Rayner Reckons

Jul 17

Prepare for the cold fronts!

Posted on Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The impact of cold weather on your livestock isn’t to be underestimated.  So far this July we have already seen several strong cold fronts sweep across southern and eastern Australia.  These fronts have been accompanied by strong winds, snow and sleet and then days of intense frosts.  

These events have a big impact on your livestock.  The demand to stay warm requires extra energy.  At present the intense drought conditions mean many livestock are low in body condition and surviving on minimal rations.  The combination of low body reserves and reduced energy intake means your stock is less able to cope with the cold, and at greater risk of dying. 

How does cold affect your cattle?

We often assume cattle can cope with cold conditions more easily than other species like sheep.  However, cattle can be just as impacted by the cold as any other species.  As a warm-blooded animal, cattle have a normal temperature of 380C. Under most circumstances cattle can cope with some temperature fluctuations without needing to expend too much extra energy.  As the season changes they grow thicker coats, and in periods of cold weather they change their grazing patterns to find shelter.  

However this behaviour can only go so far.  If temperatures fall to what is known as the ‘lower critical temperature” your cattle will start to be cold stressed.  To cope they start to require more energy to stay warm.  And in this situation they need to have more energy in their diets. 

Some research by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture in Canada identified the differing levels of lower critical temperature, depending on cattle coat thickness.  These levels do vary depending on coat thickness.

Coat Description 

Lower Critical Temperature

°C

Summer coat or wet coat

15

Autumn coat 

7

Winter coat 

0

Heavy winter coat 

-8

These temperatures don’t take into account the impact of wind speed.  Wind has the biggest impact on the lower critical temperature.  This can be seen below

Looking at the table, if the wind was only 8km /hour on a 40c Day, the actual air temperature is really 10C.  

This is close to the Lower Critical Level for cattle with a dry winter coat.  But a wet coat after rain means your animals are at real risk of cold stress.

Cold and wet conditions have a massive impact on sheep programs.  At greatest risk are lambs that are often unable to cope with the impact of cold weather.  Rain and moisture significantly increases the risk of mortality.  As with cattle, sheep manage to cope to some degree with cold by changing behaviour and seeking shelter.  They also have a fleece that will offer some protection.  

However its important not to overestimate how effective a fleece may be.  The table below highlights the Lower Critical Temperatures of Sheep 

  

Lower Critical Temperature (ºC) 

5-mm fleece (fixed) 

  

    Fasting 

31 

    Maintenance 

25 

    Full-fed 

18 

Maintenance 

  

    1-mm fleece 

28 

    10-mm fleece 

22 

    50-mm fleece 

    100-mm fleece 

-3

As with cattle, when wind speed increases, the impact on Lower Critical Temperature is much greater. And for lambs with no fleece and a large surface area and low body mass, their energy loss is very high.  

Managing the Risk

In practical terms it's impossible to avoid cold fronts.  However we can manage for them.  The options that are available to help your stock cope with cold conditions include:

 

  • Increasing rations ahead of the cold front:  Hay is a very good option to increase a ration.  It is more slowly digested and the process of digestion helps stock stay warmer as well as getting more energy.  However it’s no good just offering a bit!  You need to increase your rations by 10 – 20%.  If your stock are light in condition or slick coated cattle I’d definitely be increasing to 20% ahead of and during the cold period.

 

  • Provide shelter.  Breaking the wind speed up can have a dramatic effect on improving conditions for your stock.  Moving them to sheltered paddocks that have trees and shrubs that break up the wind will be vital.  There are plenty of well proven strategies and studies that show the role shelter has in livestock survival

 

  • Longer term, consider developing shelterbelts and wind breaks to moderate the wind across the farm.  You certainly can’t grow shelter over night, so in the short term consider what other options you have to shelter your stock.

Cold fronts often only last for a few days, and with adequate warning you can prepare your stock to cope with the challenge.  It is important to make your plans happen when the fronts are forecast.  Don’t leave it to the day of the windy and snow to start doing something.  Often moving stock in those conditions makes it worse not better!  Pre preparation is everything to give your stock a chance!

Jul 04

Are you properly prepared to buy a new bull?

Posted on Thursday, July 04, 2019

Purchasing new bulls for a program is a significant event for any producer. While many people consider the immediate cost of the bull to be the most pressing consideration, there is much more to consider than his actual cost!  A bull will make a contribution to a herd that will extend for up to 15 years. So the lifetime cost of that bull in a herd is much greater than what you may pay at auction.

I spend a lot of time with producers looking at bulls before sales.  I’m often conscious that a large number of people I chat to have only a general idea of the characteristics of the bull that they want. As I wrote earlier, the question “what do I think of this bull?” is a hard one to answer. As we approach the spring bull selling season I’ve prepared a few suggestions to help producers prepare ahead of their next bull purchase.
  1. Know what you want to achieve in your herd
A new bull should be the source of genetics to help move your herd closer to your goals.  So you need to be very clear on what you want to achieve.  I’d normally start by considering:
  • Your current market – are your steers and heifers meeting the weight, fat and eating quality specifications?
  • Your environment – are your cows the size that suits your pasture growth patterns throughout the year
  • Is your herd fertility as high as it can be? Are your cows going into calf early, delivering calves easily and rearing those calves to weaning?  
  • Are there traits you would like to improve further or correct with genetics?
These are four key questions you should be focusing on as part of your business planning anyway.  In terms of seeking a new bull, the answers to these questions will give you a focus on the traits you should be seeking. It’s equally important not to rush this process!  You really need to take some time and review the market feedback you have, your fertility data and your paddock notes to see why you have been culling certain females from the herd.

2.  Search for bulls well before the sale

If you have identified the traits of bulls that you want bring into your herd, you should start doing some preliminary searching.  There are various ways to do this.  
  • Use breed websites to search for bulls with specific EBVs that meet you criteria.  This can be useful, however it may mean you need to do some additional searching to find the bulls you have identified with a particular breeder. 
  • I use on line sale catalogues available through the breed websites.  This option will bring up the bulls listed at your chosen breeders sale.  The easiest way to find the bulls that suit your criteria is to click on the option that asks if you would like to link to Breed Object. This will bring up the bulls with their EBVs and Index values, which makes searching much easier.
3.  Use the Indexes
Indexes were developed to help make selection easier in a couple of ways. The first is to remember that Indexes are developed to reflect both the short-term profit that would come from using a bull through his actual progeny.  While longer term profit is the influence his daughter have on a herd. The Indexes combine the animals EBVs for their impact on the traits that impact on a specific production and market system. 
I pe
rsonally tend to find the Index that best suits a program and look at the top 5 bulls in the catalogue.  If you need to adjust a trait for a reason, one that you have identified earlier, you can then go and fine tune your selection on specific EBVs.


4.  Talk to the Breeder Breeders have an interest in helping their clients. However you also need to make sure that the breeder you are approaching has the same focus or direction you have. Ultimately you have to be confident you are buying bulls from an operation that has the same focus and scrutiny you have for your own herd.  You need to do this well in advance of a sale.  Trying to make that decision on sale day is never a good idea!

5.  Have a physical checklist for sale day

I’ve been to hundreds of bull sales.  I know that some people find them exciting and a great day out. Some people find them over whelming and get swamped by the event. You need to go to a sale with plenty of time and a mission.  In short you need to: 
  • Arrive early and spend as much time as you need looking at your chosen bulls.  Don’t worry about the other bulls in the pen, or what other people like or don’t like! Your herd is your concern and the bulls you’ve identified are the ones that meet your objectives.
  • Look at those bulls and have a checklist.  Are the bulls structurally sound?  Do they reflect your maturity pattern?  What is their temperament like?  Do they have the muscle pattern you need?  
Ultimately you need to use your research and stick to the chosen selection. These bulls are those that fit your needs.  Don’t agonise about who is better in one trait but not another.  If they are all bulls that are in your specifications, rank them in preference, but then treat them the same!  Then in the pens use your observations to chose the best on the physical traits that you want.   If you do that you’ll have a preference list.  These and only these are the bulls you need to bid on! 

If you do this properly you’ll have time to enjoy the steak sandwich and the social catch up!  You’ll also find that when you ask me ‘what do I think of this bull?” I’ll be able to have a much more useful conversation with you!

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