Making the Best of Poor Cattle Feed

2/1/2014 7:00 AM
By Hayley Potts Virginia Correspondent

Va. Tech Hosts Beef Cattle Health Conference

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Sarah Holland, a veterinary resident at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, said she understands the difficulties of making hay in bad weather conditions. But she demonstrated how, if done correctly, it could still be used for feed.

Holland was one of several speakers at the Jan. 25 Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference, held at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg.

The conference was an opportunity for beef producers since it met the requirements for Beef Quality Assurance, or BQA, recertification.

Beef producers spent the morning listening to lectures on topics such as general lab diagnostics on herd health, botulism, current medications used by producers, intranasal vaccines, deworming, challenges of feeding poor quality hay and purebred cattle herd management.

Holland presented a lecture on how to turn poor-quality hay into feed. Beginning with an overview of what’s in hay, she explained the variations in energy found in different quality hay.

Holland said fiber limitations in a cow’s diet is one reason you can’t just feed larger amounts of poor-quality hay to meet a cow’s energy requirements. Cows can only consume 1.2 percent of their body weight in fiber, she said, which limits the amount of hay a cow can eat in a day.

She presented a solution of adding corn gluten to the feed ration which, along with hay, could meet a cow’s energy requirements. Corn gluten is a very viable option for many producers — it costs 10 cents a pound — as long as they have a way to feed and store it properly. The amount a producer needs to buy and supplement varies with calving season and weather conditions.

Holland also detailed the benefits of getting a hay analysis done to assess whether or not more energy is needed to meet a cow’s energy requirements. She also detailed how Virginia Tech has many field representatives able to assist farmers in performing the correct analysis.

Chad Joines, director of the Virginia Tech Beef Center, presented a lecture on proper purebred herd management techniques. He detailed how the Virginia Tech Beef Center manages four purebred breeds: Angus, Hereford, Simmental and Charolais. He detailed the most important aspects needed to be successful with a purebred herd.

Joines said customer service is the biggest thing. There is a lot of trust in purebred breed circles and word travels fast. If a buyer is not satisfied with their animal or the animal becomes injured, Joines said it is important to replace the animal and maintain a good relationship with the buyer.

It’s also important to produce an elite product in the herd and challenge cows every day, he said, adding that producers should choose matings to make offspring even better, each time.

Joines said each beef producer must be a promoter of their herd program and be a leader within the breed. In order to be successful with a purebred, program advertising is key. Joines justified offsetting the cost of advertising by saying, “you gotta pay to make it work,” adding that it’s also important to promote the product by attending sales and shows as well as advertising through Web pages, social media and breed publications.

Joines also talkd about the advantages of using practices such as artificial insemination, or AI, embryo work with elite cows, ultrasounding pregnancies and genetic testing. These practices are becoming standard for most purebred breeding programs and are necessary in order to market the product, he said.

Joines summarized his talk by saying that even though being a purebred breeder does come with additional costs in comparison to commercial breeders, there are many advantages to be gained.

Conference presenters included several professors, graduate students and interns from the vet school. The afternoon session included 30-minute labs on clinical procedures, an ultrasound demonstration, bull breeding soundness examination and a calf necropsy.

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