Pearl Snaps

Stories of a cowgirl living life by her own lights

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The Five Freedoms of Cattle

via Progressive Cattlemen

by Ron Gill

Animal welfare is a topic of a lot of discussion across the livestock industries.

One philosophy regarding welfare management and oversight centers on a concept of five freedoms livestock under our care should be granted.

Now, one could argue about the term “freedoms” and what that might imply, but when a closer look is taken of these freedoms, one realizes it is a pretty good list of what managers of livestock should strive to provide.

The Five Freedoms are:

1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.

2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom to express normal behavior – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals’ own kind.

5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering.

According to Dr. John Webster: (The researcher who helped develop the Five Freedoms in 1979, and Professor of Animal Husbandry, (University of Bristol) “… the five freedoms are an attempt to make the best of a complex situation.

Absolute attainment of all five freedoms is unrealistic.

By revealing that all commercial husbandry systems have their strengths and weaknesses, the five freedoms make it, on one hand, more difficult to sustain a sense of absolute outrage against any particular system … and easier to plan constructive, step by step, routes towards its improvement.”

If anyone disagrees with the responsibility of the owner/manager to provide ready and ample access to water and feed to maintain health and vigor, they should remove themselves from food animal production immediately.

We make a living by providing nutrition and letting the natural process of growth occur, capturing sunlight in a saleable product.

Freedom from discomfort is probably the one that causes as much discussion as any of the freedoms in cattle production.

We are not an intensive confined animal industry and environmental control is not possible.

However, it is in everyone’s best interest to provide cattle with the ability to protect themselves from environmental extremes as much as possible.

Freedom from pain, injury and disease has some pushback from the industry because of one word in the list, pain.

There is no such thing as a pain-free or even risk-free existence for humans or livestock. It is always in the best interest of productivity to manage pain, prevent injury and disease and treat as quickly as possible in the event of injury or disease.

Freedom to express normal behavior is an area where the beef production sector is on as solid ground as any livestock enterprise can be.

In every phase of traditional beef cattle production, cattle are managed in groups and have ample room to express normal behavior.

Freedom from fear and distress is probably the most misunderstood of these five freedoms. What does this really mean, “ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering?”

Most people have never really even thought about a cow having the ability to experience mental suffering, much less suffer from fear or distress. Mental suffering is what the industry commonly refers to as stress.

Stress is created through human action and therefore must be managed through human action. Other than environmental stress caused by extremes in weather patterns, all other stressors are human-related.

Stress and its associated consequences represent one of the greatest, if not the greatest, drains on the livestock industries. Stress can be managed very effectively. However, it requires physical management.

There is an art to the proper care and management of livestock that has been taken for granted within the animal industries.

This is one of the few industries where people are hired with little known skills or any real background in the industry and asked to manage multimillion dollar investments with little to no training and oftentimes little oversight.

Managing the well-being of animals affects the quality of life of the animal, the people involved and the profit of an operation.

Lack of employee knowledge, skills and training and inadequate oversight has resulted in several recent high-profile problems in animal care and handling across most sectors of animal production.

People who do not know or understand animal behavior and how to use that behavior to move or manage livestock can quickly become frustrated.

Use of excessive force is oftentimes the response to this frustration.

As a livestock producer, I have a really hard time seeing where food animal production can argue with the concept of these freedoms.

Call them what you want to, but the bottom line is that managers and owners of livestock, by any measure of faith or ethics, should diligently strive to provide livestock with these basics throughout their lifespan.

Further discussion of the Five Freedoms can be found at

Ron Gill is a professor and extension livestock specialist at Texas A & M University.

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Beef cattle: Improving production efficiency and meat quality

via The Prairie Star


U.S. consumers love beef. We eat an average of about 63 pounds of it per person each year.

Producing enough cattle to meet that demand requires efficiency and innovation. Agricultural Research Service scientists at the Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory (LARRL) in Miles City, Mont., are conducting studies designed to make cattle production more efficient and to provide better beef products for consumers.

Attaining those goals has led to strategies and technologies for reducing the cost of beef production, including more efficient nutrient use and improved reproductive performance.

Reducing production costs hinges on maintaining high rates of reproductive success while reducing use of harvested feeds. A common problem that U.S. cow-calf producers face is low rebreeding performance among 2- and 3-year-old cows.

This occurs when the cows’ needs for additional nutrients during pregnancy and lactation have not been met. But rather than just feed young cows more, the LARRL scientists are attempting to make them more efficient so they’ll need less feed.

Reducing Costs: Feed and Reproduction

Animal feed is a large part of beef producers’ costs. Cereal grains – often used as a major part of heifer (young female cattle) diets – are becoming less abundant and more expensive because they are in higher demand for human food and ethanol production.

Feed represents about 50 to 55 percent of total costs of developing replacement heifers. According to animal scientist Andrew Roberts and colleagues, heifers they studied developed to target weights lower than those traditionally recommended, consumed 27 percent less feed over the winter months, and gained weight more efficiently throughout the postweaning period and subsequent grazing season.

“The strategy of providing less feed may reduce costs of developing each replacement heifer by more than $31 and extend their life span, with important ramifications for lifetime efficiency and profitability,” says Roberts.

“For the last 3 to 4 decades, the mantra has been ‘feed them to breed them,’ which means providing enough feed during the first year to ensure that young heifers reach puberty to start reproducing,” he says. “But our studies indicate this doesn’t seem to be optimal in the long run. Our research shows that by feeding to get all the animals bred, you are also propping up the inefficient animals – those that won’t consistently produce calves when put in nutrient-limited environments later in life.”

In their study, heifers (50 percent Red Angus, 25 percent Charolais, and 25 percent Tarentaise) were divided into two lifetime treatment groups: The control group was fed according to industry guidelines, and the restricted group was fed (on a body-weight basis) 80 percent of feed consumed by their control counterparts for 140 days, ending when they were 1 year old.

The restricted heifers grew slower and weighed less at any point in time as a consequence of less feed. The actual amount of feed provided to restricted heifers over the entire feeding period was about 73 percent of that provided to the controls.

Final pregnancy rates were 87 percent for restricted heifers and 91 percent for the controls.

“Our results indicate that restricting feed is a matter of economics for farmers,” says LARRL geneticist Michael MacNeil. “We have also found that other strategies, such as crossbreeding and providing early calving assistance, can increase rebreeding performance of young cows.”

Feed restriction improves efficiency

From breeding through late fall, the heifers were managed as one group. Each winter, the pregnant animals were again separated into two groups-restricted feed and control. The restricted cows were fed 20 percent less supplemental feed during the winter months than the controls. The scientists predicted that these treatments would allow nature to decide which heifers were reproductively efficient: Less efficient heifers would eventually fail to reproduce and be culled if restricted, whereas feeding more would keep them in production but result in more expense for the producer.

“Early elimination of inefficient breeders allows them to be harvested for the high-quality meat market,” says Roberts.

Roberts and colleagues also found that restricting the cows at a young age might improve their efficiency throughout the rest of their life.

The restricted-feed study has been ongoing since the winter of 2001, and the researchers are now looking at the second generation-those that were born from cows on restricted diets. “An interesting thing occurred: The feed restriction seems to have made the second generation able to withstand restriction with greater efficiency,” says Roberts.

In cattle, maximum production (measured by weight of calf at weaning) doesn’t peak until 5 years of age. In the study, the proportion of cows that became pregnant each year and stayed in the herd until age 5 was greatest for restricted cows out of restricted dams. Restricted cows from control-fed dams had the lowest rate of survival to age 5.

The researchers found that the third-generation feed-restricted calves are lighter at birth and at weaning than those calves from cows fed at the industry standard, but the feed-restricted cows themselves are slightly fatter and heavier at the calves’ weaning. “Physiologically, the second-generation restricted cow is conserving some of the nutrients taken in for body reserves, which may result in more efficient reproduction and better survivability in the herd,” says Roberts.

Getting high-quality, great-tasting beef

Improving beef quality is another priority for LARRL scientists. Marbling-the streaks of fat in lean meat-has long been an indicator of palatability, and it serves as one basis for determining the price of beef. Marbling is an inherited trait and thus amenable to genetic improvement. Marbling is measured either at slaughter or by ultrasound of the live animal.

Says MacNeil, “Cattle breeders would benefit greatly from having genetic indicators of superb marbling and other sought-after traits.” This is where geneticist Lee Alexander steps in. Alexander and his colleagues used a panel of molecular genetic markers to locate specific places in the genome that contain genes that influence traits such as marbling and fatty acid composition. They looked at the genome of a Wagyu-Limousin cross population. These breeds were chosen because Wagyu is a heavily marbled beef, and Limousin is leaner.

“Genetic markers successfully identified a region of the genome associated with the amount of marbling and relative quantities of saturated and monounsaturated fats,” says Alexander. Beef with the best flavor has a higher percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids.

These results may lead to a better tasting and healthier product for consumers through breeding systems that lead to an improved fat profile in beef.

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Forage Facts: Forage Analysis Interpretation

So you’re probably thinking, “I’ve got my forage analysis, now what the heck does all this mumbo-jumbo mean?!”  Well, it’s  a lot easier to understand than you might think.

Sample Forage Analysis Report

Here’s a quick rundown of the basic things you need to understand when reading your forage analysis results:

  • Crude Protein (CP) – This is determined by first determining the nitrogen (N) content of the forage and the calculating the crude protein (CP) using the formula:  CP = % N * 6.25.  Crude protein includes both true protein and non-protein nitrogen.  Cattle are able to utilize both forms to varying degrees.  CP does not give indication of heat damage, which can alter protein availability in forages.
  • Unavailable Protein – This value gives indication if excessive heating has occurred.  It is not commonly shown on a report unless especially requested because of suspicion of heat damage.  Excessive heating reduces protein digestibility.  This value can also be expressed as ADF-N protein, ADF-CP, bound protein, or insoluble protein.
  • Available Protein – Depending on the laboratory doing the testing this value can be expressed in several different ways.  It may be shown as the difference between crude protein and unavailable protein, or it can account for the naturally bound proteins found in all forages.  Normally bound protein can be up to 12% of crude protein.
  • Acid Detergent Fiber (ADF) – This value refers to the cell wall portions of the forage that are made up of cellulose and lignin.  These values are important because they relate the ability of the animal to digest the forage.  As ADF increases, digestibility of the forage decreases.
  • Neutral Detergent Fiber (NDF) – This value refers to the total cel wall, which is comprised of the ADF fraction plus hemicellulose.  NDF values are important in ration formulation because they reflect the amount of forage an animal can consume (intake).  As NDF rises, dry matter intake (DMI) decreases.
  • Crude Fiber (CF) -  This value represents only a portion of the cell wall of the forage.  A modified crude fiber (MCF) that includes the ash or mineral fraction, is sometimes used to evaluate alfalfa.  Some labs will calculate a CF value based on the ADF value.
  • Lignin – This is the prime factor influencing digestibility of plant cell wall material.  As lignin increases in the plant, digestibility, intake, and animal performance will decline and ADF and NDF increase.
  • As Fed – Values showing this show the content of the nutrients with the moisture in the forage sample included.  Values will be lower compared to the dry matter (DM) values because of dilution with water.  To convert “as fed” to “dry matter” divide the as fed value by the percent dry matter.
    • Example:  ADF (as fed) = 10.77; DM% = 33.77

ADF (dry matter basis) = 10.77/0.3377 = 31.89

  • Dry Matter (DM) – Values showing this give the nutrient information with the water removed.  This allows comparisons to be made between forages.  It is the best indication of nutrient value because animals tend to eat on a dry matter basis.  Conversion of “dry matter” to “as fed” can be done by multiplying the value by the percent dry matter.
    • Example:  CP% = 19.36; DM% = 33.77

CP (as fed basis) = 19.36 * 0.3377 = 6.54

  • Minerals – Calcium and phosphorus are two minerals commonly reported in a standard forage analysis.  Other minerals such as Potassium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Sodium, Iron, Copper, Zinc, and Manganese may also be reported.
  • Relative Feed Value (RFV) – This value is an index that combines the important nutritional factors of intake and digestibility.  It does not have units, but instead the index allows comparisons of legume, grass, and legume-grass mixture forages.  A forage with an ADF of 41% and NDF of 53% has an index of 100.  Other forages can then be compared against this value.  When a forage RFV is above 100, it is not necessarily a superior forage.  This is because the ADF and NDF values that generate the value of 100 are relatively high, thus the forage is not considered better than average.  As percent ADF and NDF decrease, the RFV will increase.

Until next time, keep the bale rolling...

Resource:  Schroeder, J.W.  AS 1080:  Interpreting Forage Analysis.  North Dakota State University.  May, 1994.


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