Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Dave McClellan, McClellan Consulting Service Inc. ( McClellan Consulting Service Inc. )

We are now in the early part of the eleventh straight month of anything that might be confused as good or even normal weather.  The feedlots got a break in late January through much of February with below freezing temperatures that firmed up sloppy pens and allowed us to at least smooth them up and in some cases pile and remove what we normally would have done in fall.  However much of the upper

Midwest calves first calf heifers in February and mature cows in March and April to turn out in May. 

The extreme cold resulted in higher than normal death loss in February followed by March-April blizzards that did the same to those calves.  Regardless of man power and facilities most everyone was negatively impacted.  This doesn’t even address the record flooding and loss of animals and property through a large portion of the Midwest.  We live on a bluff overlooking the Platte River just south of Fremont, Neb. and observed firsthand the devastation created when the rains came and the ice broke loose.

Enough of moaning and groaning.  April 8 to 12 found us in San Antonio, Texas for the Plains Nutrition Council Spring Conference.  It’s the single best meeting for a fed cattle nutritionist to attend and this was perhaps the best year of content in recent memory as well as shirt sleeve weather.  It’s been in existence long enough that it also serves as a reunion of sorts as we catch up with our peers over a Margarita or two and get caught up on everything from health to families.  Time with old friends means more to me every year as I age.

Highlights of this year included the opening presentation by Dr. Mary Beth Hall, USDA-ARC, Madison, Wis., titled “Exploring a United Stated without Livestock.” Dr. Hall explored the idea of balance, just enough of this, not too much of that.  A big picture view with small picture focus.  When Dr. Hall and her coauthor Dr. Robin White explored this idea of doing away with livestock as is often suggested by the uninformed they settled on these key questions:

  • What will be done with the land currently used for silage hay and grazing?
  • How will the food supply change?
  • How well will we be able to feed people?
  • What happens to greenhouse gas emissions?
  1. The Land

415 million acres of permanent pasture and rangeland out of production.  56 million tillable acres used to grow forage assumingly converted to human feed stuffs, except for 4.4 million acres to grow hay for the U.S.s 10.2 million horses.  It has been suggested that the remaining tillable forage acres could be used as wildlife habitat, but short of a massive government program farmers would still need to make a living and their land holdings would have lost serious monetary value.  Fruits, nuts and vegetables?  The U.S. currently imports 51% of the fruits and 39% of the vegetables that we consume.  If this was deemed profitable we would already be producing more of that shortage.  Climate, weather, water, soil, LABOR, markets risk and profitability all impact what is grown where.  More than 70% of these kinds of crops grown in the U.S. are irrigated.

  1. Food Supply

If we did this the food supply would only increase by 23% of what livestock now supplies so a 77% reduction.  66 million tons that must be replaced somehow.  Nutrients like long chain fatty acids, calcium, and vitamins A, D and B12 which come from food animals would be short  and what about rendered products fed to cats and dogs?

  1. Feeding the Population

People eat food not nutrients and they are best provided as food not supplements.  Most human diets today are deficient in vitamins D, E and K and choline.  Without animals we would add long chain fatty acids and B12 to that list. We must have B12 so a supplement and the lower concentration of nutrients in fruits, nuts and vegetables would require much larger intakes to meet our needs.

  1. Greenhouse Gases

Agriculture accounts for only about 9% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions with animals about 50% of that number.  The replacement of manure used for fertilizer would have to be from manmade sources so the reduction would only be about 2.6% not the 4.5% as indicated. We need to look at the entire picture just not animals.

The Legends of Feedlot Nutrition inductees were Drs. Steve Armbruster and Spencer Swingle as Consultants and Dr. Danny Fox as Academia/Extension.  All well deserving of the honor.

One of the real highlights of the Plains meeting the last several years has been the graduate student poster competition sponsored and funded by Dr. Kenneth Eng and his Foundation.

1st Place J. R. Baber , Texas A & M. 

Net protein contribution of feedlots from 2006 to 2017.

An examination of the starter and finish diets fed in 6 Texas and 2 Kansa commercial feedlots comparing the use of or the substitution for human edible feedstuffs.  Overall the time studied showed a marked move to less human edible protein being replaced by byproducts deemed generally as human inedible.

Other winners were, in no particular order:

  • E. L. Deters, Iowa State University, Injectable Vitamin D improves post-transit performance of beef steers 
  • E. M. Messersmith. Iowa State University, Effects of Zinc supplementation on performance, carcass characteristics, and liver mineral concentrations of heifers receiving a single Revalor-XH or a Revalor 200-200 re-implant program.
  • W. W. Gentry, South Dakota State University, Effect of anabolic hormone exposure during the back-grounding phase in calf-fed steers of different frame sizes.
  • T. M. Winders, University of Nebraska, Impact of shade in beef feedlots on performance, body temperature and heat stress measures.

Lastly some observations from the last 10 months of ongoing weather stress and the Vitamin A shortage.  We have seen numerous animals with splotchy hair this winter that were not lice related but dry skin caused by insufficient Vitamin A in the diets.  Buildings i.e. pit barns, bedded barns or just covered loafing sheds were a huge asset to performance of feedlot cattle versus cattle in conventional pens.  Keeping protein and other nutrients in normal ranges was far better than trying to save on ration cost as cost of gain was better where we stayed the course instead of trying to economize.

May the sunshine with light breezes and timely moisture so that everyone in the cattle business has some success and stress is reduced.