Monday, 29 October 2012

Monday Movie - Grass Tetany and Minerals

I wrote not long ago about the importance of having forages tested and knowing what you are feeding your animals.  Here is a great video out of Oklahoma State (Go Pokes!) about the importance of making sure that you have the right minerals in a diet, especially with forages that are known to cause problems, like wheat pasture.

While you're there, check out some of the other cow-calf corner videos.   Great little snippets of information on cattle production.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Counting Down

It's about to be crunch time.  I finish my animal research in 5 days.  Then I'll be in the lab and running statistics for about 2 weeks.  Then it's on to finishing the writing, setting a date, and putting the last five years work into the hands of my committee.

I haven't been great about posting regularly lately, more because unless it's fescue or energy balance it doesn't cross my path most days.  So, since I know my brain is going to need a break now and again in the next few weeks I thought I'd ask you what you'd like me to write about.

Any burning questions concerning animal nutrition, research, metabolism, or something else entirely?  Post a comment here or send me a message.  I'd love to know that what I'm writing interests you!

One of my six boys.  There might not be many of them, but they keep me busy!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Cuting Boards

English: Plastic cutting board with slices of ...
Plastic cutting board (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A bit of a change from my usual animals and agriculture theme. A friend posted a link to this blog touting wooden cutting boards as better than plastic, and I had to do some checking.  I figured that my fabulous readers might enjoy the information I found too.

If you're like me you have at least one plastic cutting board in your kitchen.  I love that I can toss it in the dishwasher and it comes out clean right?  Apparently not so!

A wooden chopping board with a chef's knife.
A wooden chopping board (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My mother has always preferred wooden boards for making bread dough, but not for messy foods.  However, several articles I found state that the cellular structure of wooden cutting boards actually wick the bacteria to a centimeter or so under the surface of the wood, thus reducing the bacteria on the surface that might transfer to other food.  You can find a good summary of these (and other kitchen bacterial haunts here). 

Wood is better than plastic especially when the surface gets nicked by a knife or two.  Plastic cutting boards with knife nicks have bacteria present in those cuts even after washing!

If you want to try out a wooden cutting board, you need to know a couple things.  Pine and ash were shown to have the best anti-microbial properties of the woods tested.  Some woods were no different from plastic in bacterial contamination.  For cleaning, I've been told not to use soap on unsealed wood as it (like the bacteria) gets into the wood making food taste soapy.  Also, the same properties that make wood antimicrobial can break down bleach, making it ineffective as a wood cleaner.  What does work, is getting the wood wet and then microwaving it for about 5-10 minutes.  Crazy but cool!

I'll be consider a wooden cutting board soon.  How about you?

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Monday, 15 October 2012

More reasons to test forages

Beyond knowing the nutriet composition of forages it is also important to be aware of harmful compounds that may be in feeds and forages.  Here's a good article on both how and why we need to take extra care to test in drought years like this one.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The fiber of forages

Relative feeding value, neutral detergent fiber, lignin.  These are all terms that can be found on any hay or grass analysis.  But what do they mean and how are they determined? 

Let's start at the beginning.  Sending in your forage to be analyzed is very important when developing a feeding plan for any species.  The values you get back tell you how the forage is lacking so that you can fill in the gaps without overfeeding nutrients that the animal won't be able to utilize.

In this post I'm going to focus on the fiber portions of forage analysis.  We'll get to protein and energy later.  Fiber in this sense refers to the structural portions of the plant cells.  The compounds that make plant cell walls rigid.  These are also the least digestible compounds in forages, thus they are important in indicating how well animals can use the nutrients in the forage.

The big three fiber categories are neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF), and lignin.  NDF and ADF refer to several types of fiber and the names come from how they are analyzed.  The forage sample is 'washed' in a detergent solution, that solution is either of a neutral pH or an acid because of the chemicals used in each 'wash'.   Each of these procedures removes a set or components from the plant material, leaving only specific fiber types.  But what do they represent?
Plant cell components (image from University of Minnesota)

The neutral detergent removes soluble carbohydrates, sugars, etc.  This leaves us with only the cell wall components, lignin+cellulose+hemicellulose.  NDF value is a general indicator of intake ability.  As NDF increases voluntary intake generally goes down.

The ADF procedure removes hemicellulose, leaving only cellulose and lignin.  It is a general indicator of digestibility.  Cellulose is not digested by any mammalian enzymes, only by the microbes in the rumen of cattle and sheep or the hindgut of horses, rabbits, etc.  As ADF increases digestibility goes down.

Finally lignin, which is almost completely indigestible.  As lignin increases so does ADF and NDF, which means that both intake and digestibility go down.

Generally fiber can also be used a general indicators of maturity.  As plant age (maturity) increases the percent lignin and cellulose go up, decreasing the quality of the forage. 

That's fiber in a nutshell, what portions of nutrition do you want to hear about next?

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Monday, 1 October 2012

Nutrition and Breeding

This is a topic that has come up for me several times in recent weeks, so I thought I'd put a few notes on (virtual) paper.  Specifically, the conversations have ranged around the topic of how nutrition relates to EPDs and bull (or cow) selection.

Expected progeny difference, or EPDs are a tool used in the cattle industry to measure genetic potential.  They are a prediction of how the progeny of an animal are expected to perform relative to the progeny of other animals in the same index.  Each breed produces their own EPDs and they can't be compared between breeds without some extra math.  It sounds a bit confusing at first, but they are a great tool.

As an example: if Bull A has a weaning weight EPD of +60 and Bull B is +75, then you would expect the calves from Bull B to weigh 15 pounds more at weaning on average (this assumes comparable maternal genetics between the two calf groups).

So, where does nutrition play into this?  Well, in order for those calves from Bull B to live up to their potential they are going to need the right nutrition.  If Bull A's calves are our on lush pasture, crepe fed, and the dams are producing lots of milk, they'll grow great.  If at the same time Bull B's calves are out on poorly maintained fields with low quality grasses, the mother's milk production is going to be lower and the calves aren't going to be getting the nutrients they need to grow thier very best.  It is very asy to waste genetic potential by providing poor nutrition.

Set them both up right by balancing
genetics and nutrition.
Now, that doesn't mean that everyone needs to have perfect pastures and management.  As our extension reproduction specialist says "I don't care what your nutrition plan is, but be honest about it and pick the appropriate bull"  If I know that I'm not going to supplement my cows and calves with grain, then I choose bulls with lower frame scores, lower weaning weights, and lower milk productions (if keeping the heifers as replacements).  They don't have to be bottom of the barrel, just appropriate.  Said another way:  There is no single best bull, only the best one for each situation.

Questions?  Comments?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between nutrition and genetics.

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Thursday, 20 September 2012

The loss of paper?


This morning I was browsing through the ASAS newsletter and stopped to read this article.
Pros and Cons of hen lab Records Go Digital

Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done!
I found myself nodding along, agreeing with the author.  I love my paper lab notebook.  It follows me from farm to field, and back to campus for the 'real lab' work.  Everything goes in.  Even if it's just a note saying that I fed and everyone is healthy and happy.  But there are things that never do make it into the lab notebook.  There are huge data files generated from indirect calorimetry and most of our analyses, from nitrogen to VFAs to Chromium and more are done by automated machines that give you a data file, not a paper result.  Those rarely get transcribed in their entirety to the notebook.

Not the time to be trying to type.
But giving up the paper completely?  No, I can't, or won't rather, take my laptop out to the farm to record pH values on rumen fluid or rumen contents weights.  I know what my papers come back looking like after that, and it it's pretty...  I can pick up a pen when my hands are in gloves and covered in who-knows-what to jot a quick note in the book, but I'd never type on a keyboard that way.  And sometimes, those notes are crucial later when analyzing the data.

Right now, I live in a world or half paper, half digital, and that's ok.  I think I manage the balance without misplacing information or forgetting what is where.  Plus, hard copies are less likely to die in an electrical storm or coffee spill (both of which I've seen happen here)!
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Monday, 17 September 2012

The Problem of Food Waste

I've got another video for you today.  This one is from BEEF magazine about food waste.  I know I'm bad about buying things and having them get lost in the back of the fridge.  Think about that on a huge scale when you add in restaurants, groceries, and other places. 

I love the 'traffic light' sticker idea!  Do you have any good tips for minimizing food loss?  Do you compost the food that you don't use?
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Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Worth the Fight

Today the ag blogs have been kept busy with an idea started by Dairy Carrie.  She posted about a new song by The Departed titled Worth the Fight, which inspired her to think about how working in agriculture and agvocating was worth the fight every day, be it against the weather, animal rights activists, etc.  She asked what others in agriculture saw as worth the fight and the response has been amazing!

My roomates.
When I got to thinking about what was worth the fight, my mind went to the fact that I start a new round of experiments next week.  I love my research, but this round will involve being at the farm round the clock for ten days.  I'll be getting up every three hours every one of those nights.  I'll be eating out of a microwave again.  I'll see my steers more than my husband, since he'll be taking care of the house and the dogs.  We'll communicate by phone and email only.  I'll sleep on a cot that's far less comfortable than my bed.

I'll miss these crazy girls!

But every bit of that will be worth the fight against being tired, lonely, and uncomfortable.  At the end of it all I'll be the first to know how fescue toxicosis changes energy use and digestion in cattle.  That's an amazing feeling.  Then, I'll get the chance to tell others what I've larned and use the information to help farmers and ranchers in the southeast produce better cattle on their fescue pastures.

For me, increasing scientific knowledge and providing information to help cattle rachers is #worththefight.

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Thursday, 6 September 2012

Pig 05049

My husband and I are TED talk fans.  If you haven't ever heard of them, go look them up.  They are so cool, quick, entertaining, and informative.  Tonight we watched one that I really wanted to share.  Now I just need to find her book, it sounds quite interesting.

What does agriculture mean to you?

On his blog Agriculture Proud (which you should read if you don't already) Ryan Goodman recently asked "What does agriculture mean to you?"

I spent some time thinking about this and came up with several thoughts, but it always came back to one thing.  Feeling connected.

Agriculture provides a connection to the world around me.  There is the obvious of working outside and seeing the sun rise and set, the stars shine, the wind blow through the grass, etc.  But beyond that, getting dirt under my fingers and learning to relate to animals gives me a feeling of peace.  They are the world, they are real and natural.  By spending time in their world I can be a part of that 'real' world.

In addition, as an uncle of mine recently posted on facebook, in agriculture and nature we learn to accept that bad things happen, but we can and will persevere and get good things in the end.
"I am all about being one with nature, and savor my alone times in the garden,watching the mourning doves flap out of the field, and the curious goats and cows hoping for an over ripe or damaged treat. However, today I think mother nature was sending me some kind of message. Zen and the art of okra picking, one should expect the itchy spines of the plants, but it should not include stink bugs on my pod, wasps that sting my finger, and fire ants that chemically assault my feet."
Some people will tell you that the real world is the job, the city, doing all the grown up things and 'living life to it's fullest by doing".  I say that those people don't understand that life isn't found in paper, desks, plastic and glass.  Life is the living plants and animals.  Spending time in a pasture just feeling the sun on your skin, the wind through the grass, and hearing the animals quietly grazing.  That's real life.  At least for me.  It's about slowing down and enjoying little things, not doing and experiencing as much as possible.

I don't know that I've explained this well or not.  It really all boils down to my experiences in agriculture providing me with a sense of connection to the world around me.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Carbon and Rotational Grazing

Grazing (Photo credit: EricMagnuson)

I'm a frequent reader of Mother Earth News for the recipes of nothing else.  Today I was rather pleased with this article that talks about how the correct management of cattle grazing patterns can improve soil carbon sequestration.  In some cases more so than leaving the land fallow

Mob (high-intensity) grazing is nothing new, but in recent years I've been hearing about it more and more frequently.  Here at the University of Kentucky there have been several studies looking at very high stocking rates on pastures and strip grazing corn.  Do you use high-intensity rotational grazing?  What are your thoughts?
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Monday, 27 August 2012

Feeding the Rumen

Warning:  I'm going to try to keep this simple, but it's not an easy subject once you get past the intro.  Feel free to ask questions if you want clarification or more info, I'm happy to to explain anything in more depth.

I come across articles about feeding cattle fairly regularly on various news agencies.  More so in the past few months than usual, probably due to the drought this summer and concern over food costs.  Each time I do, I try to make my way through the comments to see how people are responding and what they think.  Almost every time I see several comments in the vein of "cattle should only eat grass not [grain...candy...byproducts...etc]."

While there is a whole host of reseach out there about the differences between grass and grain fed beef, that's a dscussion for another day.  And one I'm more than willing to have.  You might be suprosed about this beef nutritionist's thoughts.  (Hint:  I like both and think they both have a place).

Rumen diving at it's finest.
The bigger point for me here comes when comments like the example above are followed by some statement about how the cattle need the grass because the other feed is unhealthy or not natural.  And this my readers is where we dive back into the rumen.

The rumen basically just functions as a fermentation tank for a plethora of microorganisms.  Bacteria, fungi, and protozoa love that place!  One of the first tenets of feeding cattle (or any ruminant) is that you aren't.  What you are doing is feeding the microbes.  The microbes digest the food the cattle eats, turning it into the nutrients the animal absorbs and utilizes for energy, muscle building, etc.

Now, I'm not saying that we can't alter the microbial products by altering the diet.  We can and do.  But, the microbes are not overly particular about the form of their nutrients.  They really just want the carbon and nitrogen and other elements to pull off for their own needs.  Everything else is waste, which is rearranged by a series of reactions into a fairly standard set of molecules that the cattle then use.

This is where that warning comes in.  This is a whole semester of ruminant nutrition as short and sweet as possible. 

For example:  Let's say I feed my cow some grass.  The microbes don't really care that it's grass.  They digest the cellulose and other starches to get into the center of each tiny cell in that grass.  That's where the good stuff is.  Proteins, amino acids, and so much more.  When the cellulose is broken down it is rearranged into several products.  The most important of which are volatile fatty acids (especially acetate, propionate, and butyrate).  These are the main players for energy in cattle.

I know here's a lot going on in this image. 
Sorry, it's just not easy to find a good, clear graphic. 
The relevant part for this post is up at the top.  Click to see the original in full size.
The big picture here is that the microbes don't care about the original source of the carbon and nitrogen they stick back together to make VFAs.  It just happens.  You or I can eat meat or beans.  The proteins from either get broken down to amino acids either way.  The microbes in the rumen are similar, they just happen to break down materials that you and I never could becuase they have a different set of enzymes.
As always, there is my caveat that this is not a simple process.  The diet fed to cattle still has to have the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, etc.  Without that we do end up with unhealthy animals.  No one wants that.  I and every farmer I know hates having sick animals.  We feel for them when they are hurting. But we can continue to create that balance using unusual feeds to provide safe, healthy meat; when they are available, cost effective, and fit the needs of the animals and producer. If they don't go to cattle or other animals, they go to the land fill.  At least this way the waste fills a niche and leaves more corn, wheat, etc for straight human use.

That's my 5 minute ruminant nutrition lesson for the week, thanks for stopping by.  As always, let me know if you want more!
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Sunday, 26 August 2012

The middle.

As of this morning the last samples of period 2 are in the bag.  Or rather the freezer and drying oven.  

Now I enter two weeks of lab work before repeating the whole process.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Inside the Walls

This fabulous video by Dr. Temple Grandin came across my news feed today.  Take a few minutes and see the inside of a properly run beef slaughter facility, as explained by the best in the business.    The video shows what a processing plant is.  No hype, nothing trying to make it better (or worse) than it is.  Dr. Grandin has been recognized for her commitment to animal welfare and humane handling by both the livestock industry and groups such as HSUS. 

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