help dispel respiration gasses and manure odor? Depending on the type of barn you have, there are various ways the barn can be ventilated. Ridge vents are more prevalent in newer barns and are based on the premise that heat rises. Older barns may require opening doors or windows to allow for air circulation. Poorly ventilated spaces can cause irritation in the animals’ lungs and lead to respiratory infections such as pneumonia. If you notice condensation on walls or ceilings, that is a good indication your air isn’t ventilating enough for the number of animals occupying the space. You will need to adjust accordingly.
  • Dry bedding areas. Dry bedding provides insulation from the cold ground and helps decrease the amount of energy animals use to keep them warm. There are many options for bedding you can use; straw, wood shavings and with cattle in particular you can use corn stover or similar crop residues for cows and bulls.

Feed

Animals must maintain their energy reserves in order to endure cold temperatures. Before the weather gets cold, asses the body condition of each animal and adjust the nutrition they are receiving to adequately prepare them to thrive in winter conditions. It is critical to continue to assess body condition scores throughout the winter, as it may be necessary to increase the amounts of good quality feed and forages. Supplying adequate amounts of feed is essential in your herds well-being through the winter months.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu.

Staying Up When the Market is Down

Low milk prices, depressed demand and changing consumer preferences have collectively exerted a heavy toll on the industry and its people. ( freeimages.com )

It’s hard to stay positive through a long stretch of red ink, even in an industry you love. Or, maybe, especially in an industry you love.

Virginia Tech University Professor Emeritus David Kohl has worked with farmers for several decades, and through more than one economic downturn. In a recent video message provided by Compeer Financial, Kohl offered words of encouragement that included the following advice:

  • Surround yourself with positive people. “One of the things I find is that people’s net worth and self-worth often are equated and correlated to the type of people they stay around,” said Kohl. “Do the people with whom you spend most of your time see the cup half empty, or see it half full?”
  • Shut down the social media and TV. Be selective and limited in your use of media, as they often depict extremes. These over-hyped or highly passionate portrayals can be emotionally draining, even if they are extreme examples.
  • Rely on the wisdom of elders. “Sometimes we need to shut down our technology and have a talk with Grandma or Grandpa, or an older person in the community who has been through many of these economic cycles in the ag industry,” advised Kohl. “Their wisdom and philosophy can be reassuring, particularly in these down cycles.”
  • Invest in yourself. Leave the farm for some educational seminars, particularly those outside of agriculture. You are more than your profession – don’t allow your identity as a farmer be the only thing that defines you. Dedicate time for exercise, and take time for reflection as well.
  • Embrace opportunities to serve others. Spending time in service to those less fortunate can provide valuable perspective and help heal your own anxieties. “A friend who recently returned from a mission trip to Guatemala said it was an incredibly uplifting experience,” said Kohl. “There also are many ways to give back right in your local community, especially during the holidays.”

The end of one year and start of another is the perfect time to take a step back and assess business and personal goals, as well as take stock in your blessings that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Here Comes Pneumonia Season

Veterinarian Carrie Bargren of River Valley Veterinary Clinic, Plain, Wis., said a calf that experiences pneumonia at less than 3 months of age will be affected well into her lactating career. Bargren shares a list of strategies on which she advises clients to prevent pneumonia in growing replacements. ( Farm Journal )

The calfhood disease with the longest-lasting impact on lifetime performance is – hands down – pneumonia, according to Carrie Bargren, practicing dairy veterinarian at River Valley Veterinary Clinic, Plain, Wis.

“A calf that has had pneumonia, even if she has recovered with treatment, will be 2.4 times more likely to have impaired growth in the first 6 months of life,” said Bargren. “She also will be 2.4 times more likely to die between the ages of 3 months and 2.5 years, and there is the same risk that she will calve 2 months later than her healthy herdmates.”

Bargren explained there are three categories of pneumonia in calves:

  • Aspiration – This form of pneumonia occurs when any solid material is inhaled and enters the lungs. The most common cause is improper use of esophageal feeders when administering colostrum. Aspiration also may occur during a difficult birth when a calf inhales some meconium (first manure) or amniotic fluid. A common source of aspiration in older calves is nipples with holes that are too large, which allow calves to consume milk too quickly.
  • Bacterial – The three primary organisms that cause bacterial pneumonia in calves are Pasteurella multocida, Mannheimia hemolytica, and Mycoplasma species. “Bacterial infections that occur in the first few days of life result from infection within the dam, aspiration or contaminated colostrum,” said Bargren. “As calves grow older, new infections typically are acquired from the environment or other sick calves.”
  • Viral – BRSV, IBR, PI3 and BVDV all can instigate pneumonia in calves. “A viral pneumonia then predisposes calves to acquiring bacterial pneumonia,” said Bargren.

Bargren advises her clients to take the following measures to prevent pneumonia in young calves:

  1. Vaccination – Dry cows can be vaccinated for virtually all of the viral pathogens that cause pneumonia, and the antibodies for them then can be transferred to calves via colostrum. In addition, she said, “a good intranasal vaccine at birth will stimulate the tissues in the airways to make antibodies and be ready to kill respiratory pathogens before they enter the body, providing additional protection for the calf for 4-6 weeks.” She suggests a booster of intranasal vaccine at weaning.
  2. Colostrum delivery – Colostrum is the only immune protection calves have for the first few weeks of life. Bargren recommends feeding 4 quarts within 6 hours after birth, and monitoring colostrum quality with a refractometer. Checking calves for total proteins (TP) to screen for Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT) of immunity is advised to monitor colostrum management.
  3. Housing – “Clean air and deep bedding are the most important factors in preventing disease through housing management,” said Bargren. “Proper ventilation systems in calf barns will bring in clean air and remove contaminated air.” She recommends at least 26 square feet of resting space for calves in hutches or individual pens, and at least 30 square feet per head in group pens. Regardless of type, she said shelter systems should protect calves from extreme heat, cold, wind chill, rain, dust and aerosolized pathogens, all of which can stress immunity.
  4. Nutrition – “Proper nutrition is required for healthy growth rates and to sustain immune function,” said Bargren. “Adjust volume to accommodate for cold temperatures.”

Bargren noted a routine screening program is necessary to detect pneumonia in young calves, especially because their early clinical signs usually are very subtle. “An ideal time to watch for respiratory disease is feeding time,” she suggested. “A newly sick calf will be slower to drink or too uncomfortable to lie down afterward.”

To improve respiratory disease detection and monitor treatment efficacy, Bargren recommends using the Calf Health Scorer app from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine.

Potentials for Plant and Other Toxicities in Cattle

While Johnsongrass is a good quality forage, it can be challenging to control in pastures where the perennial, warm-season grass is not desired. Prussic acid production under stress can pose a risk to livestock when grazing Johnsongrass, especially during prolonged droughts or after a frost.
( Dirk Philipp, University of Arkansas )

Fortunately, there has been plenty of rain this year. However, heading into late summer and fall are times of the year to watch out for plant toxicity in cattle.  In some cases, plants can become more toxic during drought and heat stress.  In addition, there is the increased potential for cattle to ingest toxic plants due to lack of other feedstuffs.  There may also be more access to toxic plants.  With droughts come increased weed infestation of pastures, hay and crop fields.   Penned cattle may also be in corrals or drawn to low lying areas that are still green, both of which are where toxic plants are likely to grow.  Differentiating “good” vs. “bad” plants is a learned behavior, so toxicity is more likely in young animals and animals moved to a new location.  A grazing management and supplemental feeding plan is essential to minimize problems.  Veterinarians and producers should be familiar with which plants can cause problems in their area, and try to avoid them.  The following discussion covers some of the plants and situations to watch for during drought situations.  There may be plants that grow some regions that are not covered.

Stressed plants more readily accumulate nitrates and prussic acid (cyanide).  Drought stress can cause both pasture forages and weeds to accumulate toxic amounts of nitrates.  Recently fertilized pastures are also at higher risk.  Plants that have accumulated nitrates remain toxic after baling or ensiling.  Test forages for nitrates to prevent poisoning.  Prussic acid accumulates most often in sorghums, sudans and Johnsongrasses, but these plants can accumulate nitrates also.  There is no test for prussic acid, but it dissipates when plants are baled or ensiled, so harvested forages are safe.  Cattle poisoned by nitrates or prussic acid are usually found dead, so prevention of these toxicities is critical.   Cattle with nitrate toxicity have methemoglobinemia (brown blood) and cattle with prussic acid toxicity have cyanohemoglobinemia (bright, cherry red blood).  Nitrate and prussic acid both interfere with oxygen carrying capacity in the blood, so pregnant cattle surviving these poisonings often abort.

Two of the most toxic plants found in croplands and pastures are coffeeweed and sickle pod.  Cattle will generally not graze the green plant unless other forages are scarce.  However, they will readily eat the seedpods that are dry after a frost.  The plant remains toxic when harvested in hay/balage/silage.   Coffeeweed and sicklepod are toxic to muscles and cause weakness, diarrhea, dark urine, and inability to rise.  There is no specific treatment or antidote, and once animals are down, they rarely recover.

Pigweed or carelessweed is very common in areas where cattle congregate.  Cattle will readily eat the young plants, but avoid the older plants unless forced to eat them.  A common pigweed poisoning is when cattle are penned where pigweed is the predominant plant and no alternative hay or feed is provided.  Red root pigweed is more toxic than spiny root pigweed, but is less common.  Pigweed can accumulate nitrates, so sudden death is the most common outcome.  It also contains oxalates, so renal failure can also occur.

Black nightshade is common in croplands, and like pigweed, in often in high traffic areas.   The green fruit is most toxic, so cattle should not have access to nightshade during this stage, and nightshade remains toxic in harvested forages.  Nightshade is toxic to the nervous and gastrointestinal systems, and causes weakness, depression, diarrhea, and muscle trembling among other signs.  Bullnettle and horsenettle are in the same plant family as nightshade.  They are also toxic, although less so, and are usually avoided by livestock unless other forages are not available.

Blue-green algae blooms in ponds can also occur in hot weather.  They are most common in ponds with high organic matter, such as ponds where cattle are allowed to wade, or where fertilizer runoff occurs.  The blue-green algae accumulates along pond edges, especially in windy conditions, and exposes cattle when they drink.  Both the live and dead algae are toxic.  The toxins can affect the neurologic system causing convulsions and death, sometimes right next to the source.  They can also affect the liver, causing a delayed syndrome of weight loss, and photosensitization (skin peeling in sparsely haired or white haired areas).

Perilla mint causes acute bovine pulmonary edema and emphysema (ABPE), usually in late summer.  It grows in most of the central and eastern United States and is common in partial shade in sparsely wooded areas, and around barns and corrals.   There is no treatment, so prevention is critical.

Cattle with access to wooded areas may eat bracken fern.  Cattle must eat roughly their body weight over time before toxicity occurs, but may do this in situations where other forage is not available. Braken fern toxicosis causes aplastic anemia.  Fever, anemia, hematuria, and secondary infections are some of the most common signs.

As summer moves into fall, the potential for acorn toxicosis increases.  Cattle have to eat large amounts usually to become sick, but those that are in poor body condition and hungry are more likely to do so.  Clinical signs include constipation or dark, foul-smelling diarrhea, dark nasal discharge, depression, weakness and weight loss.

The lack of summer forages and the need for supplemental feeding during a drought can increase the likelihood of feeding “accidents” and toxicities.  Producers may be tempted to feed cattle pruning’s of ornamental plants, many of which are highly toxic.  Grain overload is also a potential problem if access to concentrate feeds are not controlled.  Salt toxicity can occur if hungry cattle are allowed free access to high salt containing “hotmixes”.  Even though these are meant to limit intake, initial intake can be high enough to cause toxicity in starved or salt deprived cattle.  Feeding byproduct feeds, candy, bread, screenings, etc. may also be more common, all of which have the potential to cause problems.  Producers may also be tempted to feed moldy hay or feed, which can lead to toxicity problems.

With careful planning, plant toxicities can be avoided. If you have questions on toxic plants and how to identify/avoid them, please contact your local veterinarian or Extension agent. If you have further questions please feel free to contact me at, lstrick5@utk.edu, or 865-974-3538.