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Drought Information Resources

 

Mississippi Beef Cattle Producer Guide to Coping with Drought Conditions

 

Mississippi Beef Cattle Producer Quick Reference for Dealing with Drought

 

Interactive Video Link from August 7, 2006 Drought Information Session

 

For answers to animal agriculture production questions related to drought:

MSU Extension Service Livestock Hotline (662) 325-3516

Click here to submit livestock-related drought questions to a MSU Extension Specialist

 

For drought-related livestock assistance inquires:

Mississippi Board of Animal Health Hotline (888) 722-3106

USDA Farm Service Agency Mississippi office (601) 965-4300

USDA Farm Service Agency Disaster Assistance

USDA Risk Management Agency Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage Insurance

USDA Risk Management Agency Livestock Risk Management Information

Mississippi Animal Disease and Disaster Preparedness Program
 
Drought-Related Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I am running out of forage. Is early weaning a good idea?

 

Answer: Early weaning is often used to improve cow condition for rebreeding, particularly when forage is limiting. The nutrient requirements of a dry (non-lactating) cow are approximately 50% lower than the nutrient requirements of a lactating cow nursing a calf. Research shows that when the stress of lactation is removed by early weaning, cows gain body weight and condition. A Florida study reported that early weaning thin cows resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of total digestible nutrients (an indicator of dietary energy often referred to as TDN) needed to support cow body weight gain. Early weaning also effectively initiated postpartum estrus in these cows. Improved pregnancy rates in cows with early-weaned calves have been documented by numerous researchers. Early weaning may be most beneficial in years when pasture production is inadequate to support herd nutritional needs. Do not wait until the cowherd has lost significant body condition and forage availability is very limiting to early wean.

 

Calves can achieve dry matter feed conversion rates of 5 to 8 lbs. of dry matter per 1 lb. of gain. Because early-weaned calves can gain weight efficiently, it may be advantageous to retain calves and feed them for a period of time. This allows for more flexibility in calf marketing. By feeding early-weaned calves a concentrate-based diet from weaning time until the time they would be conventionally weaned, research consistently shows that their body weights will be equal to or greater than the body weights of calves nursing their dams up to conventional weaning age. Operations developing heifers for replacements may want to consider less aggressive preweaning nutritional management strategies to prevent negative impacts on long-term productivity. Choosing the most appropriate early weaning diet should take into account whether or not calf ownership will be retained through the feeding period and feed cost and availability. Steers weaned at approximately five months of age versus seven months of age have been shown to have lower feedlot feed intake and better feed conversion. Research indicates that early-weaned calves tend to gain less in the feedlots, have lower carcass weights, and have similar yield grades compared to calves weaned at traditional ages.

One of the challenges with early weaning is getting calves started eating and drinking. In situations where calves are weaned at a very young age (less than three months), intensive management may be necessary. These extremely young, lightweight calves are highly stressed from weaning and may display a wide variation of eating and drinking behavior. It is critical to get these young calves trained to a feed bunk and water trough as quickly as possible to reduce the risk of illness. To both lower the risk of health problems and promote calf growth, implementing proper vaccination programs in consultation with a veterinarian and getting calves accustomed to concentrate feeds is essential prior to weaning. Furthermore, low-stress weaning techniques such as fenceline weaning or fitting calves with anti-nursing devices may be valuable in early weaning programs. Increased labor and feed costs are typically associated with early calf weaning and subsequent backgrounding along with the need for a separate feeding or pasture area. These increased costs may be easily justified during drought conditions or when herd females are thin and run the risk of low rebreeding rates.

With seedstock cattle, make sure that breed association weaning age windows are adhered to for performance reporting purposes when considering early weaning. Contact the respective breed association for weaning age requirements. Early weaning just part of the herd could be a good option as well. Start by early weaning young, pregnant cattle.


Question: Will creep feeding help stretch my forage or reduce lactation demands on my cows?

 

Answer: Generally, creep feeding will not greatly reduce grazing pressure on pastures nor reduce the strain that nursing calves are putting on their dams. However, the weaning weight advantages of creep feeding have been documented in numerous research trials. Creep supplementation may be attractive in situations of low forage quality where calf nutritional needs to support acceptable growth are not being met. Early weaning may be a better alternative to creep feeding when forage quantities are extremely limiting.

 

The decision to supplement nursing calves impacts preweaning and postweaning performance and should take into account cost and availability of feed and forage supplements, replacement heifer concerns, calf prices, and calf marketing plans. The value of improvements in calf gains and marketability should offset the cost of supplementation. Look at creep supplementation as a management decision that is evaluated with each calf crop instead of as a management practice conducted each year.

 

No difference in milk intake but higher total intake (milk + forage + creep supplement) was observed in a research trial of nursing calves with access to creep supplement. According to several studies, no differences in cow performance were observed by changing the length of the creep feeding period. Other research indicates that cows with creep grazed calves have more body condition at weaning and entering late gestation than cows with non-creep-grazed calves.

 

Profitability of creep feeding may depend in large part upon current market conditions. Typically, when calf prices are high, creep feeding becomes a more viable and profitable option than when calf markets are lower. Seedstock producers should also consider how increased average daily gains and weaning weights due to creep supplementation affects and in many cases improves marketability of bulls.


Question: What can I expect if I do nothing to help meet the nutrient demands of cattle on drought-stressed pastures?

 

Answer: Thin cows and lightweight calves are a likely result if nutrient demands of the herd are not met. If cows are allowed to decline to a state of poor condition, then additional nutrients will be required to regain lost body condition. Research has consistently shown that reproductive rates of thin beef females are lower than those of cattle in moderate to high body condition. Dramatic declines in pregnancy rates occur when cows fall below a body condition score of 5 (moderate condition with general good overall appearance with spongy fat cover over ribs and palpable fat cover on either side of tail head) on the 1 to 9 scale for beef cattle. A change of one body condition score on this system equals approximately 75 to 80 lbs. change in body weight on an 1100 lbs. cow. Although there is added expense in supplemental feed, the cost of having thin cattle that do not rebreed or calves that do not grow like they should can be even more costly to profitability. In addition, dramatically reduced weaning weights for calves from inadequate nutrition can hurt profitability.


Question: I am considering reduced herd numbers to reduce forage and feed demands on my operation. Which cattle should be culled first?

 

Answer: During drought or other conditions where forage and feed resources are limited, culling deeper into the herd than normal is often appropriate. Culling can help alleviate grazing pressure on drought-stressed pastures and decrease overall operation demand for supplemental feed or forage. Stocker operators running short of forage may want to consider shipping cattle to feedlots early and can still take advantage of retained ownership opportunities as they pencil out. In cow-calf operations, prime candidates for culling are open (non-pregnant) cows, cows without calves, cows with physical defects (cancer eye, bad udder, feet and leg soundness problems), older cows (10 years old and older), poor producers, late calving cows, cows outside of the desired calving season, and bad temperament cows.

 

A logical culling order that may be used is as follows:

Open old cows
Open replacement heifers (still young enough to feed out and meet fed market targets)
Old cows with unsound mouth, eyes, feet and legs
Open cows of any age
Thin cows over 7 years old (body condition score < 4)
Very late bred 2 year olds
Healthy bred cows that are over 7 years old
Healthy bred young cows 2 or 3 years old
Healthy bred cows 4 to 7 year old cows

 

Cull cow price levels and seasonal trends should be taken into consideration when deciding when to sell cull cows. When cull cows prices are trending upward, it is often advantageous to wait to market cows if the increasing values can cover added production expenses from holding over cull cows. It may also be advantageous to retain cull cows until weight and body condition can be added. Unlike feeder cattle prices, cull cow prices generally increase on a per pound basis with increasing cattle weights. If cull cow prices are trending downward, however, it may be advisable to market cull cows in a timely manner before more money is invested in cow maintenance, particularly if this investment will not likely be recovered. In Mississippi, the traditional seasonal highs for cull cow prices usually occur in March, while the seasonal lows usually occur in November.


Question: I am concerned about having enough forage and feed going into the winter. What can I do now to plan ahead for winter feeding?

 

Answer: Priority should be placed on determining nutrient needs of the cattle herd. The best time to improve cow body condition in preparation for calving and breeding is in the months right after weaning. Daily dry matter intake needs approach 2% of body weight for mature cows immediately after calves are weaned. As calving nears, dry matter intake needs will increase, and after calving daily dry matter intake levels should be closer to 2.5% of body weight. If hay quality/supply appear short and grazing plans cannot provide adequate levels of nutrients for the herd, then supplemental feed may become necessary.

 

Plan cool-season grazing to limit the amount of hay and supplemental feed needed. Develop a cool-season forage plan for this winter keeping grazing needs in future winters in mind. Annual ryegrass and tall fescue are two common cool-season grasses that are used in many winter grazing programs in Mississippi. As an annual forage crop, annual ryegrass acreage decisions should focus on cool-season forage needs for this winter and spring. Tall fescue, on the other hand, is a perennial forage, so tall fescue fields established this autumn need to be pampered during establishment and not grazed until next spring. Therefore, do not plan for acreage established this autumn into tall fescue to be part of the winter feeding plan for this year. Instead, it should be considered a component of a long-term winter-feeding plan where additional cool-season forage production is desired. Small grain forages, such as oats, wheat, and rye, are worth considering also, as they can compliment annual ryegrass production by providing earlier grazing.

 

Stored forages and feeds should be located, evaluated for nutrient value and price, and purchased or forward contracted. Many hay suppliers fill orders to a regular customer base first before marketing to new customers, especially when hay supplies are tight relative to hay demand. Word of mouth is a common way of locating hay supplies. The Mississippi Market Bulletin and Internet-based hay directories (Mississippi Hay Directory) are also potentially useful sources of information on hay suppliers.

 

By-product commodities are a viable feed alternative to commercially mixed supplements. Take time to evaluate both commodity feeds and commercial supplements to determine what ingredients price in as the most cost-effective to achieve target production levels. It is useful to reevaluate diets over time as feed prices and availability change to make sure that the cost of the current nutritional program is reasonable in comparison with other feeding options. The Mississippi Commodity Feed Sources Directory includes contact information for commodity feed manufacturers, brokers, and dealers to assist producers in locating feed supplies.

 

By-product commodity prices for many common ingredients in beef cattle diets often follow seasonal price trends. Dried distillers grains usually reach seasonal lows around early autumn. Whole cottonseed prices, on the other hand, tend to start falling after June and usually reach annual lows in October and November. Cottonseed hull prices tend to climb in November and December over September and October prices and then drop again in January and February. The best prices on soybean hulls are typically in early summer, with soybean hull prices often rising after August before starting to decline again after January. Prices of wheat midds are generally lowest in May and reach their peaks in December. Price trends in the current year can always buck the traditional seasonal trend, however, so it is important to stay up to date on current commodity prices. Pool resources with neighbors when possible. Purchasing feed in bulk can often reduce cost per unit.

Just because certain by-products are cheap in terms of dollars, does not mean that they are necessarily a good value. The nutritional makeup of feeds and what they will contribute to beef cattle performance determine their true value. Farm feed storage, mixing, handling, and feeding capabilities also determine the feasibility of different diets for the herd. Specific feeds can have characteristics that require special handling considerations, as in the case of the flowability limitations associated with fuzzy whole cottonseed. A cornstarch coating process for whole cottonseed shows promise for alleviating this handling problem though. Some feeds can be fed free-choice in self feeders, while others required daily hand feeding. Because each feed has its own unique feeding advantages and limitations, it is worth the time to visit with someone who is competent in formulating beef cattle diets to avoid any potential nutritional problems or disorders in the herd.

Using ionophores (monensin or lasalocid) in cattle diets can improve gains on high-roughage diets and efficiency of high-grain diets. Consider incorporating ionophores into beef cattle nutritional programs. However, be cautious about using these products where other classes of livestock such as horses are relying on the same feeding areas or equipment as ionophore ingestion in small quantities can be fatal to these animals.


Question: What are brassicas and how can they be used for grazing in a drought?

Answer: When drought limits hay stocks and forage resources, many producers look towards alternative forage crops to help offset this shortage. The use of Brassica crops (Turnip, Rape, and RapeXTurnip hybrids) is an alternative to consider. While brassica crops are not very drought tolerant themselves, they can be planted in late summer and will be ready to graze very quickly (relative to other annual crops).

 

Adequate fertility (N,P, and K) and grazing management are needed in order to extract maximum benefit from these crops. Producers need to wait until the crop has reached a certain maturity before grazing (40-60 days from planting or when the crop is about 12-20"). Introduce animals slowly with an alternative feed sorce (hay or old pasture). If the animals have not eaten brassicas before, then it will take a day or two for them to work out that they are good to eat. Once this occurs the animals will prefrentially graze the brassicas, so care needs to be taken not to overgraze (leave 4-5" of stubble height).

 

Brassicas are extremely high quality, so a roughage source should be feed with the crop (at least 25-30% of the diet should be hay or grass pasture). The brassicas can also be seeded with annual ryegrass and small grains, but cut the recommended seeding rates
for the grasses back to 2/3. Brassicas are suitable for cattle, sheep, and goats but are not recommended for horses.


Question: Can sweet potatoes work in a beef cattle feeding program?

Answer: Sweet potatoes can serve as a highly palatable and digestible energy source in beef cattle diets. They are often readily available in Mississippi at relatively low cost versus many other feedstuffs for cattle. There are some important considerations that must be managed in order to safely feed them to cattle.

 

Sweet potato roots are high-moisture feedstuffs that serve primarily as an energy source. They contain approximately 80% moisture, 8% crude protein, 6.5% acid detergent fiber, and 25% neutral detergent fiber on a dry matter basis. Much of the total protein is not digestible. Sweet potatoes contain practically no fat or the fat-soluble vitamins important in cattle diets (vitamins A, D, and E). However, culled sweet potato French fries may contain high levels of fat that can lead to digestive upset in cattle if not fed in moderation.

 

Nearly half of the protein in sweet potatoes is non-protein nitrogen. Because of this, take care to avoid feeding raw whole soybeans in combination with sweet potatoes as this can be a deadly combination. Use other non-protein nitrogen feeding precautions, such as avoiding feeding to young, lightweight calves. Sweet potatoes tend to be low in minerals needed by cattle. In particular, the calcium content of sweet potatoes is variable, but is often relatively low. Cattle diets high in sweet potato content must be supplemented with protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

 

Severe dental decay can result from pH problems in sweet potatoes. Long-term feeding of sweet potatoes increases the likelihood of dental problems in cattle. This is of particular concern in situations where cattle remain in a herd over a period of years where sweet potatoes are a routine supplement, such as may be the case with breeding cattle.

 

Cattle can choke and even suffocate when eating sweet potatoes. Chopping potatoes will help prevent choking in cattle, but they can be fed whole if necessary. Choking risk is minimized if cattle keep their heads down with their throats extended while eating. To accomplish this, feed cattle from low troughs and use a bar or electrified wire placed above the troughs to prevent cattle from raising their heads while eating. Try also to reduce cattle feeding competition to keep cattle from rapidly gulping down sweet potatoes and choking. Allow adequate trough space for the number of head fed.

 

Avoid using rotten, molded, sprouted, or frozen potatoes as a beef cattle feed. When feeding cull sweet potatoes, use only fresh potatoes. Molded sweet potatoes can contain mycotoxins that can be fatal to cattle when consumed. Mycotoxins can be present even when there is not visible evidence of mold. Sprouted or sunburned potatoes can contain toxic glycoalkaloids. The concentration of these toxins increases with exposure of the sprouts or peelings to light in warm, moist conditions. Remove long sprouts before feeding. Glycoalkaloid toxicity signs include staring eyes, dilated pupils, trembling, staggering, weakness, and possible convulsions. Never offer frozen potatoes to cattle because of the choking risk.

 

Sweet potatoes are better used in mature or yearling cattle diets than in calf diets. Because sweet potatoes are high in readily fermentable starch, adjust cattle to the potatoes gradually to minimize the risk of digestive disturbances such as acidosis. Start by feeding two or three pounds of sweet potatoes per head per day and slowly increase feeding amounts over a period of several weeks until the cattle are getting the desired amounts. Sweet potatoes are not a good fiber source for cattle. Make sure that cattle have a free-choice source of roughage available to them at all times when feeding sweet potatoes.

 

Fresh sweet potatoes can substitute for at about one-half of the grain fed to cattle. Wet potatoes or dried potato meal may be used as cattle feed up to about 20 to 25 percent of the diet on a dry matter basis. Sweet potatoes and their processing wastes can be ensiled for use as a cattle feed. When making ensiling sweet potatoes, include 1 pound of dry grass hay with every 4 pounds of sweet potatoes. Alternately, mix 4 pounds of corn silage with every 1 pound of ensiled sweet potatoes. Producers may notice loose manure and increased urine production in cattle when feeding large quantities of sweet potatoes.

 

There is limited information about cattle performance on sweet potato-based diets. Because of the high moisture content of many sweet potato products, rumen fill can limit performance. This may necessitate feeding additional roughage or grain. One feeding trial in Pontotoc, MS comparing cattle fed 4 pounds of corn and 1.75 pounds of cottonseed meal per head per day to cattle consuming 1.5 pounds of corn, 2 pounds of cottonseed meal, and 10 pounds of sweet potatoes showed no differences in animal average daily weight gains over an 84-day period.


Question: How can I get the most out of my hay supplies?

Answer: Conserve the hay crop that is available by minimizing hay storage and feeding losses. Barn storage is ideal for hay, but there are many other methods of hay storage (tarps, on wooden racks, on gravel, proper site selection and bale orientation, etc.) that will reduce storage losses compared to outside storage on the ground. Hay storage losses of 30% or more are common in the Southeastern U.S. over several months of outside storage on the ground. Feeding losses from trampling, refusal, and leaf shatter can exceed 50% of hay dry matter in extreme cases. Do not allow cattle unlimited access to hay. Hay racks and rings will help reduce hay feeding waste. Also feeding high quality hay can result in less animal refusal.

 

For more efficient use of nutritional resources, cattle can be divided into feeding groups based on nutrient needs. As a general rule, lactating cows need higher nutrient levels than dry cows, and first-calf heifers need higher nutrient percentages in their diets than mature cows. The better quality hay should go to the feeding groups with higher nutrient needs. Another approach is to allocate higher quality grazing paddocks to the feeding groups with higher nutrient demands.


Question: Can rotational grazing help my forage situation in time of drought?

 

Answer: Rotational grazing is a good method for managing forage utilization, particularly during a drought. Do not overgraze pastures. While this might sound difficult with low forage growth rates, try to keep at least a 3” of post-grazing residual on pastures. Water loss through evaporation is much greater on bare ground than where a good plant cover is present. To avoid overgrazing, try to limit graze animals for a few hours a day and then move them to an area where hay or other supplemental feeds can be fed. Pastures that are not overgrazed will also retain more water and recover more quickly once moisture does arrive. Simple electric fencing systems can be used for rotational, limit, or strip grazing.


Question: Can CRP ground be released for grazing during a drought?

 

Answer: The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a voluntary program for agricultural landowners that encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, such as tame or native grasses, wildlife plantings, trees, filterstrips, or riparian buffers. Farmers receive an annual rental payment for the term of the multi-year contract. The program is funded through the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). CRP is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) providing technical land eligibility determinations, conservation planning and practice implementation. For more information on CRP, contact your local FSA office or visit FSA’s website. Mississippi county FSA office contact information is available online as well. Your local FSA office can answer questions about CRP grazing restrictions and options in times of drought.


Question: Is there insurance available on pasture and hay losses that can help me better plan for future droughts?

 

Answer: USDA recently announced the availability of two new pasture insurance programs from USDA's Risk Management Agency. These programs, the Rainfall index insurance program and the Vegetation index insurance program are intended to help producers who have suffered from drought conditions better prepare for future conditions. For complete details about these programs, visit http://www.rma.usda.gov/policies/pasturerangeforage/. In addition, buying a livestock insurance policy is another risk management option. Producers should always carefully consider how a policy will work in conjunction with their other risk management strategies to insure the best possible outcome each year. Livestock insurance agents and other agri-business specialists in the private and public sectors can assist farmers in developing a good risk management plan. The USDA Risk Management Agency website is a good resource for livestock insurance information: http://www2.rma.usda.gov/livestock/.


Question: Should fertilizer be applied during a drought?

 

Answer: Identify areas of the farm that have better water-holding capabilities and apply fertilizer inputs on these areas only. While this may not always be the case, most producers will have a mixture of soil types on their farms. It is often very easy to see these in a drought, as the ridges become brown and the valleys or bottoms stay green. If these different areas are identified, then it is better to put your nitrogen fertilizer on the ground with better water-holding capacity and avoid wasting fertilizer by applying it to the more drought-prone soils. In fact, applying nitrogen fertilizer to drought affected pastures can be very dangerous as the plants will take up the nitrates until they reach toxic levels in the plant, and this can kill cattle and other livestock very quickly. If nitrogen fertilizer has been applied to drought-affected pasture, then it may be prudent to get a nitrate test conducted at the state chemical laboratory to make sure nitrate levels are below those considered toxic before grazing or making this forage into hay. Try to keep any N applications during a drought around 30 lb N/A or less to help reduce the risk of nitrate toxicity and to give the plants a better chance of using the N if the weather remains dry.


Question: Where can I get my forages tested for nitrates?

 

Answer: The Mississippi State Chemical Laboratory offers two nitrate tests. The qualitative test is $15 per sample and indicates whether or not nitrates are present in the forage sample. The quantitative test is $35 per sample and indicates a specific nitrate level present in the forage sample.


Question: What are the signs of nitrate poisoning in beef cattle?

 

Answer: Signs of nitrate poisoning include bluish discoloration of the skin, bluish-brown mucous membranes, labored or rapid breathing, muscle tremors, lack of muscle control, staggering, weakness, diarrhea, frequent urination, dark- to chocolate-colored blood, rapid pulse, possible coma, and eventual suffocation. Necropsy results often reveal brown-colored and badly coagulated blood. Pregnant females that survive nitrate poisoning may abort due to lack of oxygen to the fetus. Abortions generally occur 10 to 14 days after exposure to excess nitrates.


Question: Will nitrate levels drop if high nitrate forage is harvested as hay and stored for several months?

 

Answer: If forage has high nitrate levels, they will not fall once it is made into hay. Depending on the nitrate level, forage containing nitrates will need to be "diluted" with other feed sources to make the total nitrate levels less that 1% on a dry weight basis for feeding to beef cattle.


Question: Drought-stressed corn is available for grazing. Is this a good option for beef cattle?

 

Answer: It may be tempting to salvage drought-stressed dryland corn by grazing. Get a nitrate test first! Drought-stressed corn is a prime candidate for nitrate accumulation at levels that may be toxic to cattle. The highest risk typically occurs one for three days after a rain.


Question: During a drought are there any poisonous plants in Mississippi that I should be concerned about cattle consuming?

 

Answer: Perilla mint, nightshades, bracken fern, lantana, mountain laurel, and pokeweed are examples of poisonous plants that can cause problems in cattle when consumed. Buckeye (horse chestnut), wild cherry (black cherry), and oak trees can also cause potential livestock disorders if their leaves or nuts are consumed. In most cases grazing cattle with a good supply of forage and or hay will not consume poisonous plants. However, with limited forage availability, pastures should be searched for poisonous plants common in Mississippi and cattle should be checked for problems on a regular basis. MSUcares pasture weed ID pictures


Question: Are there any nutritional concerns with drought-stressed pastures other than nitrate poisoning or poisonous plants that could affect my cow herd?

 

Answer: Vitamin A deficiency can be a problem on drought-stressed forages. Actively growing forages normally provide acceptable levels of Vitamin A to beef cattle. Supply cattle with a complete mineral supplement at all times. Include at least 200,000 units per pound of Vitamin A in the diet. Vitamin A is required for normal night vision, epithelial cells that line body surfaces and cavities, and bone growth.


Question: Is aflatoxin going to be a problem for my cow herd during a drought?

 

Answer: Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring toxic chemical by-product from the growth of the fungus Aspergillus flavus on corn and other crops such as peanuts and cottonseed. Aflatoxin contamination is generally a more substantial problem in very droughty years. However, very aflatoxin problems have been reported so far in 2006. Different animals can tolerate varying levels of aflatoxin contaminated corn. Finishing beef cattle can tolerate a higher level (300 ppb) than any other animal classification as established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. More information on tolerable levels in beef cattle is available in the Information Sheet "Minimizing Aflatoxin in Corn."

 

There is no reliable visual indicator of aflatoxin presence, including black light (as was often used in the past). The only reliable method to detect aflatoxin contamination is by chemical analyses. The MSU Chemical Laboratory (662-325-3324) can run this test or aftermarket kits can be purchased from various manufacturers. Samples cost $35 each at the MSU Chem Lab. Samples can also be analyzed by:

 

Envirologix (Lee Daughtry, retired Seed Director, MDAC-BPI: 662-418-1115)

Neogen Corporation

Romer Labs, Inc.

VICAM

Diagnostix

 

The variability associated with aflatoxin analyses is very high because very few kernels (1 per 1000 or so) are normally infected. Thus, a large sample and multiple analyses will help minimize testing variability. One of the best methods to reduce variability is to grind a very large sample of grain, then mix and subsample a portion of this meal for analysis.


Question: Will deworming help my cow herd in a drought?

 

Answer: Internal parasites are an additional burden on the cow herd. Visit with a veterinarian about internal parasite control programs best suited for your area. Mid-summer deworming offers the advantages of addressing a controlled parasite load in cattle with reduced chance for reinfestation in dry, hot weather.


Question: What are some tips on managing cattle during hot weather?

 

Answer: Cattle need access to clean water and a proper mineral supplement at all times. Ponds that are drying up may not provide adequate fresh, clean water for cattle. Alternate water sources may be necessary. Cattle should not have to travel long distances for water. Water requirements of cattle depend on a number of factors including air temperature, water temperature, milk production level, pregnancy status, physical activity, growth rate, diet type, moisture level in the diet, salt intake, and dry matter intake. Temperature increases from 50 degrees F to 90 degrees F can increase daily water requirements by 2.5 times

Ample shade should be provided (at least 30 to 40 ft2 per head for mature cows on pasture). If cattle crowd too closely together, limited shade can be worse than no shade at all. Shade options include natural (trees), permanent (barns and sheds), and portable shades. Strategic planting of trees along the west side of a pasture will help provide afternoon shade. If a metal roof is used on a permanent shade, make sure that it is insulated and does not radiate heat like an oven. Portable shades are usually less expensive than permanent shades and can be moved to accommodate different grazing systems. Shade placement should be strategic since it will affect cattle distribution and forage utilization. Shades need to be high enough (at least 10 feet off the ground) to allow adequate airflow. Good ventilation and airflow is also recommended for confined cattle.

Kentucky researchers have reported higher average daily gains in cow-calf pairs grazing toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue with shade than without shade. Feedlot studies conducted by Texas Tech University have shown that providing shade is effective in decreasing heat stress and lowering the negative effects of heat on cattle performance. Shaded heifers had higher dry matter intake and average daily gain than unshaded heifers. The incidence of dark cutters was decreased approximately in half in carcasses from shaded versus unshaded heifers.

Arrange to work cattle during cooler parts of the day instead of during the heat of the day. While working cattle in the late evening may seem like a good idea, cattle build up a heat load during the day and need at least six hours to dissipate heat and cool down from an extremely hot day. Researchers have observed cattle body temperatures reaching daily maximums at 10 p.m., well after outside temperatures peaked. If possible, try to work cattle early in the morning before the temperature rises to uncomfortable levels.

Make an effort to limit the amount of time cattle must spend in a confined area with limited air movement when working cattle. If cattle remain in a confined area for an extended period, then attempt to provide access to fresh, cool water. Very excitable cattle are particularly prone to heat stress. Practices that reduce cattle stress are beneficial during hot weather.

Implementing a few precautionary measures to help the herd beat the heat can make the difference in avoiding production losses associated with heat stress.

 
Livestock-Related Drought Publications
Nitrate Toxicity - Iowa State University article revised by MSU specialists, August 2006
Avoiding Nitrate Poisoning - Cattle Business in Mississippi, May 2006
Cow Culling Decisions - Cattle Business in Mississippi, April 2006
Creep Feeding - Pros and Cons - Cattle Business in Mississippi, March 2005
Early Weaning - When is it Appropriate - Cattle Business in Mississippi, April 2005
From Hay Making to Hay Feeding - Planning Winter Nutrition Programs - Cattle Business in Mississippi, September 2004
Helping the Herd Beat the Heat - Cattle Business in Mississippi, June/July 2004
IS1720 Diet Supplements for Livestock
IS1730 Replacing Hay With Grain
  
 
Weather Information Sources
MSUcares Weather Resources
 
Hay and Feed Source Information

Mississippi Hay Directory

Mississippi Commodity Feed Sources Directory

Mississippi Market Bulletin

Alabama Cattlemen's Association Hay Directory

Arkansas Hay Producers Database

Louisiana Feed Suppliers Directory

Louisiana Hay Suppliers Directory

Louisiana Market Bulletin

Kentucky Department of Agriculture Hay Sales Directory

Missouri By-Product Feed Price Listings

Missouri Hay Market Listings

National Internet Hay Exchange

Oklahoma Hay Directories In State Out of State

Tennessee Hay Directory

Texas Department of Agriculture Hay and Grazing Hotline

Upper Midwest Haylist

USDA Farm Service Agency Hay Net

USDA Memphis Weekly Feed Report

USDA Southeast Weekly Hay Report

 
Helpful Drought-Related Links

Alabama Drought Emergency Relief Effort Website

Dealing with Drought: A Resource for Cattle Producers (Angus Journal)

GeorgiaDrought.org

Iowa Beef Center Drought Management Resources

National Cattlemen's Beef Association Drought/Disaster Relief Website

National Drought Mitigation Center

NOAA Drought Information Center

North Carolina State University Drought Information Publications

Purdue University Drought Information

U. S. Drought Monitor