April Snow Showers Bring Stress and Scours

This spring we have had some very untimely snow storms.  Some have even been historical, such as the blizzard that hit most of the midwest including Minneapolis as I was traveling to the Montana Nutrition Conference and Livestock Forum.  Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the conference as my airplane was diverted and the rebooked flights canceled, TWICE! So now here I am some how stuck over a thousand miles from my destination (Bozeman, MT) in the upper penensula of Michigan.  However, this was a minor inconvenience for me compared with the obstacles cattle producers face this season.  Through social media I have read countless stories about ranchers doing all they could to save calves and help cows in these snowy, windy, unseasonably cold conditions.  I have read about ranchers who were out rounding up newborn calves that were struggling as the storm began to roll in.  Some of those producers wrote of feelings of sadness and failure as they lost visibility and it became unsafe for them to be out in their pastures attending to their livestock. Other farmers, were able to get their calves in a hoop house shelter or barn to ride out the storm.

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Joeseph Skroch’s calves in a barn riding out the blizzard in central Minnesota.

While the storm has past, producers are not in the clear just yet.  Weather events such as this blizzard put extra stress on cattle.  The increased levels of cortisol in the animal’s system suppresses the immune system leaving them more susceptible to other infectious agents.

In mature cattle, the suppressed immune system is often taken advantage of by infectious agents resulting in a respiratory disease.  Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC) can be caused by viral infectious agents (Bovine Respiratory Syncytial Virus (BRSV), Parainfluenza 3 (PI3), Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)), bacterial agents (Pasteurella multocida, Mannheimia haemolytica, Histophilus somni, Mycoplasma bovis) or a combination of any of the above.  

In calves, this increased level of stress and suppressed immune system culminates as diarrhea, or calf scours.  With the storm, chances of calf scours increases if the dam is shortchanged nutritionally resulting in poor quality milk for the calf.   If the dam is low on protien and energy, she cannot produce milk containing the nessicary antibodies to protect the calf.  Therefore, especially after this storm event it is important to ensure a well formulated diet for the cow.  Opportunistic infectious agents can also play a role in calf scours and can be bacterial (Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Clostridia perfringens), viral (Rotavirus, Coronavirus, Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD), IBR) or parasitic (Cryptosporidium, Coccidia).

When cattle are already under extra stress due to the weather, it is important to not add any additional stress through poor nutrition.  Be sure to formulate precise and accurate diets for both the cow and calf through feed testing and consulting at Ward Laboratories Inc.  A good ration to avoid nutritional stress will provide ample protein, and energy to meet physiological requirements of the animal.  It is also important to provide minerals in the diet to support the immune system. When the immune system is supressed from stress due to the changing weather, absorption of minerals vital to immune function such as magnesium, selenium, copper and zinc are supressed.  A combination of stress and imporper nutirition can render a good vaccine schedule useless.  In addition to providing a high quality diet, avoid feeding questionable feeds containing mold or aflatoxin as these agents may not directly cause illness or death, they can contribute to the suppression of the immune system resulting in respiratory symptoms and reduced reproductive productivity.  While no one can truly be prepared for all adverse weather events.  Producers can always utilize all their knowledge and resources to move forward after an event such as this spring’s blizzard and snowstorms.  Now hopefully I will have made it back to Kearney, NE by the time you are reading this post and we are done with all of this cold weather and on to summer forage production!

 

The Chicks Are Here! 10 Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiency in Poultry

Yet another sign that spring has arrived, baby chicks and ducks available for purchase at local farm and ranch supply stores.  Especially with the rise in popularity of raising backyard, “City Chickens”, I have received phone calls from owners with nutritionally deficient chickens in June and July, wondering what is happening to their birds and what they can do to solve the problem.  Nutritional deficiencies are especially difficult to sort out as many nutrients display the same symptoms, so the best option is to formulate a diet that meets their basic nutrient requirements based on species, physiological state, production type and production goals.  The 1994 Nutrient Requirements of Poultry is a great resource to balancing poultry diets, and Ward Laboratories Inc. can test your feed ingredients for protein, fiber, minerals and fat to ensure the most accurate formulation.  Here are 13 signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies common to poultry fed an unbalanced diet:

  1. Decreased or Lack of Energy

Lethargy in poultry can be a result of not enough available carbohydrates, low protein or not enough magnesium to support normal daily activity and function.

  1. Feather Abnormalities

There are several nutrients that when lacking in the diet can lead to abnormal feather appearance.  Deficiency of a specific amino acid, niacin, folic acid, cobalamin or zinc all can result in strange feathering.  Specifically, if feathers appear to be blackened vitamin D is most likely the nutrient missing from the diet.  Deficiency of riboflavin results in “Clubbed Down” a syndrome characterized by down feathers of newly hatched chicks growing curled up inside follicles.

  1. Depigmentation of Feathers

While lack of vitamin D results in blackened feathers, lack of lysine results in loss of pigmentation.  Copper and Iron deficiencies result in decreased specifically red pigmentations.

  1. Dermatitis and Skin Lesions

Irritation and inflammation of the skin can be the result of niacin, biotin, or pantothenic acid deficiencies.  Lesions specifically located on the foot pad can be attributed to biotin deficiency.

  1. Keratinization of Mucous Membranes

Keratinization is the process of filling cells with keratin protein, this prevents them from functioning and transitions the epithelial layers into a hardened covering.  The keratinization of mucous membranes in the body also decreases immune function of the epithelium.  This process is a symptom of vitamin A deficiency.

  1. Muscle Degeneration and Weakness

Depletion of muscles can be caused by thiamin or vitamin E deficiency.  “Crazy Chick Disease” is typically characterized by a chicken unable to support her own head due to muscle degeneration from lack of vitamin E in the diet.

  1. Bone Deformation and Weak Bones

Vitamin A deficiency can cause bone deformation and weak bones.  However, the three major nutrients associated with bone disorders are vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous.  Deficiency of calcium and phosphorous or the incorrect ratio of calcium : phosphorous, results in a condition known as “Cage-layer Disease”.  Cage-layer Disease occurs when chickens mobilize minerals from bone deposits to produce egg shells.  Chickens with this condition have weak, brittle bones and their rib cage is especially fragile and likely to break.

  1. Decreased Egg Production

Lack of vitamin D, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, or chloride is associated with lowered egg production.

  1. Thin Egg Shells and Decreased Hatchability

Thin eggshells and decreased viability of the egg can be signs of vitamin D, folic acid, magnesium or manganese deficiency.

  1. Neurological Disorders

Pantothenic acid and riboflavin deficiencies are both associated with neurological disorders.  “Curled Toe Paralysis” is a syndrome where lack of riboflavin in the diet affects peripheral nerves causing chicks to rest on their hocks and flex their toes due to paralysis of those muscles.

As you can see from the list of nutritional deficiency symptoms above, many of the same signs are caused by different micronutrients.  It is difficult to weed out the specific nutrient deficiency from the symptoms, which often occur in combinaion.  Therefore, the best way to avoid these issues is to reference the Nutrient Requirements of Poultry, test your feed ingredients at Ward Laboratories Inc. and formulate a well-balanced diet.

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Spring Calving and Magnesium: 5 Risk Factors for Grass Tetany

As they say, “spring has sprung!” That means the birds are out chirping, summer is on its way, baby calves are on the ground and lush, green pastures ready for grazing.  While this does paint a picturesque image, cattlemen know there’s a danger in those beautiful, green spring grasslands: a nutritional disorder known as Grass Tetany, Grass Staggers or Hypomagnesaemia.  Grass Tetany is a deficiency of magnesium in a cow’s body that causes them to stagger, look alert and become easily excitable and often results in death.  Magnesium is a required mineral for beef cattle.  It is involved in many enzyme activations and therefore important biological processes.  Magnesium is particularly involved in nerve and muscle impulse transmissions. There are 5 risk factors for developing this deficiency:

  1. Age or Maturity of the Cows

Older cows that have produced 2 or more calves in prior calving seasons are more at risk to develop a magnesium deficiency during lactation.  As a beef cow moves from the gestational to the lactational physiological state, magnesium requirements increase from 0.12% to 0.2% of the dry matter intake.  Older cows have a more difficult time mobilizing stored magnesium from bone to meet these increased requirements.  In beef cattle 65-70% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bone. While the diet may technically meet requirements, without mobilization of stored magnesium grass tetany can develop.  More mature cows have more difficulty with this biological process.

  1. Fertilization Protocol of the Pasture

In soils, the fertilization protocol can greatly affect the minerals available in the grasses grown on that pasture.  High levels of potassium, nitrogen and to a lesser extent phosphorous in the soil can interfere with a plant’s ability to absorb magnesium.  This creates a forage that is low in magnesium and high in potassium and nitrogen.  Therefore, it is recommended that pasture fertilization protocols be managed with the use of soil testing at Ward Laboratories Inc. to prevent over use of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK) fertilization.

  1. Manure Management on the Pasture

Similar to over fertilization of pasture ground, over accumulation of manure from previous grazing seasons can also result in decreased magnesium in the grasses produced. Manure is going to add nitrogen, organic acids, and long chained fatty acids to the soil, which will also decrease the absorption of magnesium by growing grasses.  Resting a pasture,that has a high manure load, can help alleviate this risk for the next grazing occurrence.

  1. Species of Grasses

Plants deficient in magnesium tend to be rapidly growing cool season grasses.  Some species commonly involved with magnesium deficiency are orchard grass, rye grass, timothy grass, fescue grass, crested wheatgrass, brome grass, and small grain producing varieties such as oats, barley or triticale.  To decrease the risk of developing Grass Tetany, it has been recommended that producers introduce legumes to the pasture at a rate greater than 30% since species, such as alfalfa, are not typically deficient in magnesium with the NRC average being 0.37% of dry matter.

  1. Forage Nutrients

Pasture grasses with dry matter mineral concentrations of less than 0.2% magnesium and greater than 3.0% potassium are known to cause Grass Tetany.  Just like in soil, excess potassium in the diet interferes with magnesium absorption and forces cows to rely on mobilization of stored magnesium for lactation.  You can send your forage samples to Ward Laboratories Inc. to test for mineral concentrations to determine if your forage matches that profile.  If so, feeding a high magnesium free choice mineral may be necessary.  Magnesium concentrations in those minerals typically range from 8-12%.  Magnesium Oxide is typically the compound added to the mineral mix and is unfortunately unpalatable and therefore, as a producer if you may need to get creative with how you are going to get that magnesium into those cows, for example mixing it in with a protein supplement if free choice mineral intake is low.

In conclusion, there are 5 risk factors for development of Grass Tetany: maturity of cows, fertilization protocol on pasture, manure on pasture, species of grasses and forage mineral concentrations.  Ward Laboratories Inc. can help you manage your pasture with soil testing and your forage with feed analysis.

 

 

Forage Creativity: Soy-Corn Silage

Here at Ward Laboratories Inc., we often encourage producers to be creative and try newapproaches to agricultural production.  A couple of weeks ago at the American Society of Animal Science Midwest meeting in Omaha, I listened to a talk about getting more creative with corn silage: “Production of High-Quality Forage through Unique Forage Blends” presented by Dr. Ishwary Acharya.  Ward Laboratories Inc. tested 1,451 corn silage samples and 2,197 total silage samples of all types in 2016.  So, I have seen the range and variation in the nutrient quality of silages used in the area.  Dr. Acharya’s research focused on making the best possible silage for a dairy operation, as he stated in his talk, “the ultimate measure of forage quality is milk production”.  Being in central Nebraska, I think his research could not only increase the nutritional content of the silages produced, but also the value of grazing the cornstalks by a beef enterprise after harvest.

The idea behind Dr. Acharya’s presentation was to double crop corn and vining soybeans to produce high protein low fiber silage without sacrificing yield.  First, to produce the best possible corn silage, the crop was chopped higher than producers typically chop corn silage.  This resulted in less stock and more leaves, husks, and cob in the silage.  Therefore, yield was compromised for higher protein and lower fiber concentrations.  The second part of the presentation explained that to overcome the sacrifice of yield, vining soybeans could be intercropped with the corn.  Therefore, when chopping for silage at a higher level, the soybean plant material made up for the loss of stocks in the yield.  In this study, the resulting silage had increase yield, forage quality, and protein compared with typical corn silage.  Dr. Acharya interseeded the vining soybean at various rates and determined that the optimal rate was somewhere between 67% corn 33% soybeans and a 50:50 mix.  The study also looked at the optimal time for fermentation based on pH and presence of volatile compounds that have affect on rumen function and animal performance.  At 60 days of fermentation Dr. Acharya determined that fermentation had not gone to completion and the silage should be ensiled for at least a 90-day period.  This finding agrees with other literature I have read on the topic.

Dr. Acharya’s idea of double cropping to create a high-quality forage source for dairy cattle could also be of benefit to beef cow calf pairs grazing the remaining corn stalks.  If soybeans were intercropped, I would predict that there would be some beans and vining materials left in the field which would be higher in protein and lower in fiber than the corn stalks alone.  Of course, I would advocate that producers test both their silage and try to get a representative idea of what has been left on their field to provide necessary supplementation.  For the silage, I would recommend testing crude protein, acid detergent fiber to predict energy values and neutral detergent fiber to predict dry matter intakes at a minimum noting that the sample would need to be ran as a wet chemistry feed test and that the addition of soybean to the silage would not allow for a reliable and accurate NIR scan.  For the grazing stocks and soybeans, I would run the same test to get an idea if protein or energy supplementation are necessary.  I would also caution that soybeans do contain urease and we typically do not graze cattle on soybeans fields as they risk urease toxicity if they have recently consumed non-protein nitrogen (NPN), therefore when considering supplementation strategies for cattle grazing a field of cornstalks intercropped with vining soybeans, lick tubs or mineral mixes with urea could not be utilized.

As, with any novel feed, always monitor animal body condition, production and health to ensure it is providing the nutrients required.  Don’t be afraid to try something new.  It might be of benefit to your operation weather it is vining soybean corn silage or grazing cover crops or feeding from the waste stream, feed testing and good ration and diet formulation can lead to success of a livestock operation.

Easter Eggs!

With Easter coming up this Sunday, I am reminded of two unique samples Ward Laboratories Inc. received this time last year.  We received two eggs to test just in time for Easter!  This producer wanted to do a small-scale experiment to determine if the eggs from chickens fed two different diets had differences in nutritional values.  Both diets were preformulated feeds from big nutritional companies.  One diet was considered all natural and the other was an organic feed.  Of course, this is not a properly performed experiment that would have impactful and meaningful results since only one egg per group was tested and the feeds may or may not have been formulated to have the same levels of key nutrients such as protein, fat, minerals and to provide equal amounts of energy.  However, in this case of only two eggs, the naturally fed egg had lower protein and higher levels of fat than the organic fed egg and mineral content was very similar between the two eggs.  More eggs would need to be tested to determine if these differences were just individual variation differences or if they truly were a statistically significant result of the diet.  Happy Easter All!

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Feeding Wild Animals

Intermittently, I receive a phone call asking me about the interpretation of a feed analysis for a wild animal as opposed to domesticated livestock whose nutrient requirements I am more familiar with.  These phone calls usually make me do a little more research and I learn something new about animal nutrition with each inquiry.

The first time this happened, I was new to consulting here at Ward Laboratories, INC.  A producer called asking why his pheasants were suddenly losing their feathers and then dying.  The situation was dire, and his story was quite startling.  As it turned out, he was offered a very good deal on some wheat grain and had decided that would be the feed source for his pheasants.  Luckily for me the nutrient requirements for pheasants are listed in the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Poultry, so I was able to make a direct comparison between the grain he was feeding and the bird’s requirements.   It turned out that wheat grain was very high in energy, however much lower than the protein, and mineral requirements of ring neck pheasants.  The moral of that story was to have a solid understanding of the nutrient requirements of the animal you are feeding along with knowledge of the nutrients the feed is providing.

A common wild animal I get asked about is deer.  Most of these questions are about supplemental feed for deer for hunting purposes.  Deer are unique in because antler growth is very important to hunters.  For optimal antler growth deer have a very high requirement for protein.  It is recommended that a supplemental feed be greater than 16% crude protein.  Deer are also browsing animals not grazing animals meaning that they select the most nutritious portions of plants for consumption.  So, it has been shown that the total diet of a deer in the wild can be between 20-24% crude protein.  A lot of livestock producers want to utilize leftover feed supplements to feed deer on their property.  These supplements were formulated for livestock species consuming roughages not wild browse therefore, those feeds may cause health issues for deer.  Sheep and goat feed is low in copper and other important minerals and may cause a deficiency for deer.  Horse supplemental feeds are typically for active horses and therefore high in starch which may result in acidosis when consumed by a deer.

Most recently, I was asked about feeding bison.  Being unfamiliar with nutritional requirements of bison, I did a little research.  Nutrient requirements of bison have not been studied as extensively and are not as well defined as beef cattle.  Bison are more efficient utilizers of fiber than beef cattle.  They prefer to consume large amounts of grass to smaller amounts of legumes.  For the most efficient finishing production bison should be provided with a diet at about 14% crude protein and 70-90% concentrate diet so that energy does not limit growth.   Crude protein requirements for bison at other stages are not well defined but are thought to be just below those for productive beef cattle.  This is because nitrogen recycling is more prevalent in these wild ruminants than in cattle.  A management challenge bison producers face is the sensitivity of bison to cool temperatures and shorter photoperiods.  Instinctually, these animals conserve energy during the winter and consume less feed, gain less and are less productive in the winter months.  However, during summer months, bison consume more feed, gain weight at a quicker rate and are more productive.

When feeding wild animals, be sure to do some research and familiarize yourself with that animal’s nutrient requirements, as well as common feeding practices by other producers or game promoters.  Then be sure you understand the feed ingredients and how they are going to meet those nutritional requirements. Ward Laboratories Inc. can test your feeds to get an accurate report of the nutritents in the feeds you are supplementing and I am here as a consultant to help you research the nutritnet requirements of different animals.   After meticulously formulating a diet or supplement, monitor the animals you are feeding to ensure they are healthy and productive.

2018 KSU Cattlemen’s Day

The highlights of this year’s KSU Cattlemen’s Day were the tour of the Feed Intake Measurement Facility given by Dr. Bob Weaber and the necropsy demonstration given by DVM A.J. Tarpoff.  The take away I want to reiterate to any livestock producers is that a post-mortem exam is crucial in determining the cause of death to an animal and identifying how we can prevent it from happening again.

Feed is the number one input cost to raising beef cattle, and improvements in the feed conversion to product can result in increased profits for beef producers.  This makes the research on feed efficiency at KSU very important and promising to steakholders.  The difficulty with improving feed efficiency, is that is is dependent on feed intake and gain, therefore to impact efficiency or feed conversion rate, cattle need to be selected to either gain more than average while consuming the average amount of feed, consume less than average while gaining weight at an average weight, or both gain more and consume less at the same time.  Touring the Feed Intake Measurement Facility was like a trip down memory lane for me.  When I was working on my masters’ project at the US Meat Animal Research Center, my steers feed intake was monitored using the same Insentec feeding system that is featured at the KSU facility.  The Insentec system uses RFID tags to keep track of each animal each time they come to the feeder.  The feed bunk is automatically weighed before the animal begins consuming feed and then after the animal is finished.  This results in many data points for each feeding event for each animal which is then condensed into average daily feed intake over the trial period.  What sets this research facility above others is their ability to also monitor water intake as well as the ability to put cow calf pairs on the lot and monitor their feed intakes as well.

The presentation by Dr. Tarpoff, Using Postmortem Examination to Enhance Heard Health Management, is a presentation I wish all producers could have attended.   All too often I receive a phone call with someone asking to test their feed to determine what killed their cattle, without having consulted their vet first.  A necropsy is a vet bill worth paying.  Dr. Tarpoff stressed the point that even if you believe it was a death due to bloat, you must first use necropsy findings to rule out other possibilities.  He said that even if a death appears to be a bloat that could just be the feed fermenting in the animal after the animal’s systems have begun shutting down.  Using information from a post-mortem exam can aid in making the best possible production decisions to prevent death losses in the future.  It is imperative that you work with your vet when problem solving animal health issues.  At Ward Laboratories Inc.  we can test for several animal health issues in feed such as nitrates, prussic acid, high mold and aflatoxin, but often all of these come up without answers and it is too late to perform a necropsy by the time our results are sent out. Use our lab tests to confirm what your vet determines. Dr. Tarpoff recommends a necropsy on a dead animal be performed as soon as possible and at a minimum within 24 hours of death.

This year’s KSU Cattlemen’s day, did not focus on nutrition, however I believe it was very valuable for producers who attended, and I would encourage any beef producers looking to make improvements to their production to attend this event in the future.

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Trade Show

Cattlemen’s Day 2018 Beef Cattle Research