Oregon Ag dependent on good science, research

By Mike Mehren
Oregon Feed and Grain Association Inc.

I was lucky enough to attend a meeting where the researchers from Eastern Oregon Ag Research Stations in Burns and Union presented the studies that they are working on, those that have been recently completed and studies that are in progress. We, Oregon in particular, are very very fortunate to have this group of men and women working on all phases of range livestock nutrition, livestock temperament, livestock grazing management, and livestock genetics Studies are done in conjunction with fish and wildlife scientists, as well as researchers specializing in desert and forest plants. They have studied the relationship between livestock grazing and wildfire. If there is to be a range livestock industry in the future, the research they are conducting will provide answers needed to stay in business.

Dr. Bohnert and his coworkers reported on research that identified the effect that cow body condition has on the performance and health of her calf. When cows being fed low protein meadow hay were supplemented during the last 90 days of pregnancy, they had more calves, and calves that weighed more at weaning than cows that were thin. We know that thin cows run the risk of calving difficulty. Calves from cows in poor condition are more likely to succumb to scours and young calf diseases. Cows that are thin will not breed back as well as cows in moderate condition.

Immediately after weaning is an excellent time to improve the body condition of those cows that are thin. It is much easier to put some weight on the cows early in the season and maintain that body condition than it is to try and put weight on cows during the winter or early spring just before calving.

Preliminary research by Dr. Bohnert and associates indicates that cool season grasses are digested and used differently than warm season grasses. Warm season grasses are found in mid-America and parts of California, while cool season grasses predominate in the Northwest. If you look at a table of feed values you will find many warm season grasses and cool season grasses that are virtually identical in nutrients such as crude protein, TDN, calcium, and phosphorus. However, when low protein warm season grass is supplemented with protein, the cows eat more warm season grass. When a cool season grass is supplemented with protein ,the intake of the grass doesn’t increase, however the cow digests the grass more efficiently. It also appears that urea may be used more efficiently as a protein supplement for cool season grass. For years I have contended that a protein supplement for beef cows on low protein hay, straw, or range should be made mostly of vegetable protein such as soybean meal or canola meal. It looks like most of this protein can come from urea. This would be a huge savings in the cost of protein supplements. These studies will lead to further investigation on the differences between warm season and cool season grasses. All of the previous studies have been conducted using warm season grasses and may not be applicable to our native grasses. We have been using information regarding warm season grass protein supplements. It doesn’t appear to be appropriate. This information has lead Dr.Bohnert’s group to investigate how frequently protein needs to be supplemented during the winter. We know now that protein does not have to be fed daily. It can be fed two or three times a week with no loss in performance. Could this interval be increased to three times per month protein supplement feeding? How much money would that save? How much urea could be used, and what amount would be optimum. Answers to those questions have the potential for huge economic impact on the cost of maintaining a cow throughout the year.

Cattle behavior is another fascinating area of research. Nobody wants wild cattle that will attack when man or machine gets too close to them. Sometimes we put up with them because they bring a calf home every year. How do their calves perform once they are weaned? Is their reaction to stress any different than a gentle calf? How do they get
along with other calves once penned? How well do they convert feed to gain? Are there any differences in carcass value that can be related back to the behavior of the animal? The relationship of nutrition and behavior is a new area of research that has the potential to affect the way we select replacements and achieve superior performance, and a more desirable carcass Dr. Cooke and his co-workers continue to provide us with new information in this area.

Miss Brummer and Dr. Mueller looked into mineral content of forages and mineral concentration in the blood of cattle herds in central Oregon. They noted differences in mineral content of forages at different locations and at time of year. Selenium was the one mineral that was deficient in all forages tested. They also noted differences in copper and zinc content. If you ask any livestock nutritionist he or she will tell you that there is no one perfect mineral supplement. The mineral content of the forage and the mineral needs of the cow change during the year, and from one part of the ranch to another. Many ranches already recognize this and take forage tests, herd blood tests, and then have minerals made to meet their specific needs.

Feed testing was an important part of this study and I hope it is an important part of your grazing and supplement plan. In the field I notice either of two extremes. In one, nothing but trace mineral salt is ever supplemented. In the other, a mineral with a high level of phosphorus is fed during the entire year. The animals may require more than trace minerals during calving and breeding at least. Many grasses in mountain pastures and irrigated pastures don’t need supplemental phosphorus, so it becomes an unnecessary expense.

Several years ago Dr. Tim Delcurto and his associates conducted a series of studies on cattle grazing near streams. These studies included supplement strategies to move cattle away from the stream. Stock water relocation was also used to move livestock away from the stream. Grazing season for optimum use of the forage without stream bank damage was another area examined during these experiments. They also looked at the relationship between cattle and spawning salmon. In these studies cattle, water, salmon, forage, and wildlife were all observed and measured to determine how they interact. We
definitely need more research showing how beef cattle interact with their environment, be it desert, forest, or meadows. Very little research is conducted where scientists from many different disciplines work together on a project.

I do have one negative comment. These experiment stations and others around the state have taken quite a hit from Oregon State. They have been advised that they must raise 50% of their budget from outside sources. I don’t know if other entities within the College of Agriculture have been asked to do this. One thing that might help would to have all administrators raise 50% of their budget from outside sources. At least this would level the playing field. As ridiculous as this may seem, it makes about as much sense as the plan that is in place.

Thanks to the Oregon Beef Commission for supporting cattle research at the experiment stations. They recognize the value of this research.

Michael J. Mehren, Ph.D. is a livestock nutritionist who just fell off his soap box somewhere near Hermiston, OR. He can be contacted by Email at [email protected].

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