Cattle Stockmanship and BQA Workshops Coming To Western Nebraska

Nebraska Extension and Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance are presenting two cattle handling demonstrations June 22 in Mitchell and June 23 in Valentine by animal handling expert Curt Pate. Pate will present low-stress handling demonstrations. Improved handling alleviates unnecessary stress to the animal and allows the producer to move cattle more efficiently and effectively. The BQA training will be presented by Rob Eirich, Nebraska Director of BQA. For more information call 308-632-1230 or email

Local Beef Deal To Benefit University of Kentucky Diners

An agreement between two Kentucky processors and a large food distributor is opening up a much-needed market for Appalachian beef cattle. Most of the cattle raised in the state are sent to the Great Plains for finishing. The University of Kentucky will partner with The Chop Shop, Omni Custom Meats, Inc., and Sysco to provide Kentucky beef for the students at UK and other customers in the state.

Herd Expansion To Benefit From Drenching Rains

By: Gilda V. Bryant

Drenching rains that recently soaked the Great Plains are greening pastures as ranchers begin to move cattle to grazing lands. Ranchers in drought-stricken areas are trying to rebuild herds that were decimated in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 droughts. In the past month, ranchers have benefited from generous rainfall, which has greatly improved range and pasture conditions. Experts say beef cow herds will expand as planned.

Twisted Mitigation for California Ranchers


Folks on their way to Fort Bragg or to see the giant Redwoods currently drive right through the tiny town of Willits, California. The Willits Bypass Project was designed to alleviate lines of traffic, but setting the wheels in motion is proving to be a legal headache.

Folks on their way to Fort Bragg or to see the giant Redwoods currently drive right through the tiny town of Willits, California. The Willits Bypass Project was designed to alleviate lines of traffic, but setting the wheels in motion is proving to be a legal headache.

By: Kayla Zilch

In the days of the famous outlaw Jesse James, farmers and ranchers fought a losing battle against the Transcontinental Railroad to keep their land and homes. Now it is almost 150 years later, but some of the same issues are still facing farmers and ranchers today, including the threat of eminent domain and an imbalance of power among government agencies.

An area facing those old issues with a new twist is the Little Lake Valley in Willits, California, where ranchers are struggling to keep grazing in the historic valley while simultaneously preserving wetland resources. The Little Lake Valley is the site for the Willits Bypass Project which has caused a battle for local land owners and ranchers against state departments and federal agencies.

Coined the “Gateway to the Redwoods,” Willits is about 140 miles north of San Francisco and is a popular route of travel for vacationers heading west to the ocean and Fort Bragg, California, and on north to tour the giant Redwoods. Because of the huge amount of traffic that travels through the heart of the small town, it is often congested and makes travel difficult for locals and vacationers passing through.

For the past 50 years, plans have been discussed to build a bypass around Willits to relieve the constant issues of traffic congestion. In 2007, plans finally started moving forwa rdon the Willits Bypass Proj ect. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) started purchasing land in the path and surrounding area of the proposed bypass. Approximately 2000 acres of property was purchased by Caltrans for the mitigation of around 65 acres of impact to wetlands. Several ranches were purchased for wetlands mitigation with the assurance that the ranchers or grazing lessees would still be able to continue grazing the property.

“I signed an agreement selling a portion of my property to Caltrans in December, 2010, under the conditions, stated in the contract, that I could lease it back to graze my cattle” said John Ford, a rancher and landowner in the area for over 20 years.

To begin construction of the Willits Bypass, Caltrans was required to obtain a Clean Water Act Secti on 404permit from the Army Corp of Engineers (COE); thus began a long period of turmoil for the ranchers of Little Lake Valley. The COE refused to grant Caltrans the needed permit unless it restricted grazing on the land managed for wetlands mitigation, under the reasoning that grazing has a negative effect on wetlands. This forced Caltrans to violate contracts with the local ranchers such as Ford and reduce grazing from 1,850 acres to roughly 1,400 acres. However, no one really knows how many acres will be grazed because the final grazing plan has not been made public.

Some parties, including rancher John Ford, suspected that Caltrans knew of the Army Corps intentions to regulate the mitigated property in September 2010. “If that information had been conveyed to me, the sale would have been different,” claims Ford. “Now if the grazing plan accommodates the Army Corp, I will be cut off from access to some areas and will lose nearly all of my summer pasture. The checkerboard pattern of grazing which is presented by the agencies limits access not only to Caltrans leases, but also to private leases.”

In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed to establish regulatory procedures of United States waterways. Wetlands fall into the Clean Water Act under section 404 which requires permits to dredge or move any fill material into wetlands and is managed by the COE. However, wetlands are often grazed or farmed; so a Memorandum of Agreement dated May 3, 1990 in regards to section 404 of the Clean Water Act exempted agriculture operations from having to obtain a section 404 permit.

These cows are comfortably grazing on the wetlands where the Willits Bypass Project will eventually be built. In California alone, there are approximately 25,000 acres of razed wetlands.

These cows are comfortably grazing on the wetlands where the Willits Bypass Project will eventually be built. In California alone, there are approximately 25,000 acres of razed wetlands.

By standards of the Memorandum, the COE does not have the authority or power to restrict agricultural operations in the first place, and secondly, did not include scientific documentation backing the decision to eliminate grazing because of its effects on wetlands. In fact, science shows that grazing is essential in maintaining healthy, viable wetlands. A study by Jaymee Marty of The Nature Conservancy, “Effects of Cattle Grazing on Diversity in Ephemeral Wetlands,” showed that grazed areas had higher rates of native species, where native species in ungrazed areas of wetlands declined by 25 percent. Even the United States Fish and Wildlife service uses grazing as a “desirable management practice” for wetlands.

“The Mendocino County Farm Bureau is concerned about the precedent that the mitigation process for the Willits Bypass is setting and the potential effects it could have on agricultural operations throughout the state that may be involved with similar 404 permitting processes,” said Mendocino County Farm Bureau Executive Director Devon Jones. “We are not against the project; we are against the impacts to agriculture.”

If the current Mitigation and Monitoring Plan is passed to restrict grazing on the mitigated properties for “Wetlands Protection,” the ground will lie fallow for the ten-year monitoring period. The twist is, after five years, even if the effects are negative on the ungrazed ground, the COE considers it abandoned and the property can never return to agriculture. So what does this mean for ranchers?

In California alone, there are approximately 125,000 acres of grazed wetlands. The Northern Plains (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and Utah) area has 4 million acres of grazed wetlands. As populations continue to grow and urban areas sprawl, projects like the Willits Bypass are inevitable to accommodate growth along with similar mitigations. The COE extending its power over agriculture production in wetlands and wetlands mitigation contracts could potentially affect ranchers and landowners all over the United States who own or have agriculture operations on wetlands.

“It doesn’t seem right that one agency can flex its power to make a decision that impacts people’s livelihoods, the local economy and the environment without providing any science or research to document its decision and with no accountability for its actions,” said Ford.

Since 2010, several meetings have been held with the local ranchers and the community of Willits, assessing the situation and trying to reach a compromise; but the process is full of uncertainty and confusion among the involved parties. Currently a group of environmental interest groups have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration, Caltrans and the COE which alleges that the defendants violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Water Act in their permit approvals for the Willits Bypass. Depending on litigation and the many unknowns that still surround the grazing plan for the mitigated lands the future of the Little Lake Valley could still contain grazing if the COE is held to its

Think Zinc

By: Gilda V. Bryant

Are you seeing some lame or poor-doing critters out there? It might be a good idea to give zinc some consideration.

Zinc works hand-in-hand with copper and selenium, but when it comes to supplementation this trace mineral is a work horse. It’s involved in some 300 enzyme systems including the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates, which provide energy for growth and weight gain in cattle. Required for every phase of cell growth, zinc is necessary for tissue health and is essential for the proper function of reproductive and immune systems. Unfortunately, zinc is hard to come by in most American forages. Producers may not be aware of a zinc deficiency until animals develop problems such as footrot.

“It’s not uncommon to see cattle that are limping because of the problems they are having with hoof integrity,” says Steve Blezinger, PhD, PAS (Professional Animal Scientist), a ruminant nutrition and management consultant. “A lot of cases can be traced back to zinc deficiency that can lead to a breakdown of connective tissue that is so important in the makeup of the hoof. You have a situation where that hoof is a little more susceptible to infection when stepping on rough ground or sharp objects.”

Butch Whitman, PhD, PAS, Vice- President of Nutrition Programs at Westfeeds, says, “Moderate deficiency symptoms are fairly hard to observe, but are probably the more predominant one that producers experience. Moderate deficiencies retard growth rate, impair reproductive performance and the animal’s immune system, which is going to show itself as chronic health problems.” Whitman adds, “In extreme cases, you get severe restriction of growth and reproductive performance and have very poor health because of poor immune systems.”

For example, calves with low zinc levels aren’t able to mount a positive response to vaccines. And that means sick calves with reduced growth and weight gain. Stressful events, including calving, weaning, moving to a new location or environmental changes such as drought, tend to lower zinc levels in the animal. Eric Scholljegerdes, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Animal and Range Sciences Department at New Mexico State University, warns that cattlemen who work animals in a high stress manner potentially cancel all the good management practices done up to that point. He continues, “The animal is going to be exposed to pathogens no matter what, so if you do as much as you can to keep the stress level down so the body has the ability to mount a response, the better off the animal is going to be.”

Zinc is vital for bulls and a healthy calf crop. Although many producers tend to forget about their bulls until turnout, low levels of zinc can cause a reduction of spermatogenesis (sperm creation), testicular development and sperm volume. Zinc is also involved in the process that creates healthy, mobile sperm cells. Since the sperm that are produced today began developing some 90 days earlier, ranchers need to supplement with zinc well in advance of breeding season. How can cattlemen evaluate zinc availability to their herds?

“Start with an evaluation of the forages the cattle are grazing,” Whitman explains. “If you do that over time, you’re aware of unique problems in the area in which you’re raising cattle. You have to do that at different times of the year including harvested forages that are fed through the winter as well as grazed forages as cattle move to different pastures.”

Consider testing the water supply, which will not only give an indication of zinc levels, but also the level of other minerals that either enhance or prevent zinc absorption. If a producer doesn’t have a clear idea of zinc availability after forage and water testing, taking blood samples might be the next step, although these tests tend to provide an incomplete picture.

“Zinc is very transient in the body,” Blezinger explains. “You can get a reading of X milligrams of zinc per deciliter today, which might indicate an inadequate status when in actuality that cow may be deficient. She has just mobilized so much zinc that it’s in the blood stream, not in the liver. If she is under stress, it will mobilize more zinc and copper out of storage areas into the blood stream.” Most experts agree that free choice loose minerals work best for supplementation. Ranchers have more formulations to choose from and loose minerals provide more flexibility when feeding. Trace mineral injections may also be used with free choice minerals.

If the herd needs higher levels of zinc for optimal performance and health, consider adding chelated zinc to the mineral program. Also know as a complexed or organic mineral, micro minerals such as zinc are chemically bound to a protein or amino acid, making them more available for absorption in the small intestine. Chelated zinc may also need to be fed to overcome the effect of antagonists. Antagonists are natural compounds which can bind with zinc to make it unavailable to the animal. Occasionally, calcium and phytate, a form of phosphorus usually found in plants, bind zinc.

However, it’s much more likely that zinc will affect copper absorption. “At one time copper was The Thing,” Blezinger says. “For a while that was the only mineral anyone focused on. Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen more focus on zinc. We’re seeing some high zinc levels in some of these mineral supplements. In my opinion, we’ve gone overboard in some cases. We may be creating an antagonist situation between zinc and copper.”

He advises cattlemen to read the label, especially zinc to copper proportions.Look for a four to one (4:1) ratio, with zinc being four and copper, one. Blezinger has seen ratios as high as ten to one, which can reduce the absorption of copper.

Scholljegerdes adds, “If you have problems with zinc, there are going to be problems with other trace minerals as well. Feed a well-balanced mineral supplement especially if animals are facing times of high stress. These good mineral packages can be expensive. If you want to save as much money as you can, pick the times when you know your animals are going to have issues with stress and nutrient deficiencies during fall and winter. Splurge and take care of those girls a little better, then you can go to something a little less expensive when grass quality improves. You’ve got to have mineral year round.” Whitman offers this advice. “When producers are providing a mineral supplement package, make sure it’s balanced. Don’t get carried away with [one particular] nutrient.”

Zinc is essential for animal health, reproduction and the proper functioning of cellular processes throughout the body, including building DNA and proteins. Without a complete mineral package, cattle won’t perform at their genetic potential. Why not think zinc?

Prep For The Cold

Make Sure Your Cows Are Nutritionally Ready 1

By: Gilda V. Bryant

Minerals are important for herd health, reproduction and efficiency during winter. However, that is only part of the picture.  Extra protein and energy are vital during cold, wet weather.  Producers should also be aware of forage and by-product supplementation quality, as well as body condition scores.

“The challenge with minerals is there’s just no single answer,” says Rick Rasby, PhD, PAS (Professional Animal Scientist), Beef Extension Specialist, University of Nebraska (Lincoln).  “Think about minerals as part of a total diet those animals are eating.”

Rasby encourages producers to sample baled forages for moisture content, protein, energy and mineral profiles.  Once a producer knows his forage quality, he can adjust the mineral package for his herd.  He says, “Use the mineral as a supplement to bridge the deficiency gap in those forages that are being consumed.”

He also recommends that producers analyze samples of supplemental feed such as gin trash, cotton seed, or distiller’s grains.

Many regions with ethanol plants have distiller’s grains available for the cow/calf sector.  Rasby says, “It’s an excellent feed, works well with forages, and is high in protein, energy and phosphorus as well.”

Typically low in winter forages, phosphorus is a mineral that’s vital for bone and teeth development, and metabolic, neurological and cellular functions in cattle.  It’s also one of the most expensive minerals to supplement.  According to Rasby, reducing or omitting phosphorus from the mineral package when feeding distillers grains can save money.  Get advice from a nutritionist or beef extension specialist about adjusting nutrient values when feeding these supplemental rations.

In addition to minerals, protein and energy, utilizing body condition scores (BCS) is a management practice that cow/calf operators can implement on a regular basis. Scores range between one and nine with one being a very poor specimen and nine being obese.

Rasby adds, “Having mature cows in condition score five at calving not only has an impact on what happens at calving, but also on how quickly those cows are ready to rebreed after calving.  Those first-calf heifers probably need to be in a little bit better condition, say conditioning score six.

“Cows that breed early in the breeding season are in the right nutritional status.  Their calves are older at weaning and generate more dollars,” explains Rasby.

Is it right?

How can a cattleman determine if his mineral supplement and diet are on target? “Measure how they perform at calving,” replies Rasby.  “Are they good mothers?  Do they give enough milk? Does the calf perform well while it’s on its mother?  How quickly does the cow get ready to rebreed?”

Providing minerals is crucial to the Thomas Angus Ranch outside of Baker City, Oregon.  Located in a valley between two mountain ranges, and flanked by sagebrush hills, owner Rob Thomas says, “We have long, fairly hard winters.”

He provides a custom mineral mix to his spring and fall calving herds, depending on forage analysis to fine-tune the supplement package.  Thomas says, “We increased levels of zinc, copper, and selenium, the three minerals we’re deficient in.”

Beginning in November when snow is on the ground, he’ll feed alfalfa and grass hay. He says, “We put up a lot of our own hay, so we feed what we put up.  We test our feed to see what minerals we need.”

As a result of their efforts he reports, “We have healthier cattle, better immune response, fewer treatments and a lower death loss.  We see increases in reproduction and gain and better feed utilization, which is important right now.  With extremely high feed prices, we want to utilize every bit of that feed, if possible.”

Across the country, Kevin Yon raises Angus cattle in the mild winters of west central South Carolina.  He provides three mineral mixes: summer, winter, and one for young growing livestock.  Yon says, “Our winter mineral program doesn’t differ drastically from our summer mineral program.  We include a higher level of magnesium to prevent grass tetany.  If all goes well we hope to have lush grazing on a limited basis, even in December and for sure in February and March.”

His winter diet includes stockpiled forages such as Fescue or Bermuda grass.  When possible, Yon likes to have rye grass or small-grain winter annuals on hand.  He explains, “It could be a combination of those and sometimes we’ll use a protein or energy supplement, which could be commodity by-products, such as whole cotton seed, dried distillers grains or corn gluten.”

He analyzes feed, grains and commodity by-products, seeking advice from a nutritionist to adjust his mineral program as needed.

“It’s important to have a year-round high-quality mineral program,” Yon advises. “That’s not always the cheapest bag of mineral, but it has the high levels that are needed for cattle in your area.  The cheapest bag is not always the best.”

Yon finds that his cattle have a more consistent consumption if he allows free choice at all times.  He says, “Know what the consumption rate should be and monitor that. In our part of the world, a covered mineral trough is important so the mineral doesn’t get wet, cake up and the cattle don’t eat it.

“As a producer, I see the benefit of minerals.” Yon explains, “The biggest for us is reproduction, cow herd efficiency, immune response, cattle health, and growth and development.  At our place we try to feed a cow as cheap as we can because 60-70 percent of our annual cost involves nutrition.  We don’t see that minerals are the place to skimp.”

Thomas also recommends feeding minerals, saying, “Do it based on science.  Go ahead and get a forage analysis based on what you’re feeding and do that every time you get a new batch of feed, so you know what you’re feeding and what minerals you need to add to the ration.”

Rasby says, “To be competitive, you’re really going to have to watch feed costs. How you put together feeding programs to meet your herd’s nutritional needs is going to be critical.”

To find a list of certified feed testing laboratories, check out:



“Minerals don’t do much if you’re not doing a good job of covering your water, energy, and protein needs for those cows,” advises Ken Bryan, PAS, and Ruminant Specialist with Cargill.  “A balanced diet is important because you have the added stress of environmental conditions like cold, wet weather, mud and wind, which are going to increase the cow’s nutritional requirements.”

Adequate amounts of energy and protein are critical during winter conditions. “If a cow will eat twenty-four pounds of dry matter in forage, she’s going to get all the energy she needs,” Bryan explains.  “If that rumen is functioning well, she’ll break down the fiber and utilize that feed.  That’s your energy source.”

Protein, a much-needed nutrient in cattle diets, is composed of true protein and nonprotein nitrogen.  Protein in forages will gradually decline, providing less protein as winter progresses, with a higher percentage of fiber.  “The nasty thing about fiber is a high fiber, low quality forage diet will restrict intake,” Bryan says. “Now we’re going to supplement with a protein source.  The nice thing is, there are options for protein supplementation.”

“There’s the old standby, cake or range cubes, protein tubs or blocks and leftovers from oil seed products such as sunflower, cotton seed, or soybean meal and distillers grains from corn.  Look at the most economical way to deliver protein to the cow.”

Bryan cautions, “We’ve got to keep a minimum amount of fiber in that diet as we feed energy supplements.  We’re going to cause some long- term changes in that cow’s rumen… we’ll ruin her if we feed her like a feedlot steer.”