Animal Health Notebook
hand treating blackberry plants Alan Newport
R.P. Cooke says he doesn't mind thinning blackberry thickets, but also finds cattle nibble them when pastures are well recovered and cattle are grazing at high stock densities.

Cattle health and wealth go together

Creating a diverse and vegetative plant community in our pastures helps cattle health as well as our economic existence.

Animal health and especially cattle health is very important economically and emotionally to producers. Attitudes and feelings are in a lot better condition when there are no fires raging.

Having said the above I will point out the fact individual animal diagnosis and treatment of most beef animals and its economic value has been questioned for several decades. I remember vividly back in 1974 after the great market crash that a bunch of veterinarians boned up on their small animal skills when cattle practice slowed to a snail’s pace.

The cattle business for most beef producers is profitable on the days when cattle are self-harvesting damn near everything they need with very little cost to us. If they are gaining weight and condition things are moving in our favor. It only makes sense that the more of these good days we can capture the more nights we can sleep without worry.

One truth that we might review is a fact a northeast-Ohio producer shared with me one evening on the phone back in mid July. He has been grass-fattening yearlings (mostly heifers) since 1999. His forage is mostly orchard grass and clover. He reported that he has a 10-day window in mid-May every year to put up baleage that has enough energy to fatten cattle the rest of the year.

Truth is, I knew that orchard grass was not a miracle and I had some negative prejudices as to its energy levels. I knew that its energy window was limited but I did not realize just how short it is as we move north. Let’s take a look and do a quick review.

The period of peak production of any one plant species is very limited and short. Biology and chemistry of the soil, weather and the distance from the equator have an effect, but so does the nature of the plant. King corn only has a very few days when it will make really high quality silage.

This is a key reason plant diversity in pasture is important and should be considered critical. If there are enough different plant species in a pasture then there will be a bunch more days that the cattle will go forward in production and health.

Most of the weeds that we hate on the ranch here in Tennessee actually have a period when they are readily consumed by our steers. During this period their structure actually puts nutrient compounds into our cattle that are much needed and often medicinal. An example would be a bunch of rough, long-haired cattle placed on a willow infested bottom in early April. If there are enough willows on the low ground the yearlings or cows will clean up and shed in a couple of weeks.

In the agriculture business it is common to declare war on some plant or group of plants (I’ve done it more than twice). Most of the time it’s a mistake. Usually it is a Big Mistake.

I am writing this in July and today I saw new-growth blackberry briars that the steers had taken the top out of. My arms and legs and britches are cut up. The steers are doing real good. They pay the bills and do most of the work.

I’ll thin some of the briars, but I am no longer declaring war. We have got to manage for a diverse and vegetative plant community in our pastures. Our cattle health as well as our economic existence is at stake.

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