Water: The Forgotten Nutrient

Sarah Potts, Dairy and Beef Specialist, University of Maryland Extension

As summer heats up, water becomes more important for cattle.  An animal’s body is comprised of 70% water and adequate water consumption is required to maximize performance.  It’s no secret that withholding or restricting water can decrease feed intake and reduce gains.  Yet many producers often forget to assess whether or not their animals have optimal access to high quality water.  An animal’s water requirement is met through consumption of feed and drinking.  Many feeds, such as silage and grasses, contain a large proportions of water that help cattle meet their water requirement.  Additional requirements are met through drinking.

Water Requirements and Intake

Water requirements vary depending on the physiological state of the cattle.  Reproductive status, lactation status, rate and composition of gain, and amount of physical activity will affect how much water cattle need to consume.  Lactating cows will consume more water, on average, than growing, finishing, or pregnant cattle (Figure 1).

Temperature will also affect water requirements, with higher temperatures increasing voluntary water intake for all cattle regardless of physiological state (Figure 1).  For lactating cows, water intake will increase by over 23% when the ambient temperature rises from 60 to 80°F.  Across a similar temperature shift, growing cattle will increase their water intake by 35%.

 Figure 1. Water intake of various types of cattle across increasing ambient temperature.

Management factors, such as diet composition and physical access and palatability of drinking water, also affect how much water cattle drink.  Because of their higher moisture content, diets that contain a high proportion of silage or pasture can reduce the amount of water consumed through drinking.  Diets that contain high levels of protein, salts, or other diuretics will increase water intake through drinking.

Water Quality

Not only is it important for cattle to have access to sufficient quantities of water, the quality of that water is also important.  Water quality is assessed by examining factors such as palatability, chemical properties (e.g., pH, dissolved solids, hardness, soluble salts, etc.), presence of toxic compounds, mineral content, and presence of harmful bacteria (e.g., coliforms).

The level of total soluble salts can provide some indication of water quality.  Of the soluble salts, sodium chloride (NaCl) is often a major driver of the total soluble salts content in water.  Other major contributors to the total soluble salts content include: bicarbonate, sulfate, calcium, magnesium, and silica.  High concentrations of soluble salts can decrease water intake and ultimately reduce production.  Total soluble salt concentrations less than 1,000 mg/L are ideal.  Levels above 3,000 mg/L may start to impact production and water with total soluble salt concentrations over 5,000 mg/L should not be used as a primary drinking source for pregnant or lactating cows.

The concentration of certain minerals can also be used to assess water quality, with nitrate and sulfate concentrations being of most interest.  Nitrate concentrations below 44 mg/L are considered safe for all types of cattle to consume.  Over short periods of time, cattle can tolerate nitrate levels up to 221 mg/L with modest effects on production and health; however, concentrations above 221 mg/L can result in significantly reduced production and serious health problems.  Cattle can generally tolerate sulfate concentrations up to 2,500 mg/L for a short duration (up to 90 days), although concentrations less 500 mg/L and 1,000 mg/L are considered ideal for calves and adult cattle, respectively.

Concentrations of other compounds are also used to assess water quality.  The table below shows the recommended upper limits of several compounds.


National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Nutrient Requirements of Beef Cattle, Eight Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/19014

Summer Grazing Management

Amanda Grev, Forage Specialist
University of Maryland Extension

As we move into the traditionally driest, hottest days of summer, we can expect growth rates of cool-season grass pastures slow dramatically and pasture productivity to decline. However, there are management practices that producers can implement to maximize plant growth during these hot, dry spells.

It takes grass to grow grass.

The key to having productive pastures is optimizing plant photosynthesis. Think of your pasture as a solar panel where green, growing leaves are energy producers. To maximize production, livestock need to be rotated off of a pasture in a timely fashion to ensure an effective “solar panel” or leaf area is left in the paddock following grazing. Most cool-season forages need at least 3 to 4 inches of post-grazing residual to effectively take advantage of photosynthesis for regrowth. In addition to providing a photosynthetic base for plant regrowth, the leaf material that remains after a grazing bout also shades the soil surface, keeping soil temperatures cooler and helping to reduce soil moisture loss.

Removing leaf matter affects the roots as well, as those roots rely on the leaves to supply energy from photosynthesis. The amount of live growth occurring below ground is roughly equivalent to the amount of live growth occurring above ground, and research has shown that the amount of above ground forage mass removed impacts root health. Up to 50 percent of the plant can be removed with little to no impact on root growth. With greater than 50 percent removal, root growth slows dramatically, and removing 70 percent or more of the above ground forage mass stops root growth completely. This is where the old rule of thumb “take half, leave half” comes into play. Leaving half of the leaf area on the plant has minimal impacts to the plant root system, enabling the plant to continue to absorb nutrients and moisture and recover quicker following grazing. If the take half, leave half rule is violated and pastures are grazed too low, plant root growth stops and root reserves are used to regrow leaf tissue, diminishing the vigor of the plant root system and the overall productivity of the plant.

Provide a rest period.

One of the most common mistakes in grazing management is not providing a long enough recovery period for pastures after g razing. Pasture forages require a rest period in order to maintain vigorous production. When a plant is grazed, the loss of leaf material means the plant loses its energy-producing center. The plants’ response is to rebuild that center using stored energy reserves. If the plant is given rest following grazing, new leaves will develop and will replenish this energy supply. Without rest, the plant is not able to replenish its energy supply and will continue to use the remainder of its stored energy to produce new leaves. As energy supplies are depleted, the plant will be unable to maintain production and will eventually die, leading to weak stands, overgrazed pastures, and the invasion of weeds or other non-desirable forages.

Maintaining flexibility in your system will allow you to balance the length of the rest period with the plant growth rate and is fundamental to successful grazing management. How long recovery takes will depend on a number of things, including the plant species, grazing pressure, and the time of year. As we get hotter and drier, grass growth rates will slow down and the days of rest required may be much longer than that required during the spring when rapid growth is occurring. Regardless, the rest period must be long enough to allow the plants to recover and grow back to a practical grazing height before livestock are allowed to graze again; for most grasses, this height falls in the 8 to 10 inch range.

To accommodate for this longer rest period, the rotation speed between paddocks will have to slow down. The basic rule is: when pastures are growing fast, rotate fast; when pastures are growing slowly, rotate slowly. Remember that the goal of the rest is to allow young green leaves to maximize photosynthesis.

Don’t ignore seed heads.

A plant that is producing seed heads is undergoing reproductive growth and not putting energy into leafy growth or tiller production. Clipping seed heads from these grasses will allow the plant to return to leafy or vegetative growth, which will increase forage quality and result in more total forage being produced over the course of the season. Clipping will also serve the added benefit of helping to control weed populations.

Seed heads can also be an indication of uneven grazing patterns in your pasture. If selective grazing is occurring, some plants are likely being overgrazed while others not enough. If this is happening, consider adding more divisions or paddocks into your pasture system. This means you will be grazing your animals on smaller areas, increasing the stocking density. A greater stocking density will reduce the amount of selective grazing that occurs, increasing forage utilization and reducing the need for pasture clipping.

While we can’t control how hot or dry summer will get, we can strategically manage the grass we have to help keep summer paddocks productive and growing.

Invasive Asian Longhorned Tick

By Dr. Megan Fritz, UMD College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Spring has arrived, and along with the seasonal increase in temperature comes increased tick activity.  One important tick to keep watch for is the invasive Asian longhorned tick. Since 2017, populations of this tick have been identified in 9 states, including Maryland.  This is particularly relevant for cattle producers because the tick is a significant pest of ruminant livestock in its Australasian and Western Pacific range.

Longhorned tick infestations can grow rapidly owing to their reproductive strategy and biting habits.  The tick must feed on the blood of a warm-blooded host animal to grow and reproduce. Once blood fed, females of this species can reproduce without males, such that a single female can give rise to an entire population.  Longhorned ticks bite aggressively, and are willing to feed on a wide variety of hosts: humans, birds, small mammals (racoons and skunks), companion animals (dogs and cats), large mammals (horses and deer), and other domesticated livestock, including cattle, sheep, and goats.

Heavy longhorned tick infestations can lead to severe blood loss, which reduces livestock growth and productivity.  For example, dairy cattle production is reduced by 25 percent in some regions of New Zealand and Australia, where this tick is present. They also transmit pathogens between their hosts during blood feeding.  These include multiple parasites and pathogens that cause disease in ruminant livestock, as well as at least one virus known to cause severe illness in humans. To date, no pathogen transmission by the longhorned tick has been detected in the U.S.

To prevent the ill-effects of any tick infestation, early detection is key.  Cattle should be examined for ticks throughout the course of the season. Calves are most susceptible to tick feeding, so reducing their contact with dense pasture reduces risk of high tick burden.  Proper pasture management, such as clipping pastures and fence lines, and controlling broadleaf weeds can reduce suitable habitat for ticks. Removing brush and woody debris from pasture edges may also reduce habitat for wild animals, like mice, rabbits, squirrels and raccoons, that can carry ticks into your pasture.  If you find an infestation in your pasture, whole animal insecticide treatments, like Permectrin™ II and Ultra Boss™, may be useful for preventing new tick attachment to your animals. Sprays and pour-on treatments cannot be used alone for comprehensive livestock protection, however. An integrative approach to tick management, which combines pasture management with good husbandry and chemical prophylaxis is crucial for livestock protection.

If you find ticks on your animal and you are concerned:

  1. Collect a few of the ticks by tweezing them from the skin of your animal.  They are most easily removed by grasping the tick close to the skin of the animal using a pair of blunt-ended tweezers, then gently pulling on them at a 45 degree angle from the animal’s skin.  Once removed, immediately stick them to a piece of masking tape, and place them into a ziploc bag with a moist paper towel. Tick collections can be taken to your local University of Maryland Extension office or shipped directly to:

Dr. Megan Fritz

4291 Field House Dr.

Plant Sciences Building Rm. 4112

College Park, MD 20742

  1. Call your University of Maryland Beef Cattle Extension Coordinator, Racheal Slattery, at 301-405-1392, or your University of Maryland Medical and Veterinary Entomologist, Megan Fritz, at 301-405-3945.  
  2. Call your local veterinarian and alert them to your tick infestation.  Many veterinarians in the state of Maryland are working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to address stakeholder concerns regarding the long-horned tick.  

Online Calving Management Guide Available

Online Calving Management Guide Available
By Grant Dewell, ISU Extension beef veterinarian

In the beef industry, calving management is critical to production and profitability of the cow herd. Proper care prior to and at calving can help reduce incidence of dystocia, and also minimize deleterious impacts should dystocia occur. Knowing how to prepare, what to do and not do, and when to take action all are critical aspects of correctly managing calving in your herd.That’s why the Iowa Beef Center and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach developed the Calving Management Manual.

ISU extension beef veterinarian Dr. Grant Dewell led the effort with contributions from Iowa State veterinarian Dr. Renée Dewell and Iowa State extension cow-calf specialist Dr. Katy Lippolis. He said the manual is designed to help producers prepare for and successfully navigate the calving season, and is available on the Iowa Beef Center website.

Among the manual topics are pre-calving nutrition, calving supplies and facilities, stages of delivery, dystocia prevention and intervention, and care for the calf. Each section has a separate page, and each page has links to all other sections. This makes it easy to switch between topics as the need arises.

“Of particular interest at this time of year are the sections on ‘dystocia prevention and intervention’ and ‘care for calf,'” Grant Dewell said. “The images in the dystocia section of the calving manual show clearly on a mobile device. A producer can use the images and captions to identify the type of dystocia they are dealing with and attempt to correct it.”

The new calving management manual is designed to help identify and correct numerous types of dystocias, including breeches, and is available on the Iowa Beef Center website beginning on this page. Eventually all section content will be available as pdf downloads.

Shared with permission of the author. Originally publish in Growing Beef, March 2019   Volume 9, Issue 9 by Iowa Beef Center, Iowa State University.


2019 Maryland Beef Industry Survey

Currently the only way to get information related to the Maryland Beef Industry is via the 2012 Ag Census, which tells us the approximate number, county locations, size of primary operation (herd and acreage), approximate demographics and age. What this census doesn’t tell us is: their future plans, greatest challenges, preferred method of education and outreach and what topics they would like to see in the areas of education programming. In order to properly develop extension programming that will meet the current and future needs of our producers, we need to establish a baseline of information. The best way to collect this information would be to directly ask our Maryland Beef Industry producers.What information we will collect: operation characteristics including county location, type, and size; age of producers and their tenure in the industry; future plans; greatest challenges; preferred methods of education and outreach; topics for educational programming; production data that will include type of housing, pasture management, nutrition and how producers buy, sell and market their cattle.

Our survey will open February 1, 2019 and remain open for response until April 8, 2019. Completing the survey should take no more than 10-15 minutes with the results being used to offer targeted educational outreach and training on topics related to beef production. This will help maintain and grow a viable beef production industry in Maryland and help sustain this important agricultural sector of the economy.

All data will be stored on a secure server with access restricted to members of the research team. Your participation in this survey is voluntary, confidential, and in no way affects your ability to take advantage of UME programs. This research has been approved by the University of Maryland Institutional Review Board (IRB #1158581-2).

The easiest way to complete the survey is to type the following link into a web browser on your computer: https://tinyurl.com/2019MD-beefsurvey

You can also request a paper survey if preferred at rslatt@umd.edu

If you need any further information on the survey or how the results will be used, please contact Racheal Slattery, Principal Investigator, Beef and Dairy Extension Coordinator at The University of Maryland at rslatt@umd.edu or 301-405-1392.

10 items you want in your calving kit

Calving season is upon us. Stock your kit correctly to make the season brighter.
10: An extra set of coveralls and dry boots.
Warm and dry is good. Cold and damp makes an unhappy rancher.
9: Colostrum replacement.
For those calves that didn’t get off to the best start.
8: An esophageal feeder.
Have it with you, have it clean and dry, and know how to use it.
7: Ear tags.
What better time to tag than Day 1?
6: Something to write down records on.
A notebook, blank note cards, an app on your phone, a piece of week-old mail –– whatever it takes to make sure records are kept on each animal.
5: Lube.
Lots of lube.
4: OB sleeves.
Have an abundant supply on hand. (Literally.)
3: Calf chains or calf straps.
Calving-assistance extraordinaire.
2: Handles to go with your chains and straps.
Teamwork makes the dream work. Get all of your components together before you head out.
1: A good relationship with your veterinarian, and their phone number.
Tough calving situation? If you call your veterinarian late on Friday during their kid’s basketball game, studies suggest he or she will be more likely to help if you’ve established a successful working relationship as client and veterinarian.
This post first appeared in BCI News post of January 11, 2019 and is used with permission.

The What & Why of Rotational Grazing

Brian Campbell, NRCS Grazing Specialist

There are many variations but rotational grazing is essentially a grazing system in which livestock are moved from one portion of the pasture to another as needed to avoid overgrazing and to allow forages a chance to recover. The alternative is continuous grazing, in which livestock are kept on one undivided pasture during the entire grazing season (usually April through November or year-round).

There is a spectrum of options for how intensely rotational grazing is implemented. On the low-intensity end of the spectrum, a farmer could have one undivided pasture and move their livestock into a barnyard whenever that pasture needs a rest. On the other end, a farmer could split their pastureland into hundreds of paddocks (i.e. pasture subdivisions) using permanent and/or temporary fence and move their animals from one paddock to the next every 30 minutes. As grazing gets intensified, you will have more paddocks of smaller size, grazing periods will get shorter (allowing rest periods to get longer), and stocking density (the number of livestock per acre on a single paddock at a specific point in time) will increase. Distribution of manure, urine, and grazing will also become more uniform across the pasture.

Is it worth your time to start grazing rotationally? While any move away from continuous grazing will increase the amount of forage available (because forages will have a chance to regrow), the most impressive benefits come from high-intensity rotational grazing. There is not a standard definition for this but the idea is to provide just enough forage in each paddock for a maximum of three days of grazing and then rotating animals out once the paddock has been grazed to the desired height.

Compared to a continuous grazing situation, high-intensity rotational grazing can increase the amount of forage consumed by up to 4,000 pounds of dry-matter per acre every year (Undersander, Albert, Cosgrove, Johnson & Peterson, 2002).

A University of Georgia study (Hoveland, McCann & Hill, 1997) comparing rotational grazing to continuous grazing on a cow-calf operation found the following results:

  • Rotational grazing resulted in increased forage persistence and productivity, more than doubling production during some periods when compared to continuous grazing.
  • Forage quality was similar for both continuous and rotational grazing.
  • Rotational grazing resulted in up to 39% less hay fed when compared to continuous grazing.
  • Rotational grazing increased calf weaning-weight per acre by 37% and allowed stocking rate to be increased by 38% when compared to continuous grazing.
  • Cow weight-change, pregnancy rate, and individual calf weaning-weights were the same for both continuous and rotational grazing.

The results above illustrate the significant potential of intensive rotational grazing for increasing productivity, profitability, and sustainability. Likewise, a Pennsylvania State University study (Cunningham & Hanson, 1996) confirmed that intensively grazed pasture is the most economical use of dairy-farm acres. After accounting for production costs and storage losses, intensively grazed pasture was roughly twice as profitable per acre as corn-silage or continuously grazed pasture and it was more than six times more profitable than hay.

If you are considering rotational grazing for your operation or intensifying your current grazing practices, please contact your local NRCS Field Office.

10 New Year’s resolutions for cattle producers

New year, new herd.

Well, maybe not entirely. But here are 10 resolutions to help keep your cattle and your operation in top condition all through 2019.

1: Increase oversight of bulls.

Conduct breeding soundness exams (BSEs) regularly and make sure your bulls are out there doing their job.

2: Keep better records.

Preferably on each individual animal. Not just production and reproduction, but economics and finances, too.

3: Implement a body condition score (BCS) collection system.

Set a target to evaluate and collect scores two to four times per year.

4: Shoot for fewer days of harvested-forage feeding.

Maximize your grazing days.

5: Troubleshoot handling facilities.

Headgate that hangs up? Fences that need mended? Identify your problem areas and get them fixed.

6: Give your facilities a walk through when you’re not working cattle.

Less stress for everyone.

7: Investigate Cattle Disease Traceability.

Get involved. Be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

8: Have a plan for calving season.

Include dystocia troubleshooting and have your facilities ready for 2019 calves.

9: Implement strategies.

Think grazing management, herd health and calving management.

10: Increase your expert network.

Establish and maintain relationships with industry experts. These might include veterinarians, extension educators, bankers, geneticists and many others.

This post first appeared in BCI News post of January 4, 2019 and is used with permission. The Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University provides innovative solutions for success in the beef industry. Whether you’re a veterinarian or beef producer, they provide resources straight to you and your practice or operation from industry leaders.

Welcome to the Maryland Beef Blog!

Welcome to the University of Maryland Beef Blog. Here you will find timely educational articles, events, and updates brought to you by the Maryland Beef Team. Be sure to check back regularly and sign up via e-mail in the box to the right so that you never miss a post.