Shoot-n-the Bull

Published on Fri, 12/17/2010 - 9:32am

On Target Tips

 Let’s Start The New Year At Ground Level

Here are twelve ways to improve your cattle operation that will pay good dividends for the coming year.

1. Run soil tests on your land including pastures, hay fields, and crop acreage. Work closely with your county extension agent, district agronomist, or NRCS personnel to know how to perform a proper soil test, to understand those reports that come back, and to make recommendations to improve your land.  By being good stewards of the land, the land will produce for you the most efficient crops possible. Add be informed about the proper amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that is needed for your specific crop. Try to reach a soil pH of 6 to 6.2 for ideal grass production. Do not forget to supplement with micronutrients too. It is a total package for successful and efficient crop production. If you see earthworms in your soil, you are doing everything right.

2. Hay storage is crucial with the cost of feeding getting higher each year. You have to protect the hay some how to maintain quality and quantity for the feeding season. Whether you store in a barn or cover with tarps, you must keep it off the ground and out of the weather. Ideally, stack hay on pallets or six inches of crushed stone. How many times do we see a row of hay along a fence line for winter? In one year, the first outside eight inches of the bale will deteriorate enough that cows will not eat it. That is forty percent of the entire bale of good quality hay. It is too hard and costly to produce this forage just to watch almost half of your hay goes to waste.  Protect it!

3. Feed your cattle properly this winter. Know the basic feed intake requirements that a cow needs to get through the winter. A dry cow needs at least nine percent total protein daily for maintenance of her body and the unborn calf. Wet cows require at least twelve percent total protein for maintaining herself, producing milk for the suckling, and conceiving a new calf for the next gestation period.

4. Mineral supplementation is a basic requirement that cannot be overlooked. This consists of salt, minerals, and trace minerals. These elements are essential daily for cattle to maintain their body needs in a productive and efficient way. If you skip or forget to supplement cattle with minerals you will see poor producing results. Check your mineral stations daily if possible, and keep them covered from the weather. Do not waste minerals because they are a costly expense.

5. Perform a hay analysis on your crop to see what you really have to feed your cattle.  Purchase your hay based on the results of the analysis not the number of bales you need for the season. We all need to produce or purchase hay based on total protein and feed our different groups of cattle accordingly to their needs for certain times of the year. If your hay is 7% total protein, that is not enough to maintain a cow’s body and you will have to supplement her needs which causes more expense to you. But if your hay is 15% to 23% total protein, then supplementation is not required and would be wasteful. Feed dry cows 12% total protein hay until their last trimester of gestation, and then feed your best hay for that extra push before calving. Wet cows, replacement heifers, first calf heifers, and feeder steers require the best total protein hay you have. To grow and maintain production, you have to feed these cattle correctly.

6. Do not waste feed. Purchase sturdy hay racks and feed troughs that are designed to hold up to the punishment that cattle can deliver. One sturdy hayrack will pay for itself in one season and will last forever compared to the, so called, economical racks that you replace every two to three years. Feed troughs should be steel and concrete. They will last. Move your hayracks around the feeding area to avoid damage in the pastures.

7. Prepare for spring calving. Get your maternity lot ready to move expecting cows into them ten days before calving. Have the area free of cattle and clean for at least a month before so that pathogens are free from the area. Preferably, a good amount of grass in the lot would be ideal for a cushion effect at calving time. Have this area close enough for quick movement to confinement in case of calving difficulties. Move the cow/calf pairs out of this maternity area to a new clean pasture three to five days after birth. This will help prevent diseases in the new calving herd.

8. Get your emergency calving station ready to go! If we have to assist calving problems, we want to pull live calves, not dead ones. Have an area where a cow can be moved quickly and easy into an area of safe confinement. Avoid pulling a calf in a chute if at all possible. If that mama cow goes down, there are only headaches afterwards. A good lariat and multiple tying stations are really a necessity for ease, safety, and comfort. If possible a covered area after a delivery would be nice for the cow and calf to be under so they can get acquainted for a little while from the rest of the herd for a day. This could prevent a new mother walking off and abandoning her calf.

9.  Have your obstetric equipment and/or your Veterinarian’s phone number ready. Clean and disinfected equipment is essential. Have your calf puller in a bag for easy handling to the cow.  Plastic carry all trays are good to store OB chains, lubricants, paper towels, iodine, tattoo ink/tags/pliers, ID tags/pliers, and medications to aid in the delivery of the calf. It is nice to be able to quickly carry all of your supplies to the cow and at arms length when needed.

10.  Watch and know your cows. Do you  have old cows with worn out teeth trying to produce a calf or cows that are not pregnant in the herd? They should have been checked and removed from the herd before now. That is wasteful and costly. During calving season, observe the herd three to four times a day looking for unusual habits. Observe cows springing, udder development, a clear mucus plug descending from the vulva, or teats that are starting to shine.   Calving is not too far away. Get a good light source in your hands and on top of your head and check those cattle right before bedtime. Use bulls that are proven to have low birth weights and produce calves a few days earlier than the gestation charts predict. This is so important! Have a good relationship with your Veterinarian who understands that emergencies at night and weekends do occur on the farm. Know when to call him for a successful delivery. 

11.  Check the cow’s water source in the dead of winter multiple times a day. Drinkers, creeks, and ponds can freeze over very quickly during harsh weather. Cows must have water daily or they will die.

12.  Observe the herd for sickness. Know what the normal signs of a cow are and compare that to abnormal observations in the herd. Abnormal signs could include - staying away from the herd, coughing, labored breathing, drainage from the nostrils or eyes, mouth breathing, laying down, or poor body condition. Quickly get these animals to an isolated area for treatment if necessary, by doing so, you will aid in avoiding exposure to the main herd.

Implementing these twelve ideas can improve your chances in maintaining a successful cattle operation this time of year.



1. What breed of cow is the tallest?

2. What is a dry cow?

3. What is the smallest breed of cow?

4. What state has the most beef cattle?

5. How many stomachs do cattle have?


1. Chianina

2. A cow that is not producing milk.

3. Dexter

4. Texas

5. One but it is divided into four parts.


Upcoming in the next issue

• Calving: Keeping them Alive

• Surveillance Cameras

• Animal Behaviors

• Charolais




Courtesy of the American Angus Association


One of the most successful English breeds of cattle, the Angus has long been the cattle “business” breed. Its black color is highly sought after in crossbreeding programs as a potential seal of Angus quality. Perhaps the most representative breed in cowherds, the Angus holds a well earned spot amongst all beef breeds.


The Angus breed began in the northern regions of England. Originally both red and black cattle were equally selected in attempts to get high quality traits wherever possible. In the latter half of the 18th century, the cattle of the Aberdeen – Angus counties of northeast Scotland were being heavily used for the improvement of other regional cattle herds.


The very first Angus cattle were imported into the U.S. in 1873. George Grant, a Kansas rancher wanted to develop the Angus as his primary breed and introduce it to the region as an ideal beef option. At their first public appearance in the 1873 Missouri Exposition, the Angus cattle were negatively received. At this time polledness was not yet appreciated for its benefits within feedlot cattle, and the black color was too different from the common red coloration seen in the familiar cattle. Angus ranchers however were not dissuaded and continued to promote the Angus and also began to crossbreed it with the hardy Texas Longhorn. The results were polled, very hardy black calves – a very appealing cross to past critics. A heavy importation of Angus cattle direct from Scotland followed, at its peak 1200 cattle were brought in from 1878 to 1883.


The American Aberdeen- Angus Breeders’ Association was founded on Nov 21, 1883 in Chicago, Illinois. In 1950, it was renamed the American Angus Association. Today, it holds the distinction of being the largest purebred beef registry in the world.


Angus beef hardly needs an introduction; it is renowned for its fine marbling texture and superlative eating qualities. The Angus given a minimal amount of days on feed will manage to repeatedly turn out Prime and Choice grade meats. The Certified Angus Beef program was the first of its class. It provides Angus beef producers an increase in the marketability of their stock directly leading to higher premiums. For the consumer, it provides a consistent eating experience and the assurance of knowing what one is purchasing. In order to qualify under the phenotype requirements of the CAB programs, the cattle must exhibit at least 51% black coloration as well as the absence of non-angus traits (Brahman humps, dairy cattle conformation). The surge in the CAB program has led to a wide-reaching escalation of breeding black into cattle stock, most often using Angus bulls.


Angus bulls are an excellent crossbreeding option. Breeding to an Angus bull virtually eliminates calving problems. The resulting calves are born polled minimizing injuries in feedlot situations. The Angus’ black coloration also serves as “sun block” of sorts, helping to prevent cancers and sun burning of the udder. The ChiAngus (Angus x Chianina) and the SimAngus (Angus x Simmental) are only two examples of angus hybrids that carry the qualities of both breeds making leaner, more efficient grain converters with higher performance numbers.


While the high quality traits of beef are not exclusive in the Angus, their numbers increased due to their consistency in producing quality. There is little lacking in the Angus breed; it meets the needs of a demanding cattle industry on a wide range of points. It is a docile breed, relatively hardy; cows calve easily and have excellent maternal instincts. At feedlots its meat quality proves its superiority time and again. When in doubt, it is the cattleman tradition to go black—a time tested strategy that has served them well.