Animal Industry News Update March 2012

Theresia Lavergne, Page, Timothy G., Hutchison, Charles F., Harborth, Karl, Navarre, Christine B., Pruitt, J. Ross  |  4/11/2012 7:27:53 PM

Plan for Summer: Minimize the Stress of Parasites

cow calf pair

Dr. Christine Navarre

It is not too early to start planning for summer. Heat stress is a major problem in Louisiana. Any subclinical problem, such as internal and external parasites, will make cattle more susceptible to heat stress.

The climate in Louisiana in the winter and spring is perfect for buildup of internal parasites. The internal parasites most important in Louisiana beef and dairy cattle are the brown stomach worm and liver flukes. These parasites can:

  • Reduce appetite
  • Cause weight loss
  • Decrease milk production
  • Decrease reproductive efficiency
  • Impair immune function
  • Reduce beef per acre produced

This all adds up to decreased milk production, fewer calves weaned per cow exposed, decreased weaning weights, decreased response to vaccines and decreased disease resistance. Use of dewormers in herds should be considered a preventive measure, not a treatment once animals show signs. Careful planning of herd deworming schedules can greatly reduce the impact of parasites in a herd.

Internal parasite resistance to dewormers appears to be on the rise in cattle, and some deworming recommendations have changed. Parasite control measures should be carefully developed with the herd veterinarian to maximize production while minimizing the buildup of resistant parasites. Spring is a good time to evaluate animal and pasture management that can impact parasites and plan a deworming program. This will minimize one of the major stresses that can exacerbate heat stress.

Control of external parasites is also very important. The “worry” stress caused by external parasites leads to the same list of problems caused by internal parasites. Now is also a good time to develop a control strategy for external parasites.  

Improving Sow Housing Facilities

sow and piglets

Dr. Tim Page

Managing sows in gestation stalls has been thoroughly researched and documented. There is a growing trend to make gestation stalls unacceptable in terms of animal welfare. Some companies are now demanding pork from farms that do not use sow gestation stalls. Also, most producers in Louisiana use gestation pens instead of gestation stalls. With more producers using sow gestation pens, management techniques need to change to alleviate some of the problems associated with gestation pens, such as lameness, leg injuries and variable body condition.

Some of the biggest problems with gestation pens are lameness and leg injuries. To alleviate these problems in the swine industry, research at Purdue University has been conducted to evaluate the impact of gestation pen rubber mats on sow health, behavior and welfare. Sows prefer to rest in stalls with mats and show a reduction in lesions and an increase in postural changes. Therefore, researchers concluded that rubber mats should be considered in pens to improve sow welfare.

The USDA estimates that lameness is the number three reason why sows are culled on farms, representing 15% of all sows. Concrete has been associated with hoof lesions in finishing pigs. The high incidence of leg injuries in pigs may be an indicator that the comfort needs of pigs are not being met. Lying comfort is an important aspect of modern swine production. It is estimated that confined hogs spend 80% of their day resting. Straw offers a means of providing comfort but can increase costs and create manure-handling issues. Rubber mats offer an inexpensive and simple alternative to straw.

In the Purdue study, health (lesions and lameness) and behavioral measures (resting behavior and frequency of postural changes) were documented to determine the impact of mats on sow welfare. Results showed that resting behavior was improved in matted gestation pens. Lesion scores and lameness were higher for sows on concrete than sows on mats.

Pen Gestation Suggestions:

  1. Employ mats in gestation pens where possible
  2. Fill pens based on weight, parity and size
  3. Manage feeding to reduce stress
  4. Not all sows are meant to be housed in pens, this includes thin, overly dominant and sick or lame females; some sows may have to be stalled separately
  5. Immediately move any sow that shows difficulty holding up in a pen environment to a stall
  6. The ability of a farm to effectively manage the challenges posed by pen gestation will determine its success

Broiler Chicken Production Continues to Slide


 Dr. Ross Pruitt

Preliminary year-on-year estimates of U.S. broiler chicken production (ready-to-cook, RTC basis) show a 0.8% increase in 2011 over 2010. This is not surprising as reductions in egg sets and chick placements did not begin to show decreases until May and June of last year, respectively. Year-on-year reductions in egg sets and placements have continued through the first nine weeks of this year. U.S. weekly egg sets thus far in 2012 have averaged 5.5% lower than last year and 7.7% lower than the five-year average while chick placements are 3.9% below last year and 6% lower than the five-year average. Preliminary estimates show RTC chicken production in January 2012 was 1.2% lower than a year ago.

Although chicken production is expected to be 3.5% lower nationally this year, placements so far in Louisiana have held up fairly well. Louisiana broiler egg sets are slightly higher than a year ago so far in 2012, but less than one percent lower than 2010. Weekly chick placements for the state are averaging 1.6% higher than a year ago and are 2% higher than 2010. Compared to the five-year average, Louisiana year-to-date egg sets and chick placements are 3.6% and 8.8% lower, respectively. This compares to 6.9% and 5.3% lower egg sets and chick placements, respectively, at the national level for 2012 year-to-date compared to the previous five-year average. There was one year of year-on-year decline in chicken production included in the previous five-year average and chicken production has entered the mature stage of product life cycle toward the end of the period.

In spite of the decline in chicken production expected for 2012, chicken meat in cold storage during January dropped 21% from a year ago. This is a significant drop and continues a pattern of declines in cold storage level that occurred in five of the past six months. Preliminary estimates for broiler chicken exports in January 2012 were 9.4% higher than a year ago. Broiler exports for 2011 were 3.3% higher than 2010. South Korea, Hong Kong and “other” countries were the markets that saw the strongest growth for U.S. exports of broiler chicken meat in 2011.

Reduced domestic production, increased exports and a reduction in cold storage levels have contributed to a year-on-year increase in chicken prices so far in 2012. Composite bird prices were 15% higher than a year ago in the northeast U.S. for February 2012, and key components such as boneless/skinless breasts, leg quarters and whole wings were 4.1%, 41.2% and 94.3% higher, respectively, last month over a year ago. What is slightly concerning is that many of the key chicken component prices declined from January to February when seasonality suggests they should strengthen. Higher gas prices may have led to softer demand and lower prices experienced, but they are a warning that domestic demand is still cautious. Higher prices on lower output have helped improve the profitability outlook for vertically integrated chicken firms, but grain prices still remain high. Companies are still likely to be rebuilding their balance sheets through this year, at the very least, before increases in production occur in 2013. Grain prices remain high and volatile at this point and provide further caution to any firm looking to expand.

Dairy Update

dairy products

Dr. Charlie Hutchison

Milk and Feed Prices

The year 2011 was a banner year for milk prices with pay price for the year the highest ever at $21.60/cwt not including deductions. Unfortunately, feed prices for most of the year were at an all-time high. Therefore, profit margins were slim.

Starting in 2012, the January pay price was very similar to the December price, but February’s pay price was $1.75 to $2.15/cwt lower than the January price. The cash price for dairy products and futures has been declining since the end of 2011. However, the focus shifted in Class III futures and cash prices for barrels and blocks during the past week. The talk has gone from milk surpluses to marginal increases in demand for both block and barrel and warm weather. On one hand, you have commercial buyers pulling forward processed cheese purchases for the summertime grilling season, and on the other, you have what is anecdotal chatter about marginal surge in export demand, all alongside promotional season. A late-winter heat wave is making it possible for people in the Midwest to grill like it is Memorial Day weekend instead of St. Patrick’s Day. This has resulted in the continued firming of the Class III milk futures and finally with good volume and respectable increases.

According to the USDA's Livestock, Dairy and Poultry report, feed prices are expected to be higher during 2012 than 2011. The corn price is expected to average $5.90 to $6.50 per bushel for the 2011-12 crop year, which is an increase from the $5.18 average in 2010-11. Soybean meal prices are forecast higher than in February at $310 to $340 per ton, but lower than the $346 posted in 2010-11. The increase in the soybean meal price forecast this month is due to reduced supplies from South America. The higher feed prices expected this year will continue to pressure the milk-feed price ratio.

The preliminary February milk-feed price ratio was 1.58, well below 2.01 posted in February 2011. This producer profitability indicator is unlikely to improve as the effect of higher feed prices will be exacerbated by forecast lower milk and dairy product prices this year.

The February Milk Production report showed January milk production 3.4% above January 2011 as both milk cow numbers and output per cow were above expectations (USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service). Prices for replacement heifers, which will enter the herd during 2012 and into mid-2013, also were above expectations, suggesting that there is demand for dairy replacements and further expansion.

Based on these facts, February’s forecast cow numbers were increased this month to 9.2 million head for the year and production per cow was raised to 21,645 pounds. Most of the gain in cow numbers is expected to come in the first half of 2012. The relatively mild winter temperatures in most of the United States were ideal for milk production, boosting yield per cow in the first half of 2012. However, weaker producer returns are expected to lead to herd contraction and lower milk per cow in the second half of the year. Milk production is forecast at 199.7 billion pounds this year, an increase over 2011 and slightly higher than February’s forecast.

Prices for cheese, butter, NDM and whey were lowered this month. Expanded milk production and slightly lower than earlier forecast economic growth are expected to pressure prices. This month, annual cheese prices are forecast at $1.60 to $1.66 a pound. Butter prices are projected at $1.51 to $1.60 a pound for the year. NDM prices are forecast at $1.345 to $1.395 for the year, and whey prices, which had bucked the previous trend toward lower product prices, are now forecast lower this month at 57 to 60 cents a pound but are still expected to finish the year above 2011 prices.

Lower dairy product prices resulted in lower milk prices for March than February. The Class III price is projected at $16.35 to $16.95 per cwt. The Class IV price forecast is reduced to $15.85 to $16.55 per cwt, and all milk price is lowered to $17.60 and $18.20 per cwt.

Milk and Weight Loss

Maybe calcium is not the key to weight loss after all. There could be a multitude of factors in dairy products — or just one magical compound — that is responsible.

That is the conclusion from a study published in the January issue of the Nutrition and Metabolism journal. Researchers found that a high-calcium diet containing nonfat dry milk reduced weight gain in obese mice better than high calcium alone. In fact, high calcium by itself did not really help and may have made matters worse. Researchers in the aforementioned mouse study say that further investigation is needed. If calcium is not the factor behind weight loss, what is?

Greg Miller, president of the Dairy Research Institute and executive vice president of the National Dairy Council, says there are many different factors in dairy products, such as whey protein or branched chain amino acids, which might explain the weight-loss advantages. “Conjugated linoleic acid is another potential bioactive that may have an effect on body fat accumulation,” he says.

Make Mine 3X

There are many different methods of feeding calves milk replacer, or milk, such as 1 time per day, 2 times per day or numerous meals with an automated feeding system. What about 3 times (3X) per day?

A study was recently conducted by Don Sockett, veterinary microbiologist at the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, to compare 3X to 2X feeding. During the study, all calves were fed the same amount of a 28% protein, 20% fat milk replacer daily. The only difference was the 3X calves’ portion was split into three meals, with the extra feeding taking place at 2:30 in the afternoon. Otherwise, both groups were fed at 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Results indicate that the additional milk replacer feeding yielded some pretty powerful results — 97.1% (or 34 out of 35 calves) went on to become lactating animals in the herd. “That’s unheard of in the Holstein industry, absolutely unheard of,” Sockett says. “The national average is about 80 percent.”

And that is exactly how the calves fed twice daily performed. Eighty percent, or 28 out of 35 of the calves, entered the milking herd. That means, for every six calves fed three times a day, one additional heifer entered lactation. “When you look at the reasons why calves in the twice-a-day feeding didn’t make it as mothers lactating in the herd, it wasn’t any one particular thing,” Sockett says.

Mostly, it was common reasons — like death prior to weaning, the heifer did not get bred or she aborted — that expedited her departure from the herd.

The calves fed three times per day calved 16 days earlier and averaged 1,136 pounds more milk during their first lactation. They also had better starter intake, growth and feed efficiency during the pre-weaning phase — what you would expect of calves fed to a higher plane of nutrition.

“Obviously this work needs to be repeated to make sure it’s a repeatable finding,” Sockett adds. However, the evidence so far presents a strong case for feeding calves multiple meals.

Spring Cowherd Management Tips

cow calf lying down

 Dr. Karl Harborth

Bull Management

Schedule a breeding-soundness exam for your herd sire(s), which should be completed 45-60 days prior to the beginning of the breeding season. This allows time for a bull to be retested or replaced, but is not too early that he might get into a fight and/or get traumatized in a way that would make him useless. Evaluate their body condition. Young bulls are still growing and will have greater nutrient needs than mature bulls. The most popular question in regards to bull management is “how many cows a bull can cover?” or “how many bulls do I need?” The answer is: it varies. There are many factors that will determine how many cows a bull can cover. A good rule of thumb is a mature bull can cover 25 cows in a controlled breeding season (75-90 days); younger bulls should be exposed to as many cows as they are old in months of age (15-month-old bull = 15 cows). We also should remember that just because a bull can breed 18 cows does not mean he will. Watching your herd sires work after they are turned out with the cows is imperative to prevent a disaster of a bull with low libido not getting the job done.

Continue Mineral Supplementation

During times of rapid growth, forages tend to be lower in magnesium (Mg), which can lead to the possibility of grass tetany in the cattle grazing that forage. Providing a mineral with Mg (8-10% of mineral) can help prevent this. Mineral supplementation is a great way to deliver ionophores or other feed additives to grazing cattle.

Post-Calving Management

There are two management practices that should be taken care of as close to birth as possible: castration and dehorning. As an animal gets older, the stress from these practices increases. So, take care of them as early in life as possible. Older, heavier calves will be discounted if they are not castrated or dehorned when marketed.

Spring cleaning

It is time to service your hay equipment and get it ready for the upcoming season. Regardless of the amount of use last year, it is recommended to grease, clean and assure that all moving parts are not worn or need replacing.

Tax Time

While growing up, tax time seemed like the most unpleasant time of year. That may have been or is the case in your household, but it is something we have to do. Gather all tax documents for your tax preparer.

Other timely tips and calendar items can be found on the LSU AgCenter’s Web portal and the Beef Management Calendar.

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