Continuing Education

Dave McClellan operates McClellan Consulting Service Inc., Fremont, Nebraska ( McClellan Consulting Service )

Every so often, about the time I think I’ve seen it all, something occurs that reminds me to keep paying attention as there is still a lot to learn.

This past summer and fall provided just such a lesson.  From mid-July through today (mid-December) we in the upper Midwest have had the longest period of livestock, crop and people stress I can remember.

We normally equate summer stress to heat defined by days in the high 90’s or above for seven to 10 days at a stretch.  We didn’t have that so we weren’t quick to recognize how high the stress level on livestock, particularly confined cattle’ was from July to now.

What we did have were day-to-day temperature fluctuations of 20 degrees or more, with 65 degrees one day and over 90 the next with high humidity not unusual.  Added to this was 0.1 to 0.5 inches of rain seemingly on a daily basis, and when it didn’t rain the humidity was 70% or higher.  Consequently the time of year when cows and calves are eating higher nutrient dense grass and feedlot pens are in the best condition of the year we had lots of washy grass and sloppy pens. 

We normally try to do extensive pen maintenance prior to harvest and then haul and spread manure at the conclusion of harvest.  Not this year.  With the constant moisture, pens deteriorated badly largely because there was never an opportunity to clean them.  We are still in less than ideal shape and have already had one snow event on sloppy unfrozen surfaces that are pock marked and not drying so we can repair them.  We’ve had some warmer days but the humidity has stayed up so little drying has occurred.  Obviously these conditions were not conducive to an orderly harvest and we still have crops in the field.

I’ve shared this with you before but think it’s useful to run again.                                 

                                    Effect of Mud

                                 Depth      Feed Intake

                                  4 – 8”       -5 to 15%

                                   9-14”      -15 to 30%

Note that a 10% reduction in intake could equal a 0.5 pound loss in ADG resulting in lost revenue.

We did not reach the nine- to 14-inch levels but we did spend more than three months at three inches or more.  Cattle were and are tired, intakes fluctuate abnormally, and cattle are dirty (so when it’s hot or cold they don’t adjust normally).  In spite of all these negative factors we continued to feed them to historically high harvest weights and many of us fed a beta agonist in an attempt to enhance late period performance.

So what did we get?  Increased late feeding period deads, higher footrot incidence, more hairy heel wart, more bloat and poor performance.  It’s worth mentioning that heifers reflect stress more than steers and put-together cattle really tank.

I received several phone calls from cow-calf people with dead cow questions and feedlot folks with reports of a dramatic increase in late feeding period deads.  People had to be cajoled into posting some of these very large animals, but when we did we quite often found extensive lung damage even though the animal had not been treated for a respiratory problem.  When cattle are tired and uncomfortable it becomes more difficult to identify animals needing to be pulled and treated because they all have the blahs.  These issues were compounded by longer days on feed and the use of a beta agonist the final 30 to 40 days.  To draw a NASCAR analogy we took an engine near the end of a race and instead of the normal 3,000 rpm’s we asked it to go another 100 miles at 6,000 rpm’s and it broke.  Remember stress is cumulative.  This was reinforced to us when “naturals” which are routinely fed extremely long days did not have the same degree of late period deads.

Recently released USDA data shows a significant decline in carcass weights for the first time in recent memory.  Perhaps we’ve started a new trend line.

As this reaches you we will have spent the Christmas Holiday with our family, all 22 of us in celebration of Christ’s birth.  Children grown to adulthood and grandkids are truly a blessing.  I hope that all of you enjoyed your families as well.  Happy New Year and a purposeful and prosperous New Year.