June is Dairy Month which means Dairy Breakfast, Farm City Days and Dairy Food Specials are common in the dairy communities around the country. These events provide a great opportunity to show the consumer how we take care of our cattle and the effort it takes to produce the food and products they enjoy. Opponents of modern agriculture may say we need to return to the old way of doing things and use fear mongering of “Factory Farms” in their message. Some interesting dairy farm statistics of today’s dairy farms compared to dairy farms in 1944 show how today’s farms need fewer cows and resources while producing significantly less waste and green house gases. Source J. of Animal Science, 2009
In my travels this week I have seen rows of corn emerging from recently planted fields and even a few fields of mowed hay. All indication of a warm spring which will lead to summer time temperatures and the risk of reduce animal performance due to heat stress.
Stress is a natural part of life for both cattle and humans. Some stress is unavoidable, such as stress associated with calving or weaning. But other stresses can be lessened with careful management.
On a short term basis, stress isn’t a bad thing. Stress prepares an animal for a “fight or flight” response. Cortisol and epinephrine are released during a stress event. These hormones facilitate increased heart rate, mobilization of glucose for a quick burst of energy, decreased sensitivity to pain and the suppression of nonessential processes such as digestion.
Newly weaned, fall-born calves are full of potential; potential for amazing gains as well as health issues. Backgrounding these calves on pasture this spring can help minimize the potential for health issues, but sometimes gain can suffer. However, with proper supplementation, including an ionophore, you can maximize growth, and ultimately returns, while minimizing the risks.
Spring is just busier and more crowded!
Managing the Spring rush is associated with calving season on beef cattle operations with spring calving herds. Many dairy farms will notice a seasonal increase in calving during the spring as well. Grazing dairies will calve in the spring to match the nutrient demand with the available forage. Traditional confinement operations often see an increase in spring calving for two reasons. Many operations do not calve first calf heifers in the coldest winter months. Increased spring calving of mature cows is often a result of heat stress. Cows that fail to conceive due to the heat of July and August will often become pregnant in September. These cows will enter the dry cow pens starting in March with subsequent calving in April through June. The net result is often an overcrowded situation in the dry cow, pre-fresh and fresh pens. Overcrowding in these pens leads to increased fresh cow problems after calving, most notably ketosis and uterine infections.
American agriculture is a world leader because of the innovation and hard work of the American Farmer and Rancher. Adopting new technologies has been at the center of this success. Often the innovation is the result of a need to improve animal performance, health and well being or improved utilization of a limited resource. If the estimates of 9 billion people in the world by 2050 are correct, the primary limiting resources will be land and water. Maintaining the choice to use the tools and technology available is being debated and we are at risk of not having many of these tools. Changes occurring in our industry can be seen as an obstacle or opportunity to better communicate why and how we manage livestock. The Food Safety Modernization Act and the move to veterinary oversight using the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) for medicated feeds are great opportunities to build trust and accountability with the food consumer.
Vaccines are an important part of the annual ‘to do’ list of any livestock operation. However, with the ever increasing list of cattle vaccines available, the cost to vaccinate can range from $3/hd up to $9/hd, not including labor. When you consider how much of an investment vaccines are, can you take the chance that they won’t be effective?
As a popular pizza chain states, better ingredients make all the difference. The same can be said for our cattle. We need to give them the proper nutritional building blocks to allow them to perform as desired.
June is a busy month with many activities that will allow us to provide the general public a little more access to our cattle operations. June is Dairy Month with many activities such as Dairy Breakfast and Farm and City Days and for beef operations there are farm tours and breed association events. These are wonderful activities to highlight the care and dedication that is given to our animals. The interest of the general population in THEIR food supply is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, the availability of misleading information and outright deceptive information about production agriculture and livestock production is also very abundant. In addition, I take issue with advertising by some in the feed and food industry which contributes to the consumer’s confusion by implying that one a product is more wholesome or safer than another that is produced by a different production processes. I challenge you to take the opportunity to open the door a little wider to be even more transparent on your management practices. We need this to continue to gain the trust and support of the general population. If we fail to explain the technology we use, we run the risk of losing access to that technology.
As we approach the hot summer months, more and more producers are dealing with the nuisance of pinkeye. Pinkeye is a highly infectious bacterial disease. Although pinkeye is nonfatal, it costs cattle producers over $150 million per year. These expenses result from decreased weight gain, reduced milk production and treatment costs. Additionally, infected animals are worth less at sale time. Pinkeye is second only to scours/diarrhea in terms of diseases affecting calves.