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Spring feeding time in feedlot
           Iowa Beef Center, Iowa State University
March 2015   Volume 5, Issue 9
In this issue
  • Iowa Cow-Calf Producers Adapt to Changing Times
  • Springtime Mud Impact and Management
  • Regionalizing Beef Sustainability
  • Management Tips for Spring Pasture Improvements
  • Industry Information
Iowa Cow-Calf Producers Adapt to Changing Times
By  Joe Sellers, ISU Extension beef program specialist
Sustainable beef cow production in Iowa is becoming increasingly critical as Iowa grows its fed cattle industry and other beef markets while looking for alternative land use on fragile acres prone to soil erosion.

Competition from volatile grain prices and recreational land uses has reduced pasture acres in Iowa 34.5% from 2002 to 2012, while beef cow numbers were reduced only 10%, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. Record cattle prices and moderating grain prices may create more opportunities for cow-calf producers who can both apply alternative management systems and adapt to evolving weather and market risks.

As Iowa beef producers strive to raise more cattle on fewer acres, numerous alternative management strategies are being employed. For example, there is growing interest in intensified management systems such as extensive confinement of cows in dry-lots and buildings. In contrast, some producers are striving to minimize high cost inputs of fuel, machinery and purchased feeds as they more intensively manage their grazing systems and attempt to maximize grazing days. While these methods are explored, most Iowa producers continue to manage cows with summer grazing and winter hay feeding.
All three methods have advantages and disadvantages, and superior management can make all be successful.
 - Extensive stockpiled grazing requires good grass management and the proper cow genetics to flourish with less feed inputs.
 - Limited grazing will require low-cost rations and attention to cow and calf health.
 - The more traditional grazing and haying program will succeed if feed waste is reduced and grazing days are maximized.

Calf weaning weights and cow reproduction can be very similar with any of these systems.
Due to increased interest and a lack of real data to compare these systems, the Iowa Beef Center staff secured funding from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture for a three-year on-farm study evaluating these alternatives. Twenty-four producer cooperators will share their experiences and allow ISU staff and students to collect soil, forage, animal and economic data from their farms. This information will help us develop recommendations for other producers in Iowa. You can keep track of this effort with updates and field day promotion on the website and through beef industry media.
For more information contact Joe Sellers at 641-203-1270 or
Springtime Mud Impact and Management
By Russ Euken ISU Extension beef program specialist and Kris Kohl, ISU Extension ag engineering program specialist
Earth surface feedlots and springtime in Iowa typically don’t go well together. When temperatures start to warm above freezing and ground begins to thaw, any additional moisture can create mud issues. Of course spring is not the only time mud can be an issue. Any time we have excess moisture from rain and snow, mud can become a problem.

Mud can affect cattle performance and well-being in three ways, all negative as far as performance is concerned. It can affect the insulation provided by the hair coat if the hair becomes matted. The loss of insulation will result in cattle being affected by cold stress and increased maintenance requirements at temperatures that are higher than if their hair coat was clean and dry. A matted hair coat is only about 20% as effective in providing insulation as a dry clean winter hair coat so matted might need increased energy at temperatures around 30 - 40 degrees instead of 10 - 20 degrees. Mud that affects the hair coat when temperatures are around freezing or below can increase maintenance requirement and decrease gain significantly.

 Mud in a feedlot also can decrease feed intake. It would depend on the situation on how far cattle need to travel to access feed but the National Resource Council Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle publication estimates feed intakes could decrease by 5 - 15 % with 4 - 8 in of mud and up to 30% if mud was 15 in deep.

Finally, if mud is deep enough that cattle have to increase their effort to move or they can’t lay down to rest, that increased effort also would increase maintenance requirements. This could occur even at higher temperatures than the effect on hair coat insulation.

All of these effects are likely combined when reports of the impact of mud are reported. Several reports show impact of 10 -15% decreased gain and 10 -12% decreased feed efficiency with mud depths of 4 -10 inches.

With an earth lot and no way to control precipitation amounts, how do producers manage mud? More space in an earth feedlot can decrease mud. Allowing 250 versus 150 sq. ft. per head in an earth lot decreased mud depth about an inch in a University of Nebraska simulation. However, increasing to 350 sq. ft. per head did not change mud depth.

Making sure lots are clean and have good drainage is important. Preventing additional water from moving on to the lot can help, as can removing snow from the lot. In the same University of Nebraska simulation, mud depth was worse at 16 degrees versus 26 or 36 degrees because more of the moisture was snow and stayed in the lot. Bedding can decrease the effect of mud but it takes a quite a bit in wet muddy conditions.

Lots need to be cleaned when the surface manure has melted but the soil is still frozen. This is a critical time that often occurs after morning feeding and before noon. This scraping can be left to thaw in a part of the lot, and later spread or stockpiled in a good location outside of the lot. This needs to be a high priority because if spring rains melt more than an inch or so of the soil, equipment will tear up the feedlot.

Properly shaped mounds that are maintained and drain well can help cattle deal with mud also. Without enough slope and drainage, concrete and/or shelter are options to help prevent severe mud effects. But even cattle on concrete or with shelter can be impacted somewhat by mud or manure.
Director's column
Regionalizing Beef Sustainability
By Dan Loy, IBC director

Sustainability has been a major topic of conversation in Iowa this winter. Cameron Bruett of JBS and President of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) addressed the Iowa Cattle Industry Convention in December and gave an overview and update on the efforts of the GRSB. He also reviewed the principles and criteria of sustainable beef adopted in November at the GRSB conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. These principles and criteria relate to balancing the three pillars of sustainability:  economic viability, environmental soundness and social responsibility. He emphasized that a “one size fits all” approach to sustainability is not possible.

In January, Dr. Jude Capper addressed the Driftless Region Beef Conference in Dubuque and reviewed data on progress the beef industry has made in the sustainability arena. The criteria used to evaluate sustainability in much of the available research centers on resource use, specifically greenhouse gas production and water use. Her research and the recent beef industry sustainability study confirm that the U.S. beef industry has been making progress and improvement in these areas.

However, if you ask a typical beef producer in Iowa what sustainability means to them you will likely get a response something like this: “I want to leave the land better than I found it for the next generation.” This statement reflects the conservation ethic that is ingrained in the majority of beef producers in Iowa. It also speaks to the importance of generational transfer and the ability to economically pass the operation to the next generation.

Iowa farmers realize they are the guardians of some of the most productive soil in the world, and soil conservation is an important component of sustainability. Also, with very little irrigation use, water quantity is less of an issue in Iowa than more arid regions that rely on irrigation and depleted aquifers. In Iowa, water quality is more of an issue than water quantity. For Iowa feedlots, retaining, capturing and recycling the value of manure nutrients is important to their sustainable future.

The next round of sustainability studies by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association will be regional in nature. The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association is working with NCBA to help collect the data necessary for this study. This will allow regions to help set their own challenges for sustainability improvements in the future. In his presentation to the Iowa Cattle Industry Convention, Mr. Bruett emphasized the point that different countries will have different approaches to sustainability. In Brazil intensification of production allows producers to improve efficiency and reduce resource use while protecting rainforest regions. Canada is establishing a value chain approach for its sustainability efforts.

Read all of this column on the IBC website.
Management Tips for Spring Pasture Improvements
Adapted from a March 2013 Growing Beef article by Steve Barnhart, "Management Tips for Drought-stressed Forages"

Help recovering hay and pasture stands "catch up" and regain vigor in the spring
If fall recovery was not favorable, or you cut or grazed late in the season in 2014, the recovering forage plant may still be under some physiological stress. Hay and pasture plants will benefit from allowing a bit more recovery and growing time this spring before they are cut or grazed. For best "recovery management" delay the first cut of alfalfa stands until they reach early- to mid-bloom. For pastures, allow 3 to 4 in. of growth in the spring before livestock turnout. Also consider reducing stocking rates on pastures until growing conditions improve.

Fertilizing pastures in the spring
From an economic and productivity standpoint, apply phosphorus (P) and/or potassium (K) only if they are needed! The need for pasture P and K are best determined by soil testing. Soil testing and needed applications can still be done in the spring.

Applying nitrogen in early spring is a common practice on many farms. Grass-based pastures usually respond quickly to added nitrogen. From a management standpoint, however, consider whether you can actually use all of the extra pasture growth, or whether it will be more economical to apply a modest early spring application (30 or 40 lb/Ac), and assess the precipitation probabilities for the remainder of spring and summer. You can apply an additional 30 or 40 lb/Ac in mid-spring, and again possibly in late-summer to make your seasonal nitrogen use more efficient.

Repairing and reseeding - consider frost seeding or interseeding drought-thinned pastures or hay fields
Frost seeding is the broadcasting of legumes or additional grass seed in late winter when the last few weeks of night-freeze and daytime-thaw aid in seed coverage. Frost seeding works best when legume seed is broadcast on the thinnest, least competitive sod areas. This newsletter date is early March, so the greatest benefits of frost seeding may be behind us.

Interseeding is using a drill to no-till plant legumes or forage grasses into an existing sod. Spring interseeding dates are mid-March through late-April. Grasses are generally more effectively established with interseeding than with frost seeding.

The more traditional perennial grasses, such as smooth Bromegrass, orchardgrass and tall fescue, establish relatively slowly. So if you are interseeding them, don’t expect much production contribution early in the growing season.

With both frost seeding and interseeding, having the existing pasture sod grazed closely reduces early season sod competition. Further competition for sunlight and soil moisture by the existing sod can be reduced by timely and thoughtful rotational grazing for the first few months of new seedling establishment.

For more information, see ISU Extension publication PM856 Improving Pasture by Frost Seeding  and ISU Extension publication PM1097 Interseeding & No-till Pasture Renovation.  Also, see the article "Short-Term and Supplemental Forages" from the October 2007 Beef Center Newsletter.
Industry Information
USDA-SARE Requests Farmer Thoughts on Cover Crops
Farmers, USDA - SARE wants your opinions on cover crops, regardless of whether you use cover crops in your operation. The short online survey is available until March 27 and those who complete the questionnaire are eligible for a drawing for one of two $100 Visa gift cards.

Results to be released this summer will help growers, researchers, agricultural advisors, ag retailers and policymakers more effectively address questions about cover crops and learn about best practices. This release has more info and a link to the survey.   Or, go directly to the survey

Latest Ag Stats on Farms and Feedlots
The March 4 issue of Iowa AgriNews (provided by USDA-NASS) has information on the state's farms, acres in farms, corn and soybean estimates, and crop values. The total number of farms decreased by 500 from a year ago, while the average farm size of 347 acres is up one acre from 2014.

Feedlot numbers are in the March 9 issue. Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in Iowa for all feedlots totaled 1,275,000 on February 1, 2015, according to the USDA-NASS Cattle on Feed report.  The inventory is up 5 percent from January 1, 2015, and up 5,000 head from February 1, 2014.

Links to AgriNews reports from January 8, 2010 through now are on this page Each has a specific focus and is available for viewing, downloading and printing as a pdf document.

Reminder: Free BQA Certification Through April 15
Thanks to the sponsorship of Boehringer-Ingelheim Vetmedica, Beef Quality Assurance training is available online at no cost through April 15. Start on the Iowa BQA page for the link to the certification website. Remember to use the coupon code BIVIBQA for free certification.

Genex and ISU Holding Two AI classes
The first runs from March 16 (9 a.m.) to March 18 (noon) and will be filled first if possible. The second runs from March 18 (1 p.m.) to March 20 (4 p.m.) Cost is $350 per person for these beef and dairy AI classes, and participants must make their own lodging arrangements. To register please contact ISU's David Bruene by email at or by phone at 641-750-6751. For other questions, contact Adam Koppes at Genex by email at or by phone at 563-590-8470.

ISU/IBC Feedlot Facility Workshops
Attendance is limited to 30 per site, so early registration is encouraged. Producers can reserve their spot and meal by contacting their ISU Extension and Outreach beef program specialist. The registration fee of $20 per person will be collected at the door. All workshops will run from 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Two workshops remain: March 18 at Lewis and March 25 at Carroll.

IBC was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state’s beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from Iowa State Extension and Outreach, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about IBC, visit

Iowa Beef Center
313 Kildee Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA  50011-3150
Phone 515-294-2333

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