FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE: Hay quality determines calf vigor, rebreeding schedule

Posted: Jan. 3, 2013 10:31 am Updated: Jan. 31, 2013 4:15 pm


The quality of hay fed to a beef heifer into early February will determine the vigor of her calf to be born next spring -- and whether she can rebreed to calve the next year.

University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist Justin Sexten is concerned about the calf crop for the next two years because of drought last summer.

Too many beef females are going into winter without protective layers of fat that help carry them through until spring grass.

A ration rich in nutrients allows cows to maintain body condition, keep the fat layer and develop a calf. Normally hay does that, but "unfortunately, much forage harvested last season does not meet base requirements," Sexten said.

Herd owners judge the amount and what kind of feed that will be needed from body condition scores of cows.

By rule of thumb, a heifer should calve at 85 percent of her mature body weight, but growing heifers need more and better feed than mature cows.

With normal summer and fall grass growth, heifers are grass fat by winter. Not this year. "During July and August, when no grass grew, heifers mined condition off their back," Sexten said.

Now heifers must not only be fed to support normal body and calf growth during winter but also to replace lost fat.

Lost fat concerns Sexten. That energy source affects vigor of the calf at birth. Also adequate body fat adds quality and quantity to milk the heifer provides her newborn calf.

Nutrition in the first 24 hours determines if a calf thrives, Sexten said. Spring-born calves come into a cold world and need the rich energy and antibodies provided by colostrum, the first milk, to survive.

If a heifer loses her calf, a $2,000 replacement heifer becomes worth $900 in salvage value.

A heifer in poor body condition after calving likely will not rebreed to calve the second year. That happens often, causing huge losses for beef herd owners.

Stink bug concern

Illinois residents need to take steps to prepare for the invasion of the brown marmorated stink bug.

The BMSB is on the Most "Unwanted" Invasive Pests list created by the Illinois Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey Program.

With their piercing mouthparts, these insects are capable of damaging a multitude of crops, such as apples, pears, soybeans and landscape ornamentals. "BMSB are capable of causing economic losses to soybean and corn producers," University of Illinois Extension entomologist Mike Gray said.

The combination of low populations of BMSB and highly managed crop systems in Illinois have kept economic injury levels low up to now, according to Kelly Estes, state survey coordinator of the Illinois Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey. But recent tracking by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that BMSB spread substantially during this last growing season. The drought may have reduced the impact of fungal disease on the insects, with the warm weather causing them to develop faster. The warm fall has allowed two generations to be produced during one growing season, resulting in a greater number of overwintering insects.

As well as damaging crops, the invasive pests seek shelter in homes during the winter.

BMSB has been identified in 38 states. It has the characteristic stink bug shield shape and is as wide as it is long. It has distinctive black and white banding on the antennae and alternating dark/light banding on the edge of the wings.

-- Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar