ADOPT MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE PRODUCTIVITY

by: Stephen B. Blezinger
Ph.D., PAS

Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series we began a discussion of steps producers might take to help take advantage of the current strong cattle markets. More specifically these are recommendations and guidelines to help improve the total pounds of calf weight that can be produced from the operation.

At this point, one thing should be pointed out. The various opportunities we are discussing here in this series are nothing magical. There are no silver bullets. What makes the difference is recognizing opportunities that exist that can improve animal performance whether it be reproductive and the result being more calves weaned per cows bred or an increase in the weaning weights of the calves produced so that there are more total pounds of calf to be sold. Once these opportunities are recognized, then it becomes a matter of implementation.

Frankly, the various management components we are discussing should be in place ALL THE TIME, because they increase efficiency and overall performance, both of which are actually needed more when markets are lower than they are now. The big difference is that when markets are stronger, as they are now, producers are typically willing to make that initial investment to begin taking advantage of many of the programs illustrated. So look at this in another way, not only can the programs, products and ideas suggested in this series improve your opportunities for increased profits now, when the markets are strong, they will help you lay some groundwork for a better, more efficient management program when economics are not quite so good (and that day will come again, rest assured).

In the last part of the series we discussed a variety of nutritional considerations that should be made that can improve performance. Here we will continue these discussions with more proven methods to improve productivity.

Improve Fly Control Methods

Heavy fly loads on cattle are well known to reduce animal performance including weight gain, milk production, reproduction and animal health. Control of these pests has been long proven to improve all these production parameters as well as promote animal well-being and comfort in general.

It is projected that heavy fly infestations may cost the beef cattle industry well over $500 million per year. With current markets this number may actually be fairly low. It doesn't take a large number of flies to have an impact on an operation's production. As few as 100 to 200 flies per side is enough to impact stocker cattle gains by 50 pounds or more during the summer (worth about $75 to $100). If more than a hand-sized patch of flies is visible on each side, typically behind the shoulders, of the cattle, this is more than enough to be a problem.

There are a variety of fly control methods. Using a combination of methods will be required for the most effective control. Also, remember to change the class or family of chemical used (tags, pour-ons, feed additives) periodically to reduce resistance.

Control methods include:

1. Pour-ons and sprays (topicals) provide a good initial kill with two to six weeks' residual. Rainfall, heavy dews and cattle wading in stock ponds will reduce the extent and duration of protection.

2. Rubs and dusters are an effective method of control once the cattle become accustomed to the structure. It is best to place the applicator next to mineral feeders, water sources, travel paths or any area that will force the cattle to rub up against it. Often, the chemical will need to be recharged once every one to two weeks and definitely rainfall.

3. Ear tags are a very effective season-long treatment. However, cut the tags out at the end of the season to reduce resistance build up by the flies to the chemical. As mentioned previously, change the active ingredient used in the tags from year to year. For instance, if synthetic pyrethroid tag is used this year, change to an organophosphate or organochlorine tag next year.

4. Feed additives are effective in stopping the fly life cycle. Products include Altosid® (methoprene-S (IGR)), Clarifly® and Rabon®. Since these are delivered through feed or supplements (be aware of regulations and restrictions), one of the main potential problems can be consistency of intake for effective control. These products may need to be added to supplements (i.e. minerals) as early as March and fed through late October or even November in many parts of the southern United States.

5. Biological control in the form of fly wasps, sometimes called fly predators, has also proven effective. This method works better in areas where cattle are held in higher concentrations. Some operations have adopted this method as the fly wasps are considered a natural, non-chemical method of control.

Internal and External Parasites

Parasites, whether internal or external pose a significant problem for cattle. And while flies are considered an external parasite given the significance of the problem they deserved a category to themselves. Other external parasites such as lice, ticks, mites, grubs, mosquitoes and gnats can also produce significant production losses as well as animal value. Cattle sold exhibiting grub and lice activity will command a lower price at marketing.

Regardless of type or species, prevention and control can be attained through the use of a variety of products. These can include sprays, dusts, dips (not commonly used any longer), pour-ons, spot-ons, injectables, insecticide-impregnated ear tags, feed additives, baits and boluses. There are many of these products on the market and the producer should research these carefully to determine which may work the best in his or her individual operation. As with the fly control methods, a combination may work the best. Additionally, some products (particularly the systemics – injectables) may address more than one type of parasite and may reduce overall cost by providing combination control. Also, be very careful to read the usage direction on the label and comply with regulations of use. It may be of value to consult your local veterinarian for assistance in developing an effective parasite management plan.

Internal parasites such as worms (stomach, intestinal, lung, tapeworms), liver flukes and coccidia are well-documented in having exceptional effects on animal health and production. In extreme cases, heavy internal parasite loads can result in death losses, especially in young or older animals. All operations require a well-planned internal parasite program. Fortunately most parasites will respond to the anthelmintics (dewormers). These products can be delivered into the animal using a variety of methods including injections, oral pastes, drenches, boluses, pour-ons and feed/supplement delivery. It is generally advised to deworm periodically, a minimum of twice per year and alternate the active ingredient in the product used. Again, the producer needs to do his homework on the exact product that will be the most effective on a given operation. Consulting your local vet and nutritionist is also recommended. Also, be sure to make note of the product specific withdrawal periods prior to slaughter. Withdrawal periods can range from 2 to 48 days depending on the product and the applications.

Coccidia are also a significant parasite, especially for calves, creating scouring and in more extreme cases potentially high rates of death loss. Coccida can be controlled using products such as amprollium (Corid®) and decoquinate (Deccox®) and both Rumensin® and Bovatec® (ionophores) carry claims of coccida control.

Development of an effective internal and external parasite control program takes time and research. An appropriate program is required on ALL operations. Unchecked, parasites both internal and external can cause devastating economic losses on any given operation. At the very least, even a moderate parasite problem will result in diminished calf weights at weaning. With current markets for weaned calves exceeding $2.00 per pound, even small losses will reduce revenues significantly.

Working with Professionals to Develop and Fine-tune Management Programs

I know MANY cattle producers that will only pick up the phone to call the local vet when one of their animals is already knocking on St. Peter's door. And then complain about the time it takes for the vet to come out or about the farm call fees. The same with nutritionists. An awfully large number of producers that I have known over the years developed their feeding and supplementation programs through in depth consultations at the local coffee shop or feed store. In either case whether calling the vet to actually develop a herd health management plan or an accredited nutritionist for a nutrition management plan, these professionals can help the producer develop a program specific to the operations and in the long run save and in most case make the rancher a good deal of money. I've had lots of producers tell me (in recent years): “well, I can find all that information on the internet.” That is true, that information is out there, but in many cases it's a lot like getting medical information when doing a Google search. You may diagnose yourself with a brain tumor when all you actually have is a hang nail.

Vets and nutritionists are trained to understand their field of study and to provide producers with sound production and management advice. They are familiar with local conditions and potential problems as well as market conditions. Hopefully they stay on top of developing trends and technologies and can help introduce and adopt new applications that can improve animal health, performance and profitability. Even very small operations have the need for guidance in health and nutrition at some time or another. Again, spend some time and research seeking out the individuals in your area that are trained and qualified and have a good reputation for working with producers.

This also extends to reproduction. Opportunities exist to work with veterinarians, artificial insemination (AI) technicians and embryologists to greatly enhance reproductive performance of your herd. This may mean the implementation of a more condensed breeding program or even beginning the use of AI. Artificial insemination may be one of the best but most underutilized technologies in the beef industry especially on the commercial side. A great deal of research has proven that the genetic improvements made through the use of an AI program in a commercial cattle operation can rapidly improve weaning, yearling and finishing weights, carcass characteristics, female production traits and so on. Consulting with the people who work in this arena can help you understand and develop a program that can rapidly improve your herd's performance and overall quality. Again, given the value of the animals in the current market, the application of appropriate technologies can quickly increase revenues.

Yet another professional to consider consulting with is an agronomist who specializes in pasture and hay production. And while we'll focus on improvement of pasture and forage quality in the next part of this series, a qualified agronomist can help fine tune pasture and forage management which can greatly improve the on-farm dietary nutrient supply which can greatly reduce annual feed and supplement costs. They can also help improve overall pasture quality and sustainability during more challenging environmental conditions.

Conclusions

Good management practices, that's all these various programs, products and ideas are. But in many cases, when conditions are tough due to economics, weather patterns, etc., and operations fall in to survival mode, some of these basic good management concepts can fall by the way-side because they cost money to put into place and maintain. When there is no grass or forage of any type and round bales of really lousy hay cost $100.00 for an 800 pound roll, good management techniques often get set aside because things have to be cut to pay for the basics.

Now that economics are somewhat better, in addition to saving some money or rebuilding some savings, these conditions provide the opportunity to redevelop the management program, potentially escalating how some things have been done in the past but in general laying a solid foundation for increased revenues now and establishing some protection for the future.

We'll continue this discussion in Part 4.

Copyright 2014 – Dr. Stephen B. Blezinger. Dr. Steve Blezinger is a management and nutritional consultant with an office in Sulphur Springs, TX. He can be reached at sblez@verizon.net or at (903) 352-3475. For more information please visit us on at www.facebook at Reveille Livestock Concepts.







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