Friday, February 26, 2021

The latest word on milk digestibility from measuring Beta Casein


CONCEPTIONS   Dairy Route Newsletter                Summer 2019


Another research validates that A2 Beta Casein milk is better

It started in New Zealand, and was suppressed by Fonterra, the monopoly Kiwi milk cooperative who lo-ball markets powdered milk all over Asia.   Just like we hear about whenever certain ideas about milk production or content go public, “We cannot allow that!    It might make someone not want to drink milk!!”  the Kiwi dairy industry challenged the first research into differences in Beta Caseins. Later the World Health Organization repeated the research in Eastern Europe and found the same results.    Still the dairy cooperatives and processors ignored the implications and continued a policy of pooled supplies and volume pricing favors to the biggest milk producers.    But people now often choose not to drink milk, otherwise why all the hype for Almond and Soy “milk substitutes”?    One of the key issues big dairy has ignored is those many people whose digestion is upset by lactose (milk sugar) and the newly identified issue of A1 Beta Casein allergy, as documented in these researches.     Dairymen looking to the future began to DNA test their cows, identifying the gene locus for Beta Casein, discovering that breeds and bloodlines differ in their possession of A2 (desired) vs A1 (undesired) variants.

The latest research findings come from China (after smaller studies in Germany and in Oregon that were specific to lactose intolerance vs A1 allergic reaction) and are printed in the “Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition”.    In this study of pre-school children it was found that A1 Beta Casein has negative effects on both digestion (affecting growth) and cognitive performance (intelligence).  In other words, you can expect that there will be increasing attention to the value of A2 milk over “generic” milk from pediatricians and general health professionals.

Gaining the ear of milk marketers and geneticists

The problem of milk marketing being based on “pooling” (one milk truck picks up everybody) rather than “differentiating” (keeping unique milk supplies separate all the way to processing and labelling) must be solved, and to this date, it is the smaller handlers with close communication to their members who are able to get products like “A2A2” milk to the market.    As more consumers find these labels, it recovers customers who had given up on generic jug milk.    These consumers are paying a 100% premium over the basic retail price of commodity milk.

Today, you have a wealth of information on Beta Casein (digestibility and flavor), Kappa Casein (cheese yield), butterfat %, protein %, somatic cell scores, as well as recessives (eg, “fishy flavor” found in Ayrshire and Skandinavian Red breeds) that all combine to determine the potential premium value your milk could earn as the future milk market evolves.     You will find our latest price lists sort for “values”.

The future “premium milk” genetic package

The “ideal” genetic composition for a sire to breed you the cows of the future may look like this:    A2A2 Beta Casein;  BB Kappa Casein;  + % butterfat;  + % protein; not only + DPR but from a cow line demonstrating multiple calvings over a longer lifetime as verification of strong natural fertility.    These are the key traits that can align your cow herd with the key desires of the enlightened consumer and reduce to a minimum the costs of transportation and processing on the way to the store.


Just as you have seen famous, nationally and internationally recognized AI studs be absorbed into mergers during this period of milk price setbacks and oversupply you may also begin to see realignment and mergers of milk cooperatives and milk bottling brands suffering from the same declines in the price of their products and the cash flows generated.     More dairymen lost their milk market to older plants closing and milk haulers retiring than to any real desire by consumers to buy milk from bigger farms rather than smaller farms.

Producing what consumers are willing to pay for remains the long-term answer to success in food production just as is true in any other industry.    Choose sires  that add value to the milk makes more sense than continuing down the road that has led to financial misery for all dairy farms, large or small.    We will do our best to provide information for you to make profitable choices in genetic selection.  

Mich Livestock Service, Inc    “For the Best in Bulls”    ph (989) 834-2661

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Why do we recommend aAa (Weeks) Analysis over linear-based mating ?


CONCEPTIONS   Dairy Route Newsletter                Summer 2019

“aAa” is a universal language, by which you can directly compare sires from all over the world (USA and Canada studs analyze 3x yearly, European studs 2x, and Oceania [New Zealand and Australia] 1x yearly.)     While linear data profiles are designed to compare bulls against each other in the current generation, only “aAa” is designed to manage what changes from this generation to the next generation—how genotypes combine to produce a new phenotype.   

Friday, February 19, 2021



CONCEPTIONS   Dairy Route newsletter                                  Spring 2019

The choices have increased as this newsletter highlights.    In addition to those sires listed inside, do not overlook 525 HO 117 Ja Bob REX PP Red a homozygous polled “Red” sire who is A2A2 Beta Casein, calving ease, and noted fertility.

We are now seeing the first of polled Fleckveih sires in the dairy type lines as well.   In all, we have polled sire choices in Holstein, Red & White, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire and Fleckveih.

Polled is the ultimate “convenience” trait, once combined with other genes that have value (such as A2A2 Beta casein) your breeding program can align with what is most attractive to consumers and animal activists.



We are currently featuring  80 HO 338  Hulsdale B MACNUTT PP 99%   (aAa 243615)   (A2A2)

MACNUTT PP is owned by Browndale Specialty Sires of Ontario, and is currently #1 Type of all
homozygous polled sires (+14 Conf CDN), is the #1 LPI (3172) both for A2A2 Beta Casein and all polled sires, and is the #1 rated Feet and Legs bull (+16 CDN); not bad at +11 Mammaries.

CDN rates him +1050 kg Milk EBV with outstanding +0.25% butterfat and +0.12% protein.  His young dam “Hulsdale B Science Malaki P” is already VG-88 at three years of age, and her dam “Hulsdale B Windbrook Mahalo” is scored EX-90 at six years of age.

Think of all the points at which “MACNUTT” offers you a premium value both for convenience of guaranteed POLLED calves that will produce premium value butterfat and protein, walk on correct legs and feet, with “robot ready” udders, and he is that rare A2A2 Beta Casein source.


We also remain pretty excited by 777 HO 408  Falonasprings Jacot HULK P RED   (aAa 345216) whose unique dam is seven generations of EXCELLENT mature scores and has a lifetime 4.9% butterfat with 3.6% protein, milked in both Ohio and Alberta.     His sire “Jacot” is high type, high bf%, high pr% and no longer available in the USA—so “Hulk” offers access to rare blood.

No longer must Holstein breeders sacrifice anything to acquire the POLLED trait.   The best of cow lines, the best current sires, the best type, combines with long lifetime productivity at a premium milk price within our POLLED sire choices.


International Protein Sires has made a serious commitment to polled:

JERSEY:   566 JE 106   Golden Dream American PHARAOH P    (aAa 456231)  (A2A2 Beta casein)
This guy is 100% pure Jersey (not a JX) and ranks #1 for DPR and LIV, #8 for PL among Polled bulls.  Note his 17-year-old grandam is alive, still milking, with a multiplying maternal line.

JERSEY:   566 JE 108   Dutch Hollow OSCAR P         (aAa 234165)  (A1A2 Beta Casein)
This guy is 100% pure Jersey also and is maternal brother to the famous Duch Hollow Oliver P.   Their dam just finished a 305 day lactation begun at 7 yrs 8 months of 27650 lbs milk.    He is an elite type (#2 polled Jersey) with highest Jersey Udder Index of all polled sires.

JERSEY:   566 JE 109   Wetumpka Listowel NIGEL PP    (aAa pending)  (A2A2 Beta Casein)
Homozygous polled with +.07% butterfat and +.03% protein values.   +1.40 type as well.   100% Jersey pedigree, first four maternal dams all 5.2% to 6.0% butterfat

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1205  CLOUD NINE P *RC (aAa 216345)      7.8% calving ease                  

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1214  SIREN P                     (aAa 351426)      6.8% calving ease

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1228  LETS DEAL P *RC     (aAa 456231)      7.8% calving ease

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1234  PICK ME PP              (aAa 243156)      7.9% calving ease      A2A2

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1243  NEW DEAL P            (aAa 342516)      6.4% calving ease

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1249  FREEDOM PP           (aAa 243156)      8.3% calving ease       A2A2     

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1259  RAMP UP PP *RC    (aAa 432516)      6.7% calving ease       A2A2

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1285  CHILE PP                   (aAa 351426)       8.2% calving ease      A2A2

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO 1289  PRIME RIB PP *RC  (aAa 213465)       6.4% calving ease

HOLSTEIN:  566 HO LOYAL P RED                      (aAa 213645)       6.9% calving ease       A2A2

 New Generation Genetics now offers its first Polled Brown Swiss choice:

54 BS 586  Double W KADE *NP           (aAa 432)   A2A2 Beta Casein  and   BB Kappa Casein

+.10% butterfat  +.05% protein  with 395 pounds of milk  2.87 SCS and +3.0 DPR

+0.80 type with consistently plus linear traits on  udders           New options in polled choices

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

A Time of Change

 It is said there are three kinds of businessmen: those who make change happen, those who watch change happen, and those who wonder what just happened.


It is also said that every couple generations, we try to reinvent the wheel—which is a droll way of saying we fail to see that what is needed may already be here.


When it comes to restoring profitability to the business of breeding meat cattle, we need to understand the trends in meat consumption (so we target growing market sectors over those sliding into commodity price mediocrity) as much as we need to be able to figure our production costs under competing scenarios.


There is no doubt that planting a high energy digestible perennial grass pasturage and then training ourselves to manage cattle to graze it optimally, cuts farming cost costs significantly compared to annual row crop production and confinement feeding, in which the ruminant functions are inhibited.

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Bill Hodge interview

 From the Fall 2019 Beef Newsletter

Bill Hodge with his wife Di own Sustainable Genetics which has a long history in the selection and breeding of sound pasture cattle, adaptable to grass-fed growth and finish, including the importation of semen and embryos from the Pinebank Angus cattle of New Zealand.    They are based in Carrolton, Georgia, where I visited them in late July.


Bill’s journey in our industry started within extension and mainstream selection during the era of EPD  development (which has led to Genomic trait implementation).    Close observation of trends across cattle generations during the era of “cheap corn” (1970s-80s-90s) which spawned overexpansion in the feedlot industry, seeing cattle phenotypes change and cattle breeders in a struggle to maintain profitability at commodity beef prices, led him to change his views on what the industry needed to do to regain its health.


His first epiphany: Cattle evolved as ruminants to eat grass while grazing.    The most efficient cattle thus are capable of growth, reproduction and longevity on grass management.    Those more modern cattle that require corn and oilseed supplements to grow, reproduce and finish actually are not as efficient, given they generally fail to thrive when returned to grass.


The modern North American Angus cow (whose genes are in 70% of beef cattle fed due to the phenomenal success of “certified Angus beef” with meat retailers) has lost soundness in foot and leg structures, leading to chronic lameness in cow herds and failure to sustain breeding desire in natural service bulls.     A high percentage of the fastest-gaining Bulls in feedlot trials prove to be sterile (or at least non-freezable for semen storage) caused by fat deposits in the testicles that are similar to the fat buildup in the pelvic of their sisters, reducing female fertility as well.     Selection emphasis on EPD values for rates of gain post-weaning have failed to sort out the difference between edible “meat tissue” and  inedible “fat storage” in bloodlines.


More of Bill’s observations


Cattle bred for success on grass feeding and pasture management can adapt to and succeed in a corn-feedlot environment, whereas cattle bred for the North American focus on corn feeding and feedlot finishing will often fail when returned to a grass-based management system.


Within each breed, especially the English-type (Angus, Red Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn, Devon, Red Poll, Murray Grey) you have bloodlines that are more feed efficient in meeting all nutrient needs from a quality forage base.    But many of the Continental breeds were also developed on grass (which includes alpine breeds:  Swiss Simmental, Braunveih, Fleckveih, Piedmontese, and some French breeds) --  via selection of bloodlines with adaptable phenotypes,  feed-efficient, naturally reproductive cattle can be identified and propogated.


While the major beef packers have gravitated to a system favoring the largest carcass weight breeds and steers (have every hook hanging a heavy carcass) – which until recently placed the dairy-cull fed Holstein steer nearly on “par” with the beef breed steer—the feeding industry is now less generous in purchasing dairy sector steers, the fault of genetic selection that mostly grows bones and hide before it fills out meat tissue underneath.    It is logical and provable that when dairy cows are selected to make milk on high corn and oilseed rations without gaining any meaningful body condition (thus increasingly requiring OvSynch reproduction), their brothers and sons entering the feedlot world often take 24-30 months to reach a premium finish.    Thus breeders in other dairy breeds and all beef breeds, returning to grass-based management and selecting breeding animals according to grass finishing ability in 18-24 months, now earn the highest premiums for their feeder calves entering feedlots, a high percentage reach premium grades in that time frame.


The custom packing industry, seeking the “best” carcass for premium pricing instead of the ‘heaviest” carcass for commodity beef processing, will be your best option for profitable sales of cattle.    The grass-fed market will continue to grow at premium prices, while the mainstream corn-fed cattle will set the commodity prices—any growth in supply lowering prices against the challenge of static demand from big box and chain food retailers.


Use of sexed semen, after Genomic testing has “ranked” commercial dairy herds, has reduced the supply of dairy-breed feeder steers, while increasing the supply of dairy-beef cross  steers from the use of beef sire semen on the genetic lower half of production dairy cows.    The price premiums for dairy-beef cross steers over straight dairy steers proves the feeding industry has known the difference in feeding efficiency—but this only increases the opportunity for beef breeders to fine-tune their cow herd to produce calves that will maintain this superiority when cattle are put into the grass pasture environment, reflecting the majority management of beef cattle in the rest of the world where cattle feeding is a growing source of human protein.    At the same time, the operating costs for your cow-calf operation will be sustainably reduced, as we emphasize in the name of our business” “Sustainable Genetics”.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Time to review the results from 2018: some basic “$/c” philosophy

 From the January / Febuary Beef Route Letter

All my life with cattle we have been remorsely hammered with articles and advice telling us we must get more “efficient” and more “productive”.   How did we do?


Hippocrates, the famous Greek originator of scientific medicine, is quoted:

I defy you to name a disease that does not go back to poor nutrition.”     

Today, with all the emphasis on looking at the DNA to find excuses for poor performance, and as much as I am a “genetics” (selection and mating) sort of guy, I am seeing more articles from noted ranchers in publications like Stockman Grass Farmer that demonstrate that nutritional support on a consistent, daily basis is the best preventative to problems in that most unique ruminant digestive system that is capable of all the “efficiency” in feed resources we needed.

Is  “infertility”  a  disease ?

For any cattle operation, your forage program is the foundation of the feed ration, the source of nutrition on which health (and therefore fertility) is based.    No amount of grain and other supplements (originally identified to stimulate weight gain) can replace what is lacking in our forages.    As for the potential feed value of any forages we grow, the basis is in the biological health and mineralization levels of the soil.

So  what  role  does  genetic  selection  play  in  fertility ?

We have not been consistent in our industry in correlating animal genetics with plant genetics.    There is as much difference in grass varieties as there is in alfalfa, wheat, soybeans and corn, the only variability being where in the world the breeding emphasis is placed for each species.   For the cow-calf operator, especially those who are also grain farmers, it is surprising how many are exacting in their choice of grain seeds, but indifferent to the potential of improved forages.

Inherited factors will make some animals better, and others worse, in the fertility results you may see from the baseline of your average experience.    But that baseline is mostly affected by the health of the soil and the quality of forages both when grazed or when harvested.

The emphasis in the DNA area is to cull the lowest (chronic) reproductive failures, assuming this eliminates future low-fertility heifers from propogating.    However, our data always seems to show that new animals step up to “fail” in the place of those we cull (er, “harvest for meat”).    This could prove that infertility is as much environmental as genetic, and you need a strategy for sorting between the two, perhaps forgiving the cow whose failure is “not her fault”.

Drug and hormonal aids to fertility, promoted through veterinarians as more “efficient” tools to insure maximum reproduction, besides increasing out of pocket costs, tend to accept a level of failure as “normal” (ie, not moving your annual baseline average compared to natural repro).   

How  big  a  role  does nutrition play  in  fertility ?

The key to ruminant nutrition is to meet the energy requirement for growth, reproduction and health every day.    The Eubiotic population in the rumen that digests the various forms of fiber and starch (producing proteins along the way) has to be fed every day to remain viable and for microflora populations to reproduce and grow.     Anything that produces a variable feed energy intake (as in fluctuation in forage quality) is going to have a negative impact on fertility.   When feed intake is inadequate to the genetically-programmed energy demands, some aspect of the cow will suffer—usually reproduction first, growth second, health third.

Many ranching-oriented advisors from around the world (the late Gearld Fry, the well-travelled Johann Zeitsman, et al) focused on “body condition” as one of the key genetic selection traits.   Their ideal cow would have the same body condition score all year long, and this sort of cow is proven to be the most consistently fertile.    Cows who milk down supporting a growthy calf are recognized as slower to rebreed.     The variation within breeds is greater than the differences between breeds, suggesting that some of our linebreeding for performance measured primarily in feedlot rate of gain could have negative impacts in maintaining optimal maternal quality, of which even-tempered dispositions and responsive fertility character is observed to go together.

In other words, genetics may create the possibility of a positive (or negative) result individually, but your overall herd performance (maximizing live calvings and cow retention for rebreeding) determines your profitability, whether weaning 550 pound calves or 700 pound calves.   If one cow herd can produce 550 pound weanlings on grass alone, while another produces 700 pound weanlings with the aid of a ton of supplement per cow-calf unit, who made more money?   But for the grain farmer, having cattle to utilize surplus grain makes those highest genetic ranking cattle lines of more value to him.    In other words, “one size fits all” just doesn’t fit reality.   In the meantime, genetic choices do affect whether the right cattle are being utilized to adapt to the total environment you are creating for them.

Do  you  desire  more  profitability  from  your  forage  base ?

Byron Seeds  is a forage-oriented seed distribution company, drawing from seed sources around the world to acquire better varieties of grasses, legumes, forbs, small grains, and feeding corns.   Even more importantly, they provide training to their Dealers to understand the biology within the soil, a key element in insuring consistent plant performance;  the functions of soil organic matter in water-holding capacity and assimilation of humics from any applied manures;  cover crops that stimulate fertility capture and lead us to 365-day field crop productivity.   

If you sense a need to restore pastures that no longer meet your animal’s needs, ask us for the seed combinations that can accomplish this.     The best corn ever grown is in its first season following a spent hay field or pasture.     Weedy corn fields can be restored from forage crops.   

There is some remaining discount available (through March prepaid orders) on your spring seed needs.    Ask for a copy of the Byron Seeds’ “Winter Pre Pay Guide”.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Where does “TYPE” fit into modern dairy selection and mating

 From the January / February Dairy Route Letter

My Dad began his AI career in 1952 with what became CURTiSS Breeding Service.   CURTiSS was   initially criticized for having no “proven” sires (offering the latest bulls from their own breeding herds) and for paying too much attention to “type”.      In spite of this, CURTiSS grew until it was the second-largest AI system in the USA  and accounted for half the annual growth of the entire AI industry.    Sons of leading CURTiSS sires found homes in every other AI stud.     Having “type” alongside production proved to be the winning formula that most “milk” studs had to adopt to compete.     Once everyone had this, CURTiSS’ owners refocused on Beef sires and lost its way.

What  was  the  impact  of  type  on  dairy  herds ?

Pretty simply, herd expansion from stanchion barns to free stalls proved that more uniformity in cow conformation was needed.     “Bad” type cows had udder failures, feet and leg failures, and were more susceptible to injury or calving difficulty.     Once out of the stanchion barn into free-stalls and walking to parlors for milking, type faults were more evident.    CURTiSS herds produced more milk because the cows were more durable, lasted longer, reaching the mature production levels that boosted herd averages.    A close affiliation with “aAa” Breeding Guide helped many dairymen to produce uniform cows that enabled transitions to larger herds.

How  does  “type”  relate  to  longevity ?

The clearest impact of “type” on longevity is not reflected in gaining a longer herdlife—it is in avoiding a “too short” herdlife, where a majority of culling is involuntary.     It takes a different definition of “type” to gain extended herdlife, a result of physically-balanced mating selection over depending on type indexes alone.      In this the goal is to have a higher percentage of the herd be cows of mature age, producing at their peak production capability.

Where  is  the  AI  market   going ?

As busy dairymen, we tend to seek simpler answers to important questions like “which bulls should I use?”     Thus the answer “use the bull ranked #1” has always had its attraction.    This was an expected result of geneticists’ pursuit of various “single trait” selection methods, which believed the fiction that the ideal genotype could be “fixed in place” by having all homozygous gene pairs for the production traits.     However, one system after another failed to deliver after the three generations of “hybrid vigor” was used up.     There is no escaping that all mammals are conceived from two genotypes that each provide half their genes into the new individual.   From that point on, the physique produced by that mating must adapt to the real environment rather than to a theoretical “ideal” in which all impediments to success have been solved.

Genomics is the latest and greatest “single trait” selection idea, defining an ideal genotype for males and then duplicating it for their female mates.     We no longer wait for elite pedigrees to grow up to be evaluated for “type” (or tested for “milk”) – we just assume they are the best as offspring of other elites.     Might still be good insurance to add in “aAa” to Genomic selection.  

How  to  make  “type”  have  an  impact  on  “longevity”

Here are two examples, from International Protein Sires and the other from Triple Hil Sires.   In both cases, what is evident is a “deep” (multiple generation) maternal line in which cows reach maturity and have their best lactations then while also reproducing their uniqueness into a next generation.    One of your clues to this is the “EX-92 3E” sort of designations, which tells you the cow has peak physical functionality over an extended productive life (3E means cow was still in good enough shape to rescore “Excellent” three times after her initial EX lactation, with added calving between each rescore).      How often do you see this in a competing AI stud bull book?

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Feed twice as many cows on the same acreage

 From the October December 2018 Beef Newsletter

What this really means is—double the forage production on the number of acres of pasture you have right now.     It does not mean buying supplements all summer and hay all winter which is in part a result of mediocre grass yields from permanent pasture.   


Pasturing  is not automatically  Grazing


In dairy, the difference between a productive conventional (confinement housing and stored feed supply) and a profitable grass dairy (seasonal grazing with harvested forage needed in winter) is one less acre per cow.     Grazing is optimized when you utilize cows as haybines (moving from field to field as each “cutting” is harvested, with a rest period in between to regrow the forage—just as you manage alfalfa fields) rather than just turning them loose to wander the entire area.


Dairymen quit pasturing because they perceived they grew more feed per acre with row crops, and the negativity toward pasturage spilled over to become a negativity toward grass.  This is in spite of forage test data indicating vegetative high energy grasses can produce 4000 pounds milk per ton—higher than either alfalfa haylage, dry hay, or corn silage.


For those who learned to rotate pastures as “fields”, allowing the grass some rest time (just like you manage an alfalfa field) – productivity could be sustained and seedings remained perennial.

 Most people that pasture think rotation of paddocks too time consuming.   The result is a waste  of productivity as well as forfeited feed quality.   Grazing rotationally solves those losses.  


The science of grass as a plant  (it is different from alfalfa)


Grass, small grains, and corn are all variants of the same zhea plant species.     They all grow from a root mass, they all go through a vegetative stage with a goal of pushing out a seed head, and once the seed head is fully formed, the stalk and leaves dry up.    Energy captured during growth (from the sun primarily) gets concentrated in the seed head at plant maturity, but until then, is basically stored in the cellulosic (plant fiber) structures of stalk and leaf.    All of them are highly responsive to nitrogen, and all are dependent on finding water and minerals within their root zone.   They tolerate a wider range of soil pH.    Rumens were designed for grasses.   


Visualize the grass plant below the ground level


Corn breeders like to show off root balls from hybrid varieties, to demonstrate how important a good root system is to crop yield.    A corn plant grows mostly undisturbed until the seed head matures and then you harvest.   You can predict your yield from the rainfall patterns along the growing season and the days of sunlight.    


 When it comes to managing grass pastures however, we need to perceive pasture as a “field” growing a “crop” and harvest it as “cuttings” (like hay) – and there is no doubt that rotated pastures produce at least twice as much feed as open pastures where animals wander about.    There is an easy explanation of this; when you harvest your crop, the roots die.   Eat the grass too low, and you have more dying roots than new shoots.   The pasture withers.    Leaves must remain for photosynthetic capture of sunlight energy and roots must absorb rainfall.


COMPARING  ROOT  RETENTION   (NRCS simulations from digging up plants) 


Grazed to 6” and rested              Grazed to 4” before rest               Continuous pasturage


Alfalfa  [not a grass, but a legume]  has a tap root or branch root system that feeds a crown, from which forage stems grow.   You cut the stems every 28-35 days but the crown still lives, so sends up new stems for the next harvest.    (Of course we also rarely cut alfalfa below 4 inches, so it should be no surprise grasses would need similar care).    For grasses, each blade of grass has a corresponding root; when that blade is cut, the root may die; what insures it will die is when the grass blade is cut below the flag leaf as it can no longer do photosynthesis to regrow.


With continuous overgrazing, the most palatable grass gets exterminated (eaten too close to the ground) and future growth that season is inhibited.    It is not the fault of your seeding or of grass as a forage plant.    (If you cut the top off a green corn plant, would it regrow and produce feed?    This is no different— all grasses work the same way.    We must manage for yields.)


Rotation grazing is a practice that allows your grass paddocks time to regrow, and that growth becomes exponential when the grass is above 6 inches tall.    If companion clover is also seeded, nitrogen from the clover nodules underground will feed this grass growth, to keep it vigorous.   Cows do like clover, however, so when overgrazed, a pasture will lose its clover (extra source of nitrogen) alongside all the grass it would have “fed”.    Most loss of productivity in a pasture system is a result of the compounded effects of continuous (“over”) grazing.


Grass responds to sunlight, rain and nitrogen


Lake City Experiment Station has confirmed from recent trials that adding 5-8 pounds of clover seed by frost seeding produces 150-200 pounds of nitrogen annually for the next two years.   In turn, this bumps up forage yields in pastures in the same way it bumps wheat or corn yields.   If we expect to get yield from pasture, we need to feed it like a crop and clover is the cheaper way.


Dealing with “summer slump”


The best perennial forage grasses are “cool season” varieties.    Grass is the first thing to grow in the spring because it likes cool weather (and has root masses that can tolerate wet soil).     Spring grass is so vigorous that you could rotate back every week and not overgraze.   However, as soon as temps rise to 80 degrees F (and it also quits raining) grass slows down, so your rest periods must go longer.    A small field of summer annuals [eg, Sudangrass] can feed the cattle until fall rains and cooler nights return.    Paddock rotation can provide feed all the way into winter.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Weaning – it’s that time again

 From the October-December 2018 Beef Newsletter

It is interesting as you get around the world and learn that not everyone does things the way we may have been taught by whoever mentored us into the cow calf game.


Weaning calves from their mommas is as good an example of any where traditions get shaken up as we seek the best way for calves to transition to self-supporting.


Plug your ears with cotton and head inside


You can tell that weaning (or at least some judicious sorting) is going on when the serenity of the countryside turns into the echoes of a crowd trying to leave a rock concert at a race track.   Every momma is bellowing for her calf who is hollering back at a different pitch.   At its worst weaning can be a couple days of bawling descending into hoarse croaking and fence riding.


Does it have to be that way?   Usually separation stress is minimized when the calves are already eating with momma what we expect them to eat without momma.    In this, calves on really good pasture might make the transition better than calves in a drylot.    If they can be in a rising intake of nutrition they will have less need for milk.  If momma shifts down to a lower nutritional level she will stop producing milk, but we can’t do that to the calves...   Ideally, if mommas and calves cannot see each other there will be less sustained hollering… in Europe they only allow calves a half day of access to momma so that they are already used to separation before actual weaning.


At a recent NRCS field day this subject was mentioned peripherally as an audience comment that since they learned how to do rotation grazing weaning calves became easier.   Teaching their cows, therefore the calves by cow side, to follow them down the lane to a new paddock each day proves a classic Pavlovian drill, as the cows learn that if they follow you they get new feed.


There is a huge difference in nutrient energy density between an old native grass and improved high-energy grasses.    Having both (** dry off cows on native grasses which are “maintenance” level nutrition, wean calves into vegetative high-energy grasses that will satisfy the growth urge) available in separate paddocks at the time of weaning just makes it easier.


Fall cover crop mixes can be especially useful for late-season weaning paddocks;  the beneficial effect to soil retention and organic matter remains even if you graze off the lush new fall growth.