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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

2015 Tri-State Cow/Calf Symposium 
Strategies for Success

By Chris Shelley, CSU Extension Livestock Agent 

Start the New Year off on the right foot by planning to attend the 2015 Tri-State Cow/Calf Symposium. Strategies for Success will be the focus of the symposium, which is to be held in Yuma Colorado on January 7, 2015. This meeting is a collaboration between Colorado State University, Kansas State University, University of Nebraska Lincoln, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The event is only held every other year but is designed to provide timely resources for beef producers.

Registration and a chance to view the exhibitors will start at 9:00 a.m. MST at the Yuma County Fairgrounds. The program will then begin at 10:00 a.m. and proceed until 3:30 p.m. Those in attendance will also have other opportunities to visit the exhibitors during the meeting.

The meeting will commence with a presentation about “Rainfall Predictions and Forage Production” by KSU Research and Extension Range Scientist, Dr. Keith Harmoney. Following his remarks will be Dr. Jason Ahola, Beef Production Systems Associate Professor from CSU, with “Assuring consumers about animal welfare – the beef industry’s response”. The morning session will conclude with information on “Avoiding Cattle Theft” by Yuma County Sheriff’s Deputy, CJ Fell.

The afternoon will pick up with more research-based information from university specialists. Marshall Frasier, CSU Agricultural and Resource Economics Professor, will address the topic of “Money Management and Taxes”. UNL Feedlot Production Management Veterinarian and Professor, Dr. Dee Griffin, will update attendees on the “Veterinary Feed Directive”. To conclude the meeting, “Economics of Rebuilding the Cowherd” will be discussed by Randy Saner, UNL Extension Educator.

The registration cost is $25 per person, $40 for couples, and $10 for students if registration is completed on or before January 2, 2015. Coffee, doughnuts, lunch, and a proceedings booklet will all be included with the registration fee. Booth spaces are available as well.

To register or learn more about the meeting contact Chris Shelley, CSU livestock agent, at 970-332-4151 or visit CSU Extension’s Golden Plains Area website at to register online.

Grazing Corn Residue

This year in Colorado, it is estimated that 960,000 acres of corn were harvested. Researchers have found that for every bushel of shelled corn harvested there are 50 pounds of residue left in the field. An acre yielding 180 bushels of corn would have 9,000 pounds of residue. Statewide cattle inventory is down, but Colorado still has approximately 2.5 million head, providing many opportunities to graze the residue. If the residue is grazed correctly, it eliminates the costs associated with harvesting and feeding other forages, and can be beneficial for both ranchers and farmers.

Grazing animals tend to congregate around water and mineral sources. To avoid sacrifice areas of compacted soil, move water and mineral sources if possible. Waiting until the soil is frozen to begin grazing will reduce soil compaction as well. However, the nutrient content of the residue decreases with time after harvest and it is recommended to graze as soon as possible. The normal freeze and thaw cycles in the spring can also reduce soil compaction after animals are removed.

Corn grain is often left in the field during harvest. It may be knocked off the stalk by wind or spilled as a truck makes or turn. Volunteer corn growth may rob yields from the next rotated crop. Cattle will preferentially search for corn grain first, reducing next year’s “weed” problem and weed control. Make sure to assess how much corn is in the field prior to grazing. If unusually high amounts of corn have been left in the field, the high starch grain can cause acute acidosis in cattle. If this is the case, it is best to either restrict cattle from the whole field by rotational grazing or adapt cattle to the high corn diet by feeding corn before grazing the residue.

There are benefits to leaving the organic mass of a previous crop residue in the field. As the plant litter decays, it will add nutrients to the soil. However, it is common to see corn stalks and stubble from several years earlier. Grazing cattle in your field will speed up the process turning the plant material into a usable fertilizer, manure, which will be spread throughout the field.

It is important to note that corn stalks are not a high quality feed. Although there is corn grain left over in field, corn stalk residue contains about 65% Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN) and 7.5% Crude Protein. It will continue to decrease in quality from weathering and as grazing animals eat the more palatable parts of the plants first. It can be used to feed cattle during all stages of production but may require protein supplementation in specific scenarios.

Younger growing animals and cows in the third trimester of pregnancy may require supplementation. It is also recommended to supplement cows that are less than a body condition score five as they need to gain condition for calving and re-breeding. Cows with a body condition score of five or greater do not likely need additional supplementation during early to mid-pregnancy while grazing corn stalks.

Although corn stalks may meet the energy and protein needs of certain livestock, a mineral and salt package needs to be provided. Corn residue is likely to be deficient in several of the minerals and vitamins. For any corn stalk questions, consult with your county extension agent and/or nutritionist prior to grazing.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Study Reveals Interesting Conclusion on GMO Food Safety

This study is a summary of feeding genetically engineered (GE) feed to commercial livestock.  The scientists at U. C. Davis analyzed over 30 years of animal feeding prior to and after the introduction of genetically engineered products in 1996.  They found that the "field data sets, representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops, did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health or productivity."

I recommend reading the full article which is found at the Journal of Animal Science here:
Prevalence and impacts of genetically engineered feedstuffs on livestock populations

Friday, August 29, 2014

Before You Buy Feed

By Chris Shelley, GPA Livestock Extension Agent (

When forage enters dormancy this fall and winter, many producers purchase feedstuffs for animal consumption. If you are planning to buy livestock feed there are some things you should know that could save you money. Feedstuff purchases can make up a large majority of the costs associated with livestock production.

Livestock do not have a requirement for alfalfa, corn, or even grass. What they do need are the nutrients contained in them. By thinking about nutrients rather than feedstuffs, we can more effectively purchase feedstuffs and feed livestock. There are six nutrients that all livestock species need. They are water, carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.

In most situations, you will have a choice on what feeds are available for purchase. It can be difficult to know what to buy and what your animals will need. A consultation with your county extension office can help you determine what nutrients your animals need and how much. Finding the animal requirements is the first step in any livestock-feeding situation.

After you know what nutrients you need, the next step is to see which feedstuff has those nutrients and at what price. Common feeds such as corn and alfalfa both have protein, but how much protein do they have and what is the price of the protein? Research has shown that nutrient concentration of feeds can very dramatically, especially in by product feeds. However, there are several methods to determine which nutrients your feed has and how much.

The visual appearance of the feed may give you an idea of the feed’s nutrient content. The color of the feed is a great starting point. The green color in most hays is a good indicator of Vitamin A content. If hay contains a high amount of stems to leaves, that means the plant was more mature when harvested. This will generally increase the fiber content and decrease the protein. A good visual appraisal will be very valuable in assuring you that no weeds or foreign contaminants are present, that the moisture level is correct, and that there is no mold or mildew. It is important to keep in mind that these are not precise measurements and will not accurately predict nutrient content.

The most reliable and accurate method for assessing nutrients is through laboratory chemical testing. Many feed producers will have their feed analyzed prior to selling it. The tests are affordable and county Extension Offices have resources to help you collect and ship samples.

By breaking down feeds into their respective nutrients, the livestock feeder can then compare “apples to apples”. Purchasing nutrients is much easier than purchasing feeds. It can still be difficult to know whether to buy alfalfa with 18 % crude protein at $195 per ton or alfalfa with 19.5% crude protein at $202 per ton. Colorado State University Extension has an easy to use feed and mineral cost comparison program available online. Visit the Golden Plains Area Extension website at

For a free nutritional assessment, contact Chris Shelley at 970-332-4151, or your local Extension Office.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Livestock Care During Hot Weather

by Chris Shelley

Livestock may suffer from heat stress or hyperthermia if the right conditions occur. Animals differ considerably from humans in their ability to cope with environmental factors. What may feel like a great day to us may be dangerous for your livestock. Many areas of the high plains have seen high temperatures and high relative humidity. These conditions combined with low wind speeds and solar radiation can increase the heat load on livestock. A reduction in performance, generally associated with decreased feed consumption, may be a symptom of heat stress. If conditions persist or the heat load is too extreme livestock may die. It is important to be aware of weather predictions and have a plan if these conditions arise.

Livestock weather indices are commonly used to assign index numbers to the ambient temperature and relative humidity conditions. These index numbers can then be used as a livestock warning system for severe weather. An index number less than 75 means that there are no heat stress concerns. Index numbers from 75 to 78 are a heat stress alert, where it is advisable to closely watch your livestock. Index numbers from 79 to 83 are heat stress danger, where animal losses may be increased. An index number of 84 or greater is a heat stress emergency. Under these conditions, immediate action should be taken to aid livestock. These charts can be found online and sometimes are broadcast by weather stations.

Temperature Humidity Index

Adapted from THI equation from Thom, 1951.

There are several methods to check animals for heat stress. The most accurate is to measure internal body temperature. Anything above normal body temperature may be an indication that the animal is suffering from some form of heat stress. Another symptom of heat stress is an increased respiration rate. Animals may begin to pant or breathe rapidly under heat stress. This can also be accompanied by slobbering and extended head and legs.

Adequate cool clean water is critical year round, but is the most important part in decreasing heat stress. Animals will use the water to cool their body temperature, but lose much of it through evaporation. Be mindful that they may drink more during very hot weather. Above 80 degrees, cattle generally will drink 2 gallons for every 100 pounds of body weight. A 1,000 pound steer can drink 20 gallons of water on a hot day.

Shade, sprinklers, and fans can also be very helpful to keep livestock cool but can be very expensive. Installation of these tools may be beneficial if emergency heat stress situations are common or if installation and operation costs are less than losses in production costs. Quick installation during emergencies is not always possible and planning should be done before the hot season.

A few additional factors may make some livestock at higher risk of heat stress. Sick animals may be more susceptible to the heat and may need frequent monitoring. All animals are susceptible to heat stress, although animals with darker coats may absorb more solar radiation. Physical activity will increase the heat load on an animal. If animal activity is necessary, try to limit it to before eight o’clock in the morning.

If you would like more information on keeping your livestock comfortable, call Chris Shelley at 970-332-4151 or contact your local Extension office.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Researchers Map Livestock Locations

A recent study mapped the populations of livestock around the world.  The study used a 2007 world livestock database to assemble the following maps.  The map includes the estimated populations of 1.43 billion cattle, 1.87 billion sheep and goats, 0.98 billion pigs, and 19.60 billion chickens.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Where Did My Hay Go?

by Chris Shelley

Feeding your animals is likely one of the biggest expenses you face as a livestock producer. The price of feed can be very high, especially if you have it shipped. Have you stopped to consider how you are feeding your animals and if you can minimize the amount of feed being wasted? Minimizing feed wastage can help you reduce the amount of feed you need to purchase or grow.

Hay can be purchased as either a square bale or round bale. There are many things to consider in selecting the type of bale to use. Square and round bales differ in density, storage and feeding capabilities. Square bale density and confirmation will help reduce shipping costs, as each load can haul more hay. Shipping can reduce the amount of hay that you end up receiving where dense tightly packed hay will lose less. Although there is not much you can do about it, it is good to be aware that during transportation some hay will be lost. Again, square bales will lose less during transportation.

Unless hay will be used soon, storage options should be given some serious thought. First, how long will you store the hay? If it is for more than one season, bales left to the elements will deteriorate and lose many nutrients. To reduce nutrient loss indoor storage or bale covers with bales on gravel or tires should be considered for long-term storage. Hay losses for bales stored inside for more than 8 months are 2 to 5%, where losses of bales left to the elements can be as high as 50%. Round bale deterioration occurs most where the bale touches the ground or where water can collect.

Your feeding method can also play a roll in how much feed is wasted. The following table shows several feeding methods and the amount of hay that is wasted.

Feeding Round Bales to Cattle  

Feeding Method            Waste, % 
Roll-out on ground       up to 50.0
Cradle Feeder                       14.6
Trailer Feeder                        11.4
Ring Feeder                            6.1
Cone Feeder                           3.5

Unrolling a round bale on the ground is a conventional method of feeding hay; however, hay wastage can be high. Round bale feeders will go a long way to reduce the amount of hay wasted, but will also add equipment expense. If you feed hay on the ground, try to limit the amount fed to only one meal. Cattle will use excess hay as bedding and soil a high percentage.

Waste of feed can also depend on the animal species you are feeding. Selective eaters, such as sheep and goats, may avoid stems and eat only leaves, so further processing may be required. Cattle are not fussy eaters and have a mouth and tongue built for eating a lot of feed. This may cause them to drop feed on the ground. Consider how the species you are feeding eats, and feed accordingly.

There are pros and cons to each feed, storage system, and feeding method. It is also important to remember the amount of hay wasted is not the only factor to consider. Other considerations are ease of handling, labor, and equipment. An economic consideration of all hay and livestock feeding programs are necessary to determine what is best for you. Some hay wastage may be justified if it lowers costs on labor and equipment. For more information on hay losses or feeding your herd, contact me at 970-332-4151 or

Friday, April 18, 2014

Today's Pig Care

I am excited that more and more people are placing an emphasis on what they eat.  America's food production system is the best in the world, but there are still many challenges to face.  There are good practices and bad practices.  I am always thrilled when I see good people like this that really care for the animals they raise.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

More than Milk: Nutrion during Lactation

by Chris Shelley

Beef operations strive to have every cow give birth each year. We think of this as a one-year system, but in reality, the cow must be ready to breed before this time. Average gestation length for cattle is around 282 days, leaving less than 83 days for cows to recuperate and be ready for breeding time. This short period from calving to breeding is called the postpartum interval.

A two-year-old heifer that has just had a calf for the first time will take longer to reach estrous again and be ready for breeding than older cows. These young mothers are going through their first lactation and still trying to grow themselves. Estrous cycles will be more likely to resume sooner if cattle have proper nutritional management.

Lactating cows require 35-50% more nutrients to produce the important milk for their calf. Restricting or limiting feed intake can reduce high feed costs but may not prove beneficial at this production stage. Researchers have found that if cattle do not get enough feed during lactation, they will have lower conception rates. Likewise, inadequate nutrient intake during lactation can decrease weaning weights.

Many cattle producers will save some of their best feeds for this time to ensure desired conception rates. Low quality forage alone will typically not be adequate to meet the requirements of cattle in this situation. However, feeds that are low in quality can be used in rations balanced to meet nutritional requirements. The following table will help give an idea of the differences in a lactation diet and a diet following weaning. These data are estimates and it is always best to balance a ration to meet the production goals that you have for your animals. Over feeding can raise your feed costs while under feeding may hurt the productivity of your herd. By balancing a ration you can meet your production needs without wasting feed.

For help with balancing a ration for your herd, contact your local extension office.

Farmland Official Trailer #2. Depiction on the life of a farmer.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Livestock Record Keeping

by Chris Shelley

Riding the range, feeding hungry animals, and calving are all iconic parts of the western cowboy way of life. Today, winning the west requires more than just turning the cows out to pasture and hoping for rain. At the end of the day, the sustainability of the operation may very well be dependent on a pencil and a piece of paper.

When record keeping and the dreaded B word – Budget – are brought up, it is common place for eyes to glaze over and drowsiness to set in. The reality of being a manager is that you need to “manage” your operation. Record keeping is one of the most important decision making tools available to you and if utilized properly can increase the efficiency of your operation. Just as any household budget, record keeping may fall into categories of worthless, valuable, and overwhelming, depending on what type and how much information you are keeping. A detailed record book may be of little value if it is too overwhelming of a task to tackle.

There are also three methods to establish a record keeping program. Pencil and paper, Excel spreadsheets, or computer software. Whichever method you prefer, the following are important measures that you can begin to collect to build your record keeping program. Although the information is tailored for a cattle operation, it will apply to other species as well.

Herd Inventory (Individual/Unique Identification)
o Cows
o Bulls
o Calves

Reproduction Records for each Breeding Female
o Breeding date
o Palpation records
o Calving dates
o Calving difficulty

Animal Condition
o Periodic Body Condition Scores on all breeding females
o Birth Weight and Weaning Weight for all calves

Health Records for each Animal
o Vaccination protocol
o Treatment date and drug used

Expense Report (Receipts)
o Feed
o Equipment
o Labor
o Lease Rental
o Medical Treatment
o Fuel

Income Report (Income/Sales Receipts)

Pasture Conditions

Colorado State University Extension provides many useful resources about record keeping. For more information visit CSU’s website for Ag. Business Management, stop by your local Extension Office, or call 970-332-4151.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Learning Labor

by Chris Shelley

There is no question that calf survival is vital to producer profitability. As such, you’ve probably been preparing for many months, but here are some considerations and tips to help your calving season run smoothly.

The first step to successful calving management is learning the three phases of cattle labor. The following table is a basic outline of how labor generally proceeds. Keep in mind, first calf heifers will probably progress slower than older cows.

Stage 1                         Stage 2                  Stage 3
2-6 hours                      1-2 hours               Delivery of  
Initial labor to full          Calf enters birth     placenta within
dilation of cervix            canal to delivery    6 hours
Ends with
observation or signs
of water sac

Also important in normal delivery is the presentation of the calf at the birth canal. The following figure illustrates the normal anterior and posterior position of the calf.

Figure adapted from Univ. of Idaho Cow-Calf Management Guide.

If one of these two positions is not achieved naturally, it must be corrected prior to the continuation of delivery. The anterior position, with the calves head and both front feet entering the birth canal, is most desirable. If the calf is presented correctly, most mothers (heifers included) will calve without assistance. However, complication in delivery may occur so be prepared to assist if necessary. Assistance that is not needed can sometimes be harmful to the mother, the calf, or both, so become familiar with what is normal and what is not. You can correct many of the issues of dystocia, but veterinary assistance should be sought in serious or difficult scenarios.

Common reasons for assisting may include:
· Stage 1 lasting for more than 6 hours
· The cow stops trying/pushing in stage 2
· 30 minutes pass in stage 2 with no progress
· Excessive bleeding

Common equipment for calving:
· Gloves and sleeves
· Non irritating disinfectant
· Obstetrical chains and handles
· Mechanical calf pullers
· Antibiotics

For more specific information on calving contact your veterinarian or local extension office.

Calving in the Cold

by Chris Shelley

For many Colorado cattle producers, spring calving season has arrived. Those who select early spring calving often do so in order to match forage availability with animal nutrient requirements. Cow and heifer requirements are highest at 45-60 days after calving, which is generally when forage quality and availability is also high. Timing calving so that these two factors coincide can help reduce the amount of stored feed a producer may need.

Colorado is home to cold and unpredictable weather during the spring. Temperatures during late February and early March are slowly on the rise, but inclement weather is always a possibility. Cold temperatures and precipitation during calving can be a challenge. Efficiency is maximized at temperatures where cattle do not have to burn a lot of energy to heat themselves up nor expend lots of energy to cool themselves down. When cattle need to compensate for cold weather they often require more food.

Calves undergo several major body changes following birth. One of the more important changes for calves is that they must begin to start generating their own heat. Prior to birth, the uterine environment provided everything for the calf, including heat. As evidenced by successful cattle operations around the world, new calves can survive a great deal of cold weather, but several things need to happen to ensure the calf is ready to combat the cold.

A wet calf is a cold calf. Calves are born covered in fluid which will decrease the calf’s temperature as it evaporates. Ideally, a good mother will lick the calf and remove most of this fluid. Licking the calf is also important in stimulating blood flow and getting the calf to stand up. Be mindful that not all heifers are diligent in “mothering up”. A wet calf uses more energy for heat production than it does for standing and finding the teat. Thermogenesis, heat production, requires metabolic fuel. Calves need colostrum - the sooner the better. Milk replacer can provide some energy for a couple of hours, but colostrum is best.

How can you tell if your calf is suffering from cold stress? One of the best tools is a digital thermometer. A thermometer, used rectally, can give a quick and accurate internal temperature to assess calf condition. Calf temperatures should be between 101º F to 103º F. Calves with cold stress will start dropping below 101º F, and they should be warmed immediately. Cold calves may not shiver. Caution - remember to wash the thermometer between use. This will help to prevent scours and disease transmission. Pay special attention to calves that have had a hard delivery. Calves that have suffered a difficult delivery have a higher risk of neonatal death, decreased colostral intake, and trauma.

What do I do if a calf has cold stress? There are several methods for warming a calf. Methods include using warm water bottles, warm water baths, heating pads, heating crates, calf jackets, or the cab of a truck. If a warm bath is used, be sure to dry off the calf afterwards. Some producers will warm the face, mouth, and neck areas first. The neck and throat area of the animal carries the jugular veins and carotid arteries fairly close to the surface of the skin. By warming these areas, it may be possible to increase core temperature faster. Figure out which method works best for your operation, and be mindful of sanitation and the spread of disease.

Cold weather accompanied with precipitation can really devastate your calf crop. Wind breaks and areas protected from precipitation become very important in reducing the exposure of your herd. Examine your calving area with the following ideas in mind:

· Find out which way the wind generally blows during your calving season and construct wind breaks accordingly (see this link for more on windbreaks).
· If snow or ice is covering the ground, it can cool down calves very quickly. Bedding, such as straw or old hay, can be excellent insulators from the cold.
· It can be helpful to separate heifers from older cows as heifers generally have a higher incidence of calving difficulty and may require more calf care.

For any further information or questions about calving, contact your local Extension office. Additionally, Colorado State University has an excellent calving resource for Dairy Producers at and the Calving Management Manual for Cow/Calf Operations is available at the CSU bookstore. During extreme calving complications, it is always best to consult your veterinarian.