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Managing the Cow Herd

    In the past two calendar years seed, feed, fuel, fertilizer and equipment costs have increased dramatically. For beef producers, high corn and hay prices have challenged us to consider alternative strategies to lower cost of production and/or increase income to improve profitability.
    Each operation has its own goals and unique set of resources, which include basal feeds, labor, storage and feeding flexibility and animal numbers, among others. No one approach is right for everyone, but a plan needs to be formulated for each operation that makes the most sense and provides the best opportunity for the operation to be profitable.
    There’s lots of ambiguity, volatility and complexity in the marketplace, so producers need to focus on being objective about their business and the environment they’re operating within, and they need to remain well informed to make good decisions.
Culling the herd
    Feed cost represents somewhere between 60 and 75 percent of the annual cost of keeping a cow. This year the annual cost, which includes both summer and winter, to feed a cow could easily exceed $500 per cow or more, depending upon the operation.
    The point here is that when we figure total cost to keep a cow for the year, it is going to be expensive. This year especially, is a good time to cull hard and keep only productive cows. Hence, only productive cows that provide the greatest opportunity to generate a profit should be retained in the cowherd.
    To be productive, a cow must first, be bred, preferably in the first 45 days of the breeding season, and secondly, have the ability, including the milk, genetics and soundness, to produce a heavy calf at weaning. Cows that fail to conceive, or have any problem(s) that will prevent her from weaning a heavy calf next fall, should be considered a cull candidate.
    Pregnancy checking and culling cows earlier versus later can add value to the cow. Cull cow prices have a seasonal cycle and are typically above average in August, but drop as we progress through September to November. Seasonally cull cow prices tend to peak in the February to March time frame.
    Forages, including hay, corn silage and haylage, are the typical basal feed in most cow operations. Each year, the two big variables facing producers are forage quality and quantity. With the high price of feeds, producers are often challenged to harvest or buy forages that can provide a large portion of the nutrients needed by the animal. Forages can be highly variable in their nutrient profile, and thus the recommendation to sample and analyze forages for nutrient content is justified this year.
    When forages are analyzed and it is determined that the available forage cannot meet the animal’s requirements, then a cost-effective plan can be developed to provide the deficient nutrients to economically optimize productivity. Typically this means utilizing feeds that are high in one or more nutrient categories (energy, protein, vitamins, minerals) that the forage is not meeting. Compared to a year ago, many areas of the region are in worse shape regarding hay inventory, as weather this year has impacted our ability to produce, harvest and store high quality forages.
    Feed the lowest quality forages to animals with the lowest nutrient requirements. Nutrient requirements are lowest for cows shortly after weaning when they are in mid-gestation. Requirements increase significantly as the cow enters late gestation, and increase again after calving. Young cows, have a requirement for higher quality feeds than older cows at every stage of production, thin cows have higher requirements than fatter cows, and cows experiencing winter wind chill factors below 30 degrees Fahrenheit have higher requirements than cows with shelter or wind break.
    The recommendation is to divide the cowherd into management groups by nutritional requirements. In cowherds where a limited breeding season of 45 to 75 days is used the management groups might be replacement heifers; young cows plus thin older cows; mature cows in moderate and above condition; and bulls. If the breeding season is significantly longer than 75 days, the number of management groups should increase to allow economical delivery of feed to cows according to their requirements during gestation as compared to lactation.
Limit feeding hay
    Recent research at Purdue University has shown that limiting cow access time to large round bales for one, two or four hours reduced forage disappearance by 72, 50 and 22 percent, respectively, compared to estimated free choice hay intake.
    With these limited access programs, when the hay consumed is properly supplemented, cow performance, or weight and body condition, is not negatively impacted. The ingredients and level of nutrients should be used to supplement these cows will be determined by cow requirements and forage quality.
    The take home message is that if we are feeding cows to the point of them leaving a little, we are probably feeding too much. Investments into a bale processor, while a large initial investment, will save a lot of feed and money by reducing waste and increasing digestibility of the forage.
Commercial supplements
    Commercial supplements are an option to add needed nutrients and to stretch limited forage supplies. In most cases, these commercial supplements will contain a combination of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals.
    The challenge for producers that are buying commercial supplements is to first find the correct supplement that will meet, without significantly exceeding the nutrient requirements of the animals they are feeding, and second to make sure it is cost effective compared to other alternatives. Many commercial supplements have been created to reduce labor, such as tubs and tanks, and the value assigned to convenience must be evaluated by each producer.
    High input costs are stretching our resources and stressing our minds. As we enter the last quarter of 2012, we need to make sure we have a feeding and management plan in place that will allow us to minimize our feed costs, optimize herd performance and maximize profit.
    The ability to manage costs is dependent on the ability to define the source of these costs and make decisions accordingly. Identifying opportunities to add value and improve management and genetics is dependent on a good record keeping system. It is clear that controlling costs and deriving the most value for our product needs to be the focus for all beef cattle operations. Each operation is unique, and consequently strategies, such as those outlined above, need to be evaluated within the context of their application to an individual operation.
    Scott Lake is the UW Extension Livestock Specialist and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
The Tumbleweed Law - Part One
Slade Franklin, Wyoming Weed and Pest State Coordinator

    Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two part guest opinion. Look for part two later this month.
    In 2011 at the request of the Wyoming Weed and Pest Council, the Wyoming legislature updated the state’s weed and pest laws. One of the least debated recommendations from the council was changing the name of the law from “The Wyoming Weed and Pest Control Act of 1973” to a condensed “The Wyoming Weed and Pest Control Act.” The simple change was not contentious with the legislature, nor did it represent any significance beyond shortening the name.
    It did however remove the false implication that the law has its roots in 1973. Most weed and pest control district employees, along with many other residents, are already aware that the state’s fight against noxious weeds and pests dates further back than 40 years.
    Some of them may argue the 1957 weed and pest control law as the beginning; others may argue the year was 1937 when the state held the inaugural “Pest Control Conference,” and others may suggest the state’s 1905 horticulture law, which was created to protect Wyoming’s orchards and fruit trees, was the forerunner to the program we have today.
    Although these events represent important milestones, none of them truly represent the state’s first weed law. Instead that distinction goes back 117 years to 1895, only five years after the territory became a state.
    The state’s first weed law was a reaction to one weed in particular, Russian thistle (Salsola tragus), or what many would recognize as the tumbleweed. In 1895 Russian thistle found the scorn of not only Wyoming, but many of the Midwestern states including North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The invasive weed became such a burden to Midwestern agriculture that in 1893 the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent their Chief Botanist Lyster Hoxie Dewey out West to investigate the extent of the issue.
    Dewey published his findings and testified in 1894 to the Congressional Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in Washington, D.C. His report opens by calling Russian thistle, “…one of the worst weeds ever introduced into the wheat fields of America.”
    The report went on to state that this one weed was responsible for inflicting $2 million worth of damage to crops in 1892 and $5 million worth of damage to crops in 1893. Mr. Dewey even suggested in his report that in 1873 when Scotsland, S.D. introduced Russian thistle through imported flaxseed, they did so purposefully in order to, “…inflict injury on an enemy.”
    Using Dewey’s testimony and recommendations, western republicans attempted unsuccessfully to secure $2 million in federal funding for the “extermination” of Russian thistle. The billed failed on the lack of support from southern legislators, who challenged it showed favoritism toward the western agricultural producer. One southern representative suggested if western farmers expect Congress to help them rid their fields of weeds, shouldn’t southern farmers expect Congress to help them rid their fields of sticks and stones.
    In Wyoming, Russian thistle made its first documented appearance in the summer of 1894 near Cheyenne. A specimen was collected by local resident F.J. Stanton and identified by the Wyoming Experiment Station. Quickly, news of the find made it into newspapers statewide. Certainly, the level of concern over the invasive plant both regional and nationally, helped mark its initial discovery in the state as newsworthy, and additional discoveries continued to be reported over the next few months.
    In October of 1894, the Cheyenne Daily Sun Newspaper blamed the railroad for the invasion stating, “The thistle is said to be most plentiful along the line of the road from North Platte to Cheyenne.” The state’s newspapers quickly made use of the negative cogitation associated with Russian thistle in their weekly opinions and banter:
    “The man who sees a Russian thistle and allows it to stand is an enemy to his state and the community in which he finds the weed growing.” (Cheyenne Daily Sun – Sept. 26, 1894)
    “‘Whatsoever a man soweth shall he also reap.’ Colorado has been sowing populism and now she is reaping a big crop of Russian thistle.” (Laramie Weekly Sentinel No. 22 – Sept. 29, 1894)
    “…it is clear that it has invaded the state and that unless some precautionary measures are taken, we shall have this state overrun by it as are already some of our neighboring states.” (Natrona Tribune No. 23 – Nov. 8, 1894)
    “The Derrick says that a new weed is becoming quite plentiful about Casper which is said to be the much despised but genuine Russian thistle. The Derrick urges its immediate extermination.” (Carbon County Journal No. 12 – Sept. 29, 1894)
    “Aid has been asked of the government to assist in ridding the Dakotas of Russian thistle, a noxious weed, capable of doing almost as much harm to the agricultural interests of the country as a democratic majority in congress.” (Laramie Weekly Sentinel No. 46 – March 17, 1894)
    “Mrs. J. Ellen Foster says, ‘An anarchist is merely a populist gone to seed.’ The seed they scatter is worse than the Russian thistle.” (Laramie Weekly Sentinel No. 14 – Aug. 4, 1894)
    With public awareness and concern over Russian thistle soaring, the Wyoming Legislature decided to act during the 1895 session. The House introduced House Bill 174, titled “Russian Thistle” which passed the House unanimously and the Senate on the last day of session with only one “No” vote. It was signed into law by Governor William Richards.
    The purpose of the law was to, “…provide for the destruction of Russian and Canadian thistle and kindred pests.”
    For the era the law was rather strong handed. Section 1 stated, “It shall be the duty of every person, company, association of persons, railway company, corporation and municipal or public corporation in this state to destroy or cause to be destroyed on all lands or premises owned, leased, occupied, controlled or used…the noxious weeds hereinafter mentioned, namely: the Aaesola kali tragus, commonly known as the Russian thistle, and the Canadian thistle.”
    The statutes went on to allow stiff penalties for non-compliance.
    “Any person, company, association of person or corporation…who shall fail or refuse to destroy or cause to be destroyed any of the noxious weeds mentioned…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined in any sum not to exceeding five dollars for each day that any such noxious weeds shall remain living…”
    Five dollars per day in 1895 would equal $130 per day in 2012. Yet, there is no documentation that suggests anyone ever paid the fine for non-compliance.

Species and cultivar selection and appropriate balance of grass-legume mixtures affect production and quality for the life of the pasture stand. No doubt that grass-legume mixture requires a high level of attention and management practices. However, there are many advantages of grass-legume mixtures over the monoculture, or pure stand, practices.
    Benefits from grass-legume mixtures include reduced nitrogen fertilizer requirements because legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen; increased protein and digestibility; extended grazing periods; more competitive ability against weeds; and better protection against plant heaving, cold injury and soil erosion because of better coverage. Additionally, mixtures are as easy to cure as hay; are tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions; result in reduced bloat potential when mixtures contain 40 percent or more grass; have reduced nitrate poisoning and grass tetany potential when mixtures contain 40 percent or more legumes; and have reduced lodging potential for legumes.
    To accomplish the above-mentioned benefits from grass-legume mixtures, some basic principles need to be followed.         First, keep the mixture simple. One grass and one legume in the mixture is often sufficient and more than four species mixture is not generally recommended.
    For compatible and most adaptive species, mixtures should contain similar and compatible growth characteristics and most importantly, are adaptive to the mixture of intended use. Most vigorous and rapid growth species may take over the others.
    It is also important to look at similar maturity date and palatability. Mixture species should have similar maturity dates and palatability. Different maturity dates and palatability will create many areas that will not be grazed by grazing animals and eventually will be dominated by unpalatable species.
    Additionally, high quality and pure seed selection is important. The latest cultivars have better agronomic characteristics with superior pest resistance ability and thus justify their use over the older cultivars. However, most adaptive cultivars are recommended to use. Local and regional variety test results are useful in selecting superior and adaptive cultivars and species.
    Anowar Islam is an assistant professor and the University of Wyoming Extension Forage Agroecologist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Arthritis: A Significant Health Issue for Ranchers and Farmers
Chelsea Hampton, Project Coordinator, Wyoming AgrAbility